Is hindsight really 20/20 vision? is hindsight that effective?
Today we are going to explore the nature of hindsight and how it traps us in our old mistakes.
(As a quick note, this does not mean you cannot use hindsight or learn from the past.)
This article is more about how to learn from the past effectively on a behavioral and intuitive point of view, contrary to a circumstantial or logical prediction point of view.
This topic might sound philosophical at first, but it will give you practical results and change your life forever by teaching you how to master and fine tune your healthy habits.
Hindsight is Flawed
When it comes to hindsight, we mistake what the source of a problem that lead us to our mistakes.
Why does this happen?
When we use hindsight, we misunderstand the metaphysical part of our regrets (in order words, what we are really regretting).
When you are referencing to a past event in your mind (reminiscing the good old days or the cringe moments), there is an illusion that you remember everything exactly the way it was!
If that sounds confusing, then no worries! Here is a metaphor to explain what hindsight is like and how it is not perfect:
Hindsight is like Watching a Movie
If you have ever watched a movie, there are moments in those movies where the audience can see a danger approaching before the main character can.
You, the audience, have a super human view of the world that the protagonist (the good guy / main character) lives in.
You can see their home, their workplace, multiple fighting scenes at once, and so on.
Because every move is clear as day, you can see the mistakes that the protagonist goes through, and you know exactly what went wrong and what they should of done differently.
That is what hindsight is all about!
What is the catch?
Hindsight is an illusion, it feels real, but it is smoke and mirrors. When we “practice” hindsight, we are the director of the movie we play in our minds.
In other words, we treat our past like a movie and like we can view our life from a third-person perspective. That is not reality!
We create a movie of the past and spectate the event we are no longer apart of.
Not only do we manipulate the story (since memory is not perfect), but we also believe that we are an audience that can see this movie objectively, which you never could of done when you are the character and not the audience!
If you treat yourself as the audience and not as the character, you are missing out on the internal dialogue of the character (which was you), your sensations, and your emotions.
Those factors all came into play when making your decision and it was not just about logic alone.
The reality is that the past is no longer the present moment (the present moment being what you are experiencing right now.)
Because of this misunderstanding, we tend to “add or take away” from the experience that was that event in the past.
If you are angry, you will make a past argument in your mind even angrier by “ramping it up,” while others can strip the past of all the emotions they experienced in the event and only see it from a logical point of view.
Do you see the problem here?
Hindsight is not an accurate assessment of our mistakes, because when we reminisce of the past, we manipulate it and it is no longer the original experience.
Because of this, we misunderstand what the real problems are that cause us to make our mistakes, hence we remake our mistakes in the future.
Why do we have regret in the first place?
The reality is that hindsight is blind regret.
Logically you wish you could of done something differently, but you do not remember why you did what you did in the first place!
That is why you have regret, because your perspective has changed since the moment you made your decision.
You cannot have regret before you do something, and here is an example why this is the case.
You do not feel regret when you are hungry for chocolate, all you can think of is how hungry you are.
It is only until after you eat the bag of chocolate that your your hunger goes away and you see from a new perspective.
Then, that is where the regret comes into play. Regret is realizing that your original perspective did not lead you to healthy decisions.l
Another example is that you cannot have regret before you eat gas station shrimp! You only regret it when you stomach is in pain the next day!
Lastly, you may have fell in love once, only later to discover that the relationship turned out to be a disaster.
Notice the change in perspective once the “puppy love” dies out and you begin to regret your choices!
Let us address a common objection about this theory. It is common to feel regret when you are “going to do something” such as going to the gas station to buy some sketchy shrimp, right?
It may feel like this is the case.
However, recognize that you feel early regret because it is not the shrimp that was your decision, it was going to the gas station.
In a paradoxical sense, it is like the decision is already made, even if you have not made it yet, and regret is a higher order phenomena of that deep frustration.
We lose touch with the past, what we feel, and what emotions we carry with us.
It is easy to use logic when we look back a week, a month, or even years from the event.
However, we cannot remember the emotions we felt, how tired we were, whether we had a migraine that day, nor any subtle details of our environment we were experiencing during that time.
(United Insights will eventually make an article about this phenomena in greater detail because it is such a juicy topic!)
Looking Back At Our School Years
It is common for people who look back at high school and say,
“Man, those days where so silly! There was no reason to get caught up in he popularity contest. Why did I fight so much with my parents, and remember how much I cared about my haircut and Nike shoes? if I could go back into high school, I would of played a totally different ball game.”
As we get older, we may get wiser.
However, it does not mean we have a perfect memory!
Our downfall is that we get older and misuse hindsight.
Then, we fail to learn the lessons that were important to us in our childhood and adolescent years!
As we discussed in the article “How to Really Graduate From School,” we forget all of the subtle challenges we face in school that lead to the decisions we make.
