Can We Move Forward By Looking Backward?

There are things we all would change if we knew then what we know now. Perhaps it is how you treated a kid in high school or the way you quit a job. Maybe it’s how you spent your teens or 20s or some of the people you chose to date. However big or small, we look back and see the places we’ve messed up, often quick to judge and shame ourselves for not doing or knowing better.

And what happens is we then attempt to use this shame and disappointment to propel us forward. We beat ourselves up, hide our stories, and talk down to ourselves all in the hope of doing better this time around. We believe that if we just hate that part of ourself and our actions enough, we will never repeat them.

But then we do.

The cycle begins again and the negative self talk comes right back even though we desperately try to separate ourselves from this version of us. We feel terrible and spend our time running from the things we don’t want to be — I just don’t want to be like my father, I’ll do anything not to be emotional like my mother, I hate that part of my past and yet it seems to define me. Too often this scenario results in us spending a significant amount of time running and little time being and doing the things we value.

Think of the last time you drove your car.  Your rearview mirror was helpful in backing out of a parking space or changing lanes. It gives you information and we are encouraged to check it frequently. We glance quickly and then return our attention and energies to the road ahead. Similarly, the rearview mirror in your life is no different. It gives you input into your current situation and can offer help in avoiding certain wrecks.

However. We are not meant to look solely behind us as we drive ahead.

What things would we crash into if we attempted to drive forward while only looking backwards with regret, anger, sadness, shame and guilt? These feelings, while a part of our human experience, are terrible motivators towards the life we want. Spending energy avoiding rather than becoming quickly becomes futile, just as spending time looking behind you while trying to drive forward would result in less than desirable outcomes and the simplest routes would become impossibly dangerous.

This is a call towards life and the road ahead. I encourage you to find some thing that matters to you or possibly a value that defines the man or woman you want to be. Put your energy towards going forward and drive towards it. Steer your life in a way that is headed in the direction of your destination while allowing space for brief glances into your past that keep you on track.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

I’d sincerely love to hear what you’re driving towards. Or for more on looking ahead—please contact me today.