Hidden Wisdom: The Value of Reflecting on Your Past
5 min read

Hidden Wisdom: The Value of Reflecting on Your Past

Hidden Wisdom: The Value of Reflecting on Your Past

I used to ignore my past.

Not in some "It's trying to tell me something, and I shut it out" kind of way, but in an "I don't think it's important" kind of way. I just didn't think about it much.

Instead, I was focused on the problems of the moment and those that were right around the corner.

But, over time ignoring my past lead to a whole host of problems.

The Price for Ignoring my Past

I stumbled into the same problems again and again, because I never analyzed them after they happened. Thus, I failed to learn the lessons they wanted to teach me and repeated them for months or years.

I didn't understand my behaviors, habits, and thought patterns very well. My problems were like out-of-focus pictures of things that I couldn't precisely name, deeply understand or lastingly solve. Their reasons for existing seemed to elude me, often for many years.

Also, instead of intentionally responding to a problem, person, or opportunity, I simply reacted. This meant that I didn't solve many of my problems, made bad impressions on people, and squandered many opportunities where an intentional response could have produced vastly better outcomes.

Of course, running into the same problems repeatedly, lacking understanding about myself, and reacting instead of responding felt incredibly frustrating. I didn't understand my problems, lacked insights into potential solutions, and didn't take the time to respond to them intentionally.

But, instead of seeing my ignorance of the past as a problem, I just continued to ignore it because I never learned how powerful reflecting on it is.

The Reward for Reflecting on the Past

As you may know, I've changed how I handle my past drastically in the last few years.

Instead of seeing it as something unimportant to ignore and move on from, I've learned that understanding it leads to vital insights that I'm unable to learn any other way.

What changed my view of it, was a combination of self-awareness and self-understanding.

I started changing my life when I first discovered self-improvement. The books I read, the lectures I watched, and the podcasts I listened to at the time posed many questions to me that I didn't have an answer to. Realizing that I'd never find those questions looking forward, made me look backward and reflect on my past. Doing so made not only clear why I didn't have answers to those questions, but also helped me to find some answers in unexpected places. The more I learned to strike a balance between past-focused thinking and future-focused thinking the more I learned to value reflecting on my past.

At the same time, I realized how many people were dismissive of their past the same way I had been before. Instead of treating it as a treasure trove of knowledge and insights, they dismissed it as unimportant.

I think this dismissive attitude toward the past is one of the main reasons that people are stuck.

They think the past has nothing of value to offer them, are afraid of the responsibility that insights from the past would demand of them, or want to keep their illusions up. So, they avoid the past like the plague, or at least ignore it. Consequently, they never acquire the insights that the past could bequeath to them and thus remain stuck in the present.

Because I've gotten past this limited understanding of the past, here are a few ideas on how you can connect with the past and extract the many insights that it holds:

How to Bring the Past Into the Present

1. Write Down Old Recurring Memories

One practice that made me bullish on reflecting on my past was to write down old memories that involuntarily popped into my head now and then.

These memories were between a few months and 15 years old but kept reappearing in my head occasionally throughout my life. When I learned that writing them down carefully and completely could make them disappear I gave it a shot. I discovered that this simple practice works. If you have old memories that don't go away, writing them down as completely and fully as you can helps you process them. Then your brain doesn't have to remind you of them repeatedly.

Just don't make my mistake and think that's easy. It's simple, sure, but it's also really hard because of all the emotional baggage that tends to be attached to them. I even wrote about one memory some time that I thought was a happy childhood memory but turned out to be a really sad one after some writing.

Nonetheless, reflecting on your past can make your present much more pleasant by helping you process old memories and freeing up bandwidth and energy to live in the present.

2. Look for Connections to Present Issues

When you have a problem take a few minutes to think about where they might have come from.

Be careful, not to remain stuck in the past but don't try to deal only with the surface-level problems that you can see right now. Instead, look deeper and try to understand the genesis of your problems.

The insights that such a deep understanding of your problems can provide you with can help you solve them.

3. Understand Your Future Through Your Past

Have you ever heard that you should think about your childhood dreams and what you enjoyed as a child to identify what you might aspire to in the present?

There's much truth to this.

The things we enjoyed and aspired to as children are often some of the truest expressions of our personality. As children, we're often free of a lot of categorization, labeling, and "boxing" of things, people, and ideas in the way that we do as adults. Thus, what we aspire to is often an untainted expression of our deepest desires. This doesn't have to always be the case because as children we can also easily be influenced, but it's a good starting point for mapping your future.

Thus, look back on the past and try to identify moments of genuine curiosity, enthusiasm, or joy. What were they? What characteristics do they share? What would they look like if you'd reintegrate them into your adult life?


I hope this letter helped you appreciate your past a little bit more.

I used to ignore it for many years, and I regret it. But, thankfully, you don't have to repeat my mistakes and can learn from them. From what I've learned, reflecting on the past is almost always useful to solve problems in the present. There's just so much to learn if you look in the right spots for a reasonable amount of time.

Reflecting on your past can lay old memories to rest, solve your problems in the present, and help you understand where you should be going in the future. It's a treasure trove of insight that's always available to you.

So, please, don't be as ignorant as me and ignore it.

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