I want to give you an example of a classic high school situation which we commonly regret.
Your First Love
Have you ever had a crush (someone you are attracted to) in high school that you never asked on a date, but you wish you did?
Let us dig into that situation and let us see how simple (or complicated) it really was!
I want you to remember what it was like to be in high school again.
Try to remember the clothes you used to wear, your favorite teacher, the smell of the hallway, and most importantly, the moment you found “your first love.”
Notice when you are thinking of that event, it may seem blurry and your mind has to manipulate the story to make it more “complete.”
It might be hard to remember the nose of the boy or girl you had a crush on, other facial features, hair, which desk they sat in class, and so on.
You might remember sitting in a class room, walking down the hallway, or looking at your crush from your locker, but other details of the crowd are blurry.
You might not remember that there was a football game that night, a holiday, or final exams.
In other words, you remember your crush, but you forget important details of your environment that changed your priorities and effected your decision in the first place!
Is it possible that due to examinations, you had too much on your mind to think about dating?
Did you consider the possibility that when you were at school you you did have an authentic enough desire to ask your crush on a date?
You may only of felt attraction to them when you were alone at home or when you looked back at school with a new perspective a decade later.
It is not rare to have your love priorities change over time.
Maybe you did like your crush but were insecure about bothering them.
You could of forgotten hat your crush already had a boyfriend or a girlfriend during that time. How would you have felt if this was the case, but you beat yourself up for years without remembering this?
Maybe you had a crush on more than one person, so you were thinking considering your options first.
Maybe there was a time you tried to ask them on a date, and you do not remember the sweaty palms, the fast heart beating, or being on the edge of tears due to the anxiety.
Every person’s story is different, but the common pattern is that we have regrets about our actions (or lack of action) because we are looking at the situation in hindsight.
We forget important or subtle details about why we did not ask that crush out.
Then, we beat ourselves up due to our frustration!
Growing Up Requires us To Make Mistakes
Is it really an accident that we all graduate from school and laugh at ourselves about how silly it all was?
Have you considered that students do treat school seriously, whether it is academics, sports, or social life?
The cycle of taking it seriously and laughing at those experiences in hindsight has occurred generation after generation.
That is not an accident!
We tend to forget how powerful of an effect our emotions and hormones have on us, let alone wild teenage hormones in our prime!
This is a great example of how hindsight feels so obvious, and it feels like the next generation of children could learn from our mistakes.
Then, it tricks us right under our noses!
We think we know what is right for us, but almost every child that goes through education makes the same mistakes our parents made, decade after decade.
Perhaps this is not a mistake. Maybe this is a feature and a necessity for childhood growth!
We have to grow through these moments, and our lives in high school are as difficult as they felt when we experienced them!
Connecting to our previous discussion in the article “How to Really Graduate From School,” we discover that through hindsight we make the same mistakes out of school and into the workplace, in our relationships, and in our school nightmares.
This is because regular hindsight (using only logic and circumstances) is not effective at dealing with the emotional traumas we experienced in school, which were real indeed!
How do we really learn from hindsight?
Now that we have covered the nature of hindsight and its weaknesses, let us discover how to use hindsight and its strengths to make permanent, healthy changes in our habits.
How you perfectly make the wrong decisions:
Every decision you make is perfectly made based on your current situation.
Regardless if you felt it was the right or wrong decision an hour, week, or a year later, there was enough cells in your body, enough motivation, or specific emotions running through you to make your snap judgement and take action.
Your mind was racing and considering lessons your learned as a child and brought those experiences to the moment you needed to make your decision.
With our circumstances and our environment, we weighed the risks and benefits, and we considered our own personal survival or how it effects other people we care about.
All of this came together to make our decisions, even if our decision was the ‘wrong one.’
Do not call ourselves stupid for not following our perfectly logical model of how we are supposed to live our life.
Instead, analyze the environment, our habits, and our past that led to the decision we made.
In other words, find out how to change your reactions to circumstances, instead of the circumstances themselves.
Then, we can work on changing those habits starting right now!
Understanding how everything occurs perfectly in your life means you can find the cause of the problem and create and action plan for the future, instead of reminiscing over your regrets or to cling to your past in a self-destructive manner.
Example Situation To Learn With Hindsight:
Let us say we had a flat tire. After coming home from work, we decided to procrastinate and fill the tire back up a different day.
It turns out that three days later there was an emergency and you needed to drive, but you could not because your tires were still flat. Whoops!
This is how normal people would use hindsight. Do not do this:
“I wish I had put air in my tires on Sunday, I should have done that because three days later I needed to drive due to an emergency.”
Although it is possible to anticipate the future using you intuition, how likely is it that you will predict with 100% accuracy that you would have a crisis in a couple days if you did not do your chore?
We can not predict the future that well!
