A few weeks ago James Malinchak, a speaker, consultant and coach posted the following status update on his Facebook page: “You can’t go forward if you keep looking back! What do you think???”
Some people agreed with that statement, saying that if you have time to look in the rear-view mirror, someone is surely gaining on you and you may be dwelling too much on the past. Others, like me responded by saying that it is helpful to take the occasional glance in the rear-view mirror. I especially liked this response from a gentleman by the name of Derek: “One can and should look back at the past while moving forward. Our perspective and knowledge changes as do the lessons that can be learned. Why not compare, review and learn from past successes and failures as we move forward? It’s worked for me. To forget or not learn from our past is to repeat our failures.”
It would be dangerous to drive down the road without a rear-view mirror attached to your windshield. Although, it would be more dangerous to drive down the road while staring into your rear-view mirror for an extended period of time. So, clearly there is a fine balance. When travelling down the highway of your life, it is helpful to take a brief look in the mirror to check to see if there is anything there that you need to be informed by as you move into the future. But, you can’t get stuck gazing into the past or else you will slow yourself down, or worse – put yourself on a collision course!
There are times when it is worth analyzing and learning from the past to strategize for the future, including:
After the completion of a project – Whether or not the project was a success, it is helpful to stop and analyze what worked and what didn’t so that you know what to repeat or prevent from happening in the future. Just don’t get caught up in over-analyzing, blaming or beating yourself (or others) up about anything that didn’t go quite as you had planned.
During performance reviews – At ConvergenceCoaching, we are all in favor of forward-looking performance reviews so we advise that most of your time in the meeting should be spent on where to head next and how to move forward, but it is useful to use some of that time to look back and consider what strengths should continue to be built upon, changes or improvements to be made going forward and what mistakes could be avoided from now on.
As a part of your strategic planning process – It is extremely difficult to chart a course if you don’t know where your starting point is. And sometimes, we need to stop and reflect on where we’ve been to figure out where we want to go. When defining a vision, mission or strategy, take some time to ask yourself what you want more of, what you want less of and explore where you want to go next.
Achieving the right balance between time spent looking in the rear-view mirror and charging ahead is like a tight rope walk that can feel like a delicate balance, so the best advice that I have for you is to be honest with yourself about how constructive your “backward looking” time is – when it stops being productive – stop looking in the rear-view mirror.
Or, maybe, you’re not looking back enough? If you find that you are a visionary, highly motivated or maybe a little bit too excited and impatient – you may actually need to start conditioning yourself to look back more often. When you take the time to learn from your successes and your failures, you’ll find that you can move forward with greater velocity and accuracy!
How would you respond to James’ question?