I remember talking to one of my work colleagues some time back, about how as software engineers we sometimes look back at the programs we wrote in the past and cannot help it but say “I was such a fool back then“. Over time you learn about better ways to program, through reading, videos, mentorship and actually taking action by programming – It is all a function of growth. As you learn these better ways and you look back at previous programs you have written, the mistakes you made or the better ways in which you could have structured the program become clearer. It is not that you were irresponsible at the time you wrote the program, you probably made the best decision you could at the time and wrote the software in the best way you could given the knowledge you had at the time.
Over time I have come to realise that this “I was such a fool back then” moment does not just occur when looking back at software programs. It occurs when any form of introspection occurs in life. I have tried to build a habit of taking some time to reflect and introspect on what has happened in my life. The output from this process gives me feedback on where I am doing well in life and where I need to get back on track. The idea of looking back is not for you to live in your past glories, or for you to live in regret as regret is past tense decision making. In this fast moving world, looking back just allows you to slow down and take a quick peek into your rear-view mirror to see if everything is stable before proceeding with life.
Sometimes when I look back, even for a period as short as 6 months, I identify that I have learned and grown so much. Some of my ideas and thoughts would have changed and some of the things I would have said or done, I would not say or do anymore. This is great, it is a sign of growth and that there is always room for improvement. The last thing you want is to arrive at a fixed place where you assume you know everything and you stick to that. You should always be growing in knowledge and becoming a better person all the time. This should happen throughout your lifetime.
What are some of the ways to help you introspect on your life?
1) Write down a timeline
Find a quiet place with minimal distractions, a place where you can really think easily, this location differs for everyone. Identify how far back you want to reflect on, for example at the end of a year, most people reflect from the beginning of the year. With a notebook and pen, write down a timeline from the starting point of reflection until now. Write down everything you identify as important in your life, the events that took place, the decisions you made, the highs and the lows. Take your time with this, and write down whatever you want, it is your canvas. When you complete this, you will realise you have thought through most things for that reflection period, and you can use your timeline as input into your plans / goals going forward.
2) Social network archives and timelines
Technology is going to have an increasing role to play in the future in terms how people introspect, reflect, and look back at their lives. Social networks already have a role to play in this space. Depending on how you utilise your social networks, they may be a great tool on reflecting as they tell you what you did in the past (via checkins), what you were thinking about (via status updates, tweets and private messages) and even your experiences (via photos you shared). On Facebook, you can just scroll down your timeline and take note of what happened in the past. Twitter allows you to download an archive of all you tweets and you can easily look at what you tweeted in a particular month of a selected year. I actually downloaded my twitter archive a few weeks ago, and it was interesting to see how my thought process and patterns of behaviour over the years have changed, especially given that I only started using Twitter about 3 years ago. The way I see it, social networks will support your introspection, and can help you build the timeline mentioned above, but used in isolation, social networks may not give you enough detail.
3) Look back into your journal
If you happen to keep a journal of some sort, you are also in a position to open up this journal and look back at where you were a few months back or even years back. I started keeping a journal at the beginning of 2014, at the end of each day just before I sleep I spend 5 minutes making notes of how the day went, any particular highlights, what I am looking forward to, and my current state of mind. I am not perfect at this, I am still trying to make sure I write a post everyday as sometimes I miss some days. I use The Penzu App if anyone is interested in starting to journal, I highly recommend journalling, regardless of which tool you use to accomplish it. Again at any point you want to reflect on your life you can look back and just read your journal and see what your thought process was in the past. At the point that you journal, its great because you actually reflect on the day you are journalling on, however the true value of a journal is only realised months or years later when you open it up and have a clear picture of where you were and where you are now and this becomes input for where you are going.
A lot of the time the past gets lost, we forget what our goals, thought processes or lifestyles were. Typically only recalling the big moments, such as graduation, promotions, weddings, etc. It is a very strange concept to live by, we always want to look back in the past and say I did so well then, but there is nothing better than looking back and realising that you have grown so much. Keep learning and growing in whatever you do, work, health, fitness, parenting, relationships, etc. There is always room for improvement. Let us embrace the “I was such a fool back then” moment, it is a function of growth.