Going back to the moment you came home after a long day of hard work, you were tired, hungry, and it is late.
Really ask ourselves, if we did not know there could be an immediate crisis, why should we fill our tires full of air instead of eating dinner, seeing our loved ones, or getting some rest?
These are important questions to ask because they address the real situation, the inner conflicts that the character (you) had to consider before making that decision.
It addresses the actual habits that led to the results instead of the results and circumstances on their own.
I understand this example might not “hit it out of the ball park” as others could do.
So knock on wood, hope it never happens, but imagine you texted your best friend during lunch hour, told them you hope they have a wonderful day, and you never hear back from them. It is 7:00 PM and you get a call from the hospital saying your frined got in a car crash this afternoon.
In “logical hindsight,” you might say. “I should have never texted him! If I never would of texted him, he would of never been distracted and he would of lived.”
Do you see the issue here?
How would you have known? You sent a simple innocent text. You did not even know whether your loved one was driving or not. It is purely circumstantial!
The unfortunate part is that this use of hindsight is common and actually is a cause for serious depression. We put blame on ourselves for something we could of never predicted.
In a short summary, don’t use hindsight circumstantially, use it habitually!
Let us go back to the car tires example. Here would be a better way of using hindsight:
“The next time I have something on my to do list such as filling my tires with air and there is nothing holding me back from doing it now, then just go ahead and do it, even if I am tired.”
Do you see the difference? This way is addressing the habits which got you in the mess in the first place!
In this case, the real problem has to do with discipline.
Now, it is time to focus on that discipline.
What is going to make you more disciplined than last time?
Saying “I should be more discipline next time” is not going to cut it!
That is the old hindsight, time to think outside the box.
“Why was I undisciplined? Was it because I was tired? Hungry? Eager to watch TV? Was it out of convenience?”
If you can see where this is going, we are addressing how we react to these negative things.
In this case, it is how we react to hunger, exhaustion, eagerness, and so on.
How Do We Change How We React?
There is easy three step formula on how to change your reaction to these cravings and negative sensations.
Ultimately, this will come down to your own experimentation.
A great place to start learning from hindsight and to develop your habits is to use our free Healthy Habits Work Sheet!
If you get lost with how to do the exercise, you can check out the Example Work Sheet I filled out here. The example has to do with a habit of eating junk food like Taco Bell and how I overcame it.
With practice, you are more likely to build a better future with less urgency, and most importantly, fewer mistakes and regrets.
Common Objection: “Is there anything good about the old way of looking at hindsight?”
Although this article constantly beats up the old version of hindsight, there are times when it flourishes.
The old version of hindsight is great at taking yourself out of your limited perspective and to see it from an objective point of view.
Although this is not the best way to change your habits because it does not address the subjective, it is a way to develop compassion for other people’s point of views.
This is especially good if you were in an argument and you want to just see the situation “how it really was” without your emotions as part of the story.
As an example of this in action, I had an argument with my best friend recently.
(Keep in mind this is simplified for the sake of the article)
I was working with her and her business and there was a situation where I had to go. She was deeply hurt that I had this emergency, and I was deeply hurt that she did not trust me anymore and this was going to cost us our friendship.
Although there are many great examples of how “subjective hindsight” taught me how to deal with these situations in the future, the old version of hindsight also came into play.
Jumping into her shoes, I realized that her business was her baby! She is pragmatic, success oriented, disciplined, and what I like to call the iron lady.
The fact she offered me to work with her was the closest level of trust you can get.
In an objective sense, even though my position was reasonable, I broke that trust by telling her I had to leave for an emergency, and she put a mountain load of work into preparation and I left her when she needed me the most.
Hindsight tells us that there was no straight “right and wrong” answer to this dilemma. Over three years we grew apart with different values, this one situation was a *SNAP* of that slowly weakening bond, and we may never be friends again.
Hindsight allows us to respect each other. We both thought we made the right decision and we stuck to what we believed in.
In other words, the old version of hindsight is not meant for changing habits, but rather looking at the past from a different point of view.
It gives you the opportunity to be compassionate, loving, and forgiving for the past once filled with regret, sadness, and frustration.
The quickest way to summarize the differences:
- Old hindsight is objective and is meant for looking at a situation from different perspectives.
- The “new hindsight” is subjective, and is meant for changing your habits and improving your decisions for the future.
Give yourself the opportunity to ask questions about what habits brought you to your mistakes, instead of regretting the mistake itself.
Then, learn to use your intuition to make healthy choices in the present moment.
When in hindsight, ask yourself what kept you from using your gut and how you can make the right decisions despite feeling negative emotions such as exhaustion, anxiety, anger, and so forth.
Lastly, take a moment to appreciate the possibility that (maybe) it was not a mistake at all!
You could of done exactly what you felt was right at that time.
It led you to this moment, reading this blog, where every second of the day is a second chance.