Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told us that ‘it’s easy to be wise after the event’, and he’s right.
Sometimes known as the ‘knew-it-all-along phenomenon’ or ‘creeping determinism’, what most of us know as hindsight is a valuable gift.
Put very simply, hindsight is a function of our conscious minds that gives us the ability to analyse, re-evaluate and re-assess past experiences, decisions and actions in the clear light of present knowledge.
One example we can surely all relate to is when we look back at old photographs of ourselves and say ‘what on earth possessed me to wear that!’ In the light of present knowledge, blue denim jeans, a blue denim shirt, denim cap and a red bandana may not have been the best choice but then, in the late 80s, it was the height of fashion.
Why did I think that was a good idea?
Why didn’t I make a better decision?
How could I not have seen that coming?
Should I really have done that?
At one point or another, we’ve all asked ourselves one of the questions above and when it’s applied to a fashion faux pas, we self-administer a mild slap on the wrist from our increasingly knowledgeable selves, but since our perceptions and beliefs strongly influence our memories, the benefits of hindsight, of looking back over moments in our past, can greatly benefit how we think in the future and it has the amazing power to create real, positive change.
The Benefits of Hindsight
By considering a past experience with the wisdom we have now, it’s much easier to reframe the situation and even alter the meaning it once had and it’s made all the more easier with the passing of time.
An embarrassing situation we once found ourselves in can be reframed as a funny reminiscence, a time when fear filled us can be reframed as evidence of how brave we have become and a challenging time at work or in our personal lives can be reframed as character-defining.
With all of the above examples, our perspective gives us the ability to choose how we transform these memories and while the intensity of the experience should be acknowledged, it doesn’t have to be relived. All we need to do is to recognise that what may have seemed significant then was simply a tiny fragment of life’s unpredictable journey. There were others and there will be more.
One of the major benefits is our inbuilt ability to find understanding, compassion, gratitude or even forgiveness that wasn’t possible when the memory was first created but the most empowering element of hindsight is to examine the experience and then look for other times in our personal or professional lives where that learning can be applied.
But How Can I Do That?
Well, with a lot of these things, it’s deceptively simple.
The ability to take lessons from one context and apply them to another is extremely useful because it can help to speed up or increase our chances of success.
If we can learn something positive about ourselves or a situation we’ve faced and then relate it to similar experiences where those lessons are relevant, we can, as we’ve mentioned, reframe patterns of past experiences to help us which in turn increases our ability to make those lessons relevant to a current experience or situation (or one that may manifest itself in the future).
Here is a practical example from school when I fell out with my favourite teacher:
In my first year of secondary school, all I wanted to do was play netball and I was pretty decent. I was in the school team and we played on Saturday mornings against other schools in the area. One day during training after school I turned my ankle over and told the PE teacher – a person who I had huge respect for and who treated us all like adults, with respect and with decency – that I thought I should sit out training so my ankle could get better for the weekend.
She agreed and I sat on the edge watching the training session. At first everything was OK but then for an inexplicable reason she lost her temper with me, calling me lazy and threatening not to play me on the weekend if I didn’t want to train.
I was no doctor but I knew that if I went back out there I’d do more damage to myself so I stuck to my guns and insisted I was injured. I remember being upset that my favourite teacher was angry with me but I was also adamant that I shouldn’t try and train. I didn’t and ended up being dropped for the next match.
I think about that a lot and in that instant, it changed the way I thought about that teacher. I felt betrayed by her lack of compassion and understanding and for a while it made me question whether I wanted to even play netball anymore.
But, 30+ years later (I won’t reveal the true number!), that experience has been reframed. With he benefit of hindsight, I found a gratitude for that teacher who challenged me like she did. I realised that I had stood up for myself and it proved to me that I had the courage of my convictions, even as an 11 year-old kid. Now, I won’t let anyone make me do anything I don’t want to do.
This led to thoughts of other times whereby I felt I was ’wronged’ in standing up for something I believed in. I can now thank her for helping me to discover that aspect of myself. I now know that I don’t have to take these things as an personal affront and that I was offered a chance to be true to myself and my own beliefs.
Taking Positive Action
We can’t change the event itself – that’s already happened – but what we can change is our perception of the event and we can benefit from the healthier, more positive way we have reframed the experience.
The beauty of being able to think in this way leads to a clarity of thought, a more positive outlook and the knowledge that whatever has happened in our lives, we can always turn it around and make it a force for good.