How we relate to the past determines how we move into the future. Sometimes the past can be a driving force, propelling us forward. In other cases the past can be a hindrance, keeping us from forging ahead. What’s the difference? The key is learning from the past, not living in it. Living in the past halts your personal or organizational growth. It’s like chains holding you back. On the other hand, learning from the past accelerates growth. It allows you to make better decisions and become stronger. There’s a huge difference in these two approaches. So how does a person learn from the past?
Three ways you can learn from the past
The past is a gift. It provides us a vast resource of information for making choices and shaping our actions moving forward. Here’s how you can learn from the past in order to build a better future:
1. Review Successes and Failures – We’ve all had highs and lows in our lives. Moments when we’re on top and moments when we’ve hit bottom. Both sets of moments are valuable. They give you strategic insight into how to achieve success and avoid failures. Think about two or three of your biggest personal or organizational successes and failures. Then ask yourself a few questions:
- Why, when and how were you successful?
- Why, when and how did you fail?
Relive these moments in your mind and take detailed and vivid notes. Identify every key indicator of success or failure. Make a list of them. Whenever you go to make a decision or take an important action, refer to this list. See how these indicators apply to current situations and if they pull you in one direction or the other.
2. Apply What You Learn – Your past failures show you pitfalls to avoid. That’s important. Everyone makes mistakes; the key is not repeating them. By acknowledging your missteps, you can make a concentrated effort to steer clear of them in the future. That’s what learning is – gaining information and tailoring your actions accordingly. The most successful individuals (and organizations) make a lot of mistakes… and they learn from each and every one of them.
While you learn from your failures, you should focus more time and energy on your past successes. If your failures provide a crash course in “what not to do”, your successes are your “to do” list. This will help mold and shape your efforts moving into the future. Take what worked for you in the past and apply it to your present situation. Know where your strengths lie, and leverage them to continually achieve success. Ultimately, learning from your past successes and failures will help you strengthen your strengths and weaken your weaknesses.
3. Let Go of the Past – I’ve talked a lot about reviewing and learning from the past. But that doesn’t mean living in it or lingering on it. That’s when the past becomes a negative rather than a positive. They say all great quarterbacks have a short memory. They shake off an interception and go back on the field and throw a touchdown pass. The same goes for work and life. If you always keep the past in front of you, you can only move backward.
The best way to learn from the past is to let go of it. For many leaders and organizations, the past is equivalent to “quicksand”. The past paralyzes them from moving forward. Execute the first two points of reviewing and applying, but make it a point to make peace, let go and forget the past after you learn. Your eyes should always be steadily focused on the future in front of you – and the infinite possibilities for success it offers.
The value of the past is different for all of us. Some people use it to fuel success and become better, stronger and smarter; others let it hold them back so they keep running in place when they should be sprinting forward. Fortunately, we hold the power over the past. That means the choice is yours: Will you let the past take the driver seat, or will you be the one behind the wheel using the past to navigate toward a successful future?