We live in a unique time period and one that the world has never seen before. If you feel like watching a movie tonight, you can pull up your Netflix or Hulu account without leaving your couch. If someone asks you for the latest score on the game, you pull out your phone and speak it into the receiver. If you feel like grabbing some food on the way home, you order it online ahead of time and put it what time you need it ready. We live in an era defined by convenience and immediate gratification. Wants and needs are met with a sense of urgency and lack of considering long-term consequences.
Now, I want to start off by saying I am not by any means solely blaming technological advancements or today’s generations. However, it highlights several issues that I have encountered both professionally and personally – poor impulse control, impaired judgment, and difficulty seeing long-term consequences. It is a frequent conversation I have with friends, family members, and clients and for any number of reasons. These “talks” though often revolve around one of two valuable cognitive abilities – hindsight and foresight.
Almost all of us have heard the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Of course, with hindsight being the ability to look backwards. It is easy to look back at our past experiences. They are concrete and cemented into our psyche. There is no grey area clouding our memories, allowing for a clear retrospective view.
The value in this ability comes in what it teaches us. For instance, I utilized this approach with my clients struggling with substance use. The antiquated school of thought with treating substance use (mostly in the 12 steps of Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous) was that if an individual experienced a relapse at any point in their recovery, they had to start over. Keeping in mind I heard stories of a recovering alcoholic with forty years of sobriety under his belt. His son died, and he went to the local bar for one night. This meant he had to start all over. Instead of seeing a relapse as stop sign though, why not just view it as a speed bump? When my clients relapsed, I was disappointed, but I did not condemn them. I talked to them versus at them. We talked about what led to their relapse, what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they can do differently. Most importantly, I always asked, “What did you learn from this experience?”
Foresight is often far less developed than hindsight. Foresight requires an individual to look forward, which is frightening for many. Our futures contain mankind’s greatest fear – the unknown. It is full of “what-if’s,” grey area, and potential outcomes.
This is the skill that prevents us from making poor decisions and ensuring our long-term success. As a counselor, this is where I tell people, “I’m going to make you think.” Usually, individuals have not thought beyond their next move. When I prompt them about their long-term goals or ask them where they see themselves in “x” amount of time, they struggle to answer. What I focus on though is focusing on predictability, probability, and odds. It is all about the preparation. Think about the most likely outcomes of a given situation. Weigh out the pros, cons, and extraneous factors. Look at how they could contribute to a decision or a future goal. Depending on the situation, I even rehearse the situation in my head or with a friend. Practice makes perfect.
The Relationship Between the Two
These two skills intertwine more than it may seem. We utilize hindsight to help identify trends. We take what we have learned from past experiences to ensure that history does not repeat itself. That information is passed along to our foresight. In this case, the knowledge is filtered to determine the most appropriate preparation for the situation.
As a result, courage builds up, and the future seems less terrifying. By moving closer to one’s goals, unresolved demons are confronted in the process. Therefore, the flow reverses back towards hindsight.
“When the past meets the future, they offer each other a present.”
-The Caring Counselor