Brain Food #613

To look back a little further

Thoughts of the day

What this past year has taken away from us has been the opportunity to look ahead with the illusion of safety, that things will turn out as we have planned them, and as we had imagined them.

But the truth, always much more complicated, teaches us that we must learn to give up on our expectations. That life lies not in some distant, imagined future, but in the present moment. And that, with fewer opportunities to look ahead, we are given more room and time to look back.

To never look back is a concept paradoxically associated with growth - why spend time considering things we cannot change, regretting what is no longer within our control, when there is still so much potential in the future? There is a certain wisdom in this, that the act of looking back may also be holding us back from moving forward. But to look back is to also see how far we have come, even if the journey has felt long and static.

Beyond my end-of-week retrospective, which is proving more and more valuable every week, sometimes I like to look back a little further. We are used to short feedback loops, in a world designed to provide instant gratification. Yet, not every week may contain an achievement or milestone, and this can be demoralising.

But we also tend to split our year into a variety of timebound intervals: weeks, months, quarters. A week’s worth of progress may seem Lilliputian, but a quarter’s, or even a month’s progress, can be much more revealing and generous. What goals did you set for yourself this year? How far along have you come? What have you accomplished that was unexpected? List five things. And if you have more, list those, too.

Have a good weekend.


“We look back on our life as a thing of broken pieces, because our mistakes and failures are always the first to strike us, and outweigh in our imagination what we have accomplished and attained.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe