If you’ve never seen the featured image for this post, let me be the first to introduce you to Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol originating from west Africa.
Sankofa is commonly depicted as a bird with its head turned back to retrieve an egg off its back and means “return and get it”. It is supposed to symbolize the importance of reflecting on the past to build a successful future – there is an intense movie with the same name that I highly recommend you watch.
I run the risk of exposing myself by admitting this – even though I have a strong suspicion that many of you reading this post might do the same yourselves – but I have a tendency to look back and critique my choices or try to imagine what my life might look like had I made different decisions.
College, more specifically my undergraduate career, is one such experience in my life that I’ve thought many times about doing all over again.
If I could go back to my senior year of high school knowing what I know now, I’ve thought that I would apply for more scholarships; I’ve thought that I would never sign a promissory note for a private student loan; I’ve thought about staying in California and never moving to Pennsylvania, and I’ve thought that I would stay home and save on tuition by going to a U.C. and major in computer science, so I could get a fancy tech job in San Francisco.
The point is it’s easy to look back and think about what you “shoulda, coulda, or woulda” done had you known what you know now. The problem, however, is that looking back with this kind of an attitude misses the spirit of Sankofa and doesn’t improve your current situation.
With the new year fresh upon us, I have some suggestions on how to reflect more constructively on the past for a happier and more productive 2016.
1. Learn from the Past
Reflecting on the past can be a powerful thing – if done correctly. Dwelling on the past is not the right way to reflect. The better way is to learn from the past.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in the lifestyle that you ‘should’ve’ had, had you turned left instead of right, went up rather than down, or decided to go rather than stay; however, the reality is that time moves forward and there are rarely, if ever, any second chances or ‘redos’.
Still, there is a lot to learn from the choices that we’ve made. It’s useful to know the emotional impetus for our choices (e.g. were our choices driven by fear, insecurity, lack of confidence, etc.) because those emotions are likely to continue to dictate our future decisions if not acknowledged and dealt with.
When reflecting on a ‘bad’ decision, it’s far more productive to ask, “Why did I make that decision?” rather than asking, “How would things be right now had I chose differently?” The first question prompts greater self-awareness and personal exploration, which is always a good use of energy, while the second question transports you to the realms of disappointment and regret, which generally leads to frustration and anger – ain’t nobody got time for that!
2. Live in the Present
Living in the present means expressing gratitude. It’s easy to miss the blessings and opportunities in life when we are more focused on what we could have done differently.
Changing even the smallest aspect of the past has the potential of changing everything about our current realities. If I would’ve never moved to Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t have the support network that I have today. Some of my closest and most enduring friendships were established during my stint out of the California – no amount of money is worth sacrificing these relationships.
Accept that life can be fickle and the struggle can get real, but remember that our struggles are what make us stronger, and our mistakes are what make us smarter – we just have to be willing to learn from them.
Take stock of the experiences you’ve had, the people you’ve met, as well as the critical life-lessons you’ve learned about yourself along the way and be grateful for them. Changing your frame of mind and training your brain to consider how you’re blessed rather than how life has let you down is the first step towards increased happiness and greater success in the future.
3. Plan Forward
While you can’t alter the past, you do have a lot more control over where you’re headed in the future. This is why it is so important to plan for the future given what you’ve learned about yourself from the past.
I mentioned that I ‘should’ve’ majored in computer science and be working as a programmer and enjoying all the wealth that has flooded into the Bay Area in the past couple of years; however, saying I ‘should’ve’ doesn’t really change the reality that I ‘didn’t’ and I am not.
Replace ‘should’ve’ with ‘will’ and powerful things will start to happen. Saying, “I will become a computer programmer,” or “I will do [insert what you would like to do here],” transfers the power back into your hands and activates your unconscious mind.
Whenever we decide to do or accomplish anything, our subconscious mind starts working overtime to figure out how to bring our dreams and aspirations to fruition. Practicing life planning is a way to engage in dialogue with your subconscious mind.
Create a vision board, or draft a 5-year plan or future resume and cover letter. The format is far less important than the exercise of drafting a road map for yourself that can guide you towards your goals. When you can say what you want and have a plan for how you are going to get it, suddenly the stars begin to align, and the universe starts to bend to your will. Before you know it, you’re a computer scientist or [insert your dream or aspiration here], and you’re no longer looking back and reflecting on all things you’d like to change about your life.
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