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  • January 17, 2023 5 min read

    Do you often find yourself looking far into the future every time you make plans? I know this may sound like a silly question with an obvious answer but hear me out: there’s a point to this in the form of a follow up question, one that creates an important distinction.

    Is that all you ever do?

    The reason we ask is because an effective plan isn’t always about focusing on what’s on the horizon. Sure, the end goal is important—you’ve got to have a destination after all—but arguably, taking the time to look back is as paramount to reaching the finish line. There are far too many valuable lessons in the past that can assist us in navigating the present and the future and it would be such a waste not to take them into account!

    This is why in today’s article, we want to list down 5 things to look back on that can help us plan out the year ahead. With a little more than eleven months remaining this year, we’ve still got a lot of planning to do!

     

    1. Reflect on the challenges that you’ve faced.

    Sometimes, the past can be too painful or stressful to remember. Perhaps bad things may have happened at the time or we made decisions that had terrible consequences. More often than not in this case, all we want to do is move on and forget whatever we’ve gone through. “Start fresh” by leaving the past where it belongs: behind us.

    But while it’s generally a good idea to put distance between ourselves and a less than ideal period in our lives, especially if it’s far too recent, without a doubt, it’s also useful to reflect on the challenges we’ve faced during this time. Part of, if not its entirety—starting from the problem all the way to the solution we came up with, no matter the result—can be a source of learning. If done right, it can guide us into making better choices so we can work our way towards the more positive outcomes that we desire.

    In Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, reflection (and observation) is an integral part of the four-stage learning process.

    The reason it’s a crucial step is because it allows us to analyze experiences and draw conclusions from them. Being able to do this allows us to come up with new or modified ideas that we can apply moving forward as we go through a different experience—so on and so forth, as cycles go. Without the option to reflect on what has already passed however, we risk putting ourselves in similar situations that have never served us well, ones where we commit the same mistakes and make poor decisions. There’s no learning at all.

    The good thing here is that, while there’s a lot to take away from the setbacks that we’ve faced, we can learn as much by also looking at the challenges we were able to successfully overcome. Lessons don’t just come from our failures; a lot of it exists in our success, too.

     

    2. Celebrate your accomplishments!

    Are you the type to wait until you’ve finished a task, project or goal before celebrating? If your answer is yes, here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as celebrating too early! In fact, recognizing your wins—big or small—is encouraged and can be helpful in the long run. This is called the progress principle.

    According to Harvard, progress “can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions”. This means as you move forward to plan the future, looking back at your small wins can impact your well-being, motivation, and creative output—things that may help determine whether or not you will keep going.

    Of course you don’t have to throw a party each time you hit a milestone but, at the very least, acknowledge your victories! Let your accomplishments guide you forward because put together, a set of small wins can pave the way to a greater, grander victory at the end of the road.

     

    3. Figure out what didn’t help.

    There’s a popular saying that’s falsely attributed to Albert Einstein, one that’s relevant to what we want to talk about next:

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting to achieve different results.”

    Even though it’s not something that one of the smartest people in the world said for real, still, we can’t deny that this saying makes a lot of sense. When planning our future, if something didn’t work out for us the first time, what reason do we have to do it again? Why should we repeat it, redo it, or keep it in our life if it’s holding us back? This can be anything—certain habits, practices, beliefs, even people—that have no helpful or meaningful impact on us. Things that don’t make us better or allow us to move forward.

    Though it may be difficult in the beginning, we can make certain modifications to what we’re used to. Tweak something that you’re already doing and see if you get different results. Otherwise, consider making a complete change.

    Get rid of what keeps you from turning into the best version of yourself. Break bad habits, start new ones (and make sure to track them), learn new skills, and choose to surround yourself with people who won’t hold you back and, instead, will move forward with you.

     

    4. On the flipside, recall and replicate what was helpful.

    Reversely, if there are habits and practices that have assisted you and ensured your plans don’t remain what they are, just plans, then by all means! Keep doing them. This is why things like habit trackers are so helpful; apart from showing our progress, we have visual proof of what has helped us get to our desired destination. Journaling our experiences is also another thing we can utilize—anything that will allow us to look back, assess, and learn from what has passed.

     

    5. List down everything you’re grateful for.

    When planning, it’s easy to focus on our destination and what we need to do to get there that we sometimes forget to be grateful for different things. Now you may ask: what does being grateful have to do with planning? Here’s what: it has amazing, uplifting benefits that can encourage, inspire, and motivate us. Doing something as simple as gratitude journaling can propel us forward and further especially when times are difficult. But how?

    Not only does gratitude improve mental health—as well as affect physical health—being more grateful makes us happier, too! In ideal circumstances where we feel and are in the best condition, there’s absolutely nothing we can't do including making sure what we have planned comes to fruition.

     

    Conclusion

    Whether we’re simply creating schedules and to-do lists, planning out events and preparing to reach important milestones, or setting new goals, the learnings and experiences of yesterday can ensure our success in life today and tomorrow. Instead of leaving everything in the past, let’s take what we can from it so we can plan a better future.

    What other methods do you use to look back while planning? Share it with us in the comments below! We’d love to hear what you think.

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