You know those invisible ink pens? The ones where you write something down and you can’t see it right away? Some of these leave ink that reveals itself when a light shines on it just right, and others slowly reveal the ink over a period of time. My life and yours are written with invisible ink. We can’t always see exactly what we’ve done in the moment. Our actions might be blurry, out of context or completely irrelevant in the moment. We might think we leave a certain mark on our sheet of paper only to realize the outcome was different from what we intended in the moment. We might go through something huge, only to realize later that there’s barely a visible smudge on our sheet of paper called life.
Whether we’re talking about invisible ink pens or the events of your life, it can be very difficult to make out what’s currently going on before any amount of time has passed by. Knowing this, it’s important that we spend time in reflection on a consistent basis. A lot of speakers and leaders talk a lot about planning your days and sticking to a strict calendar to stay organized. They talk about looking ahead into the coming day, quarter or year and setting goals and arranging a schedule, but what I feel is more important is looking backwards at your days and your weeks and your years after they’ve happened. It’s a different idea than the popular forward thinking we often hear about, and it’s not exactly in line with living in the moment, but if you never stop and look back at how things have happened, the path forward may always be blurry.
This is why NFL players spend more time watching game tape from games that have already happened than practicing for the next one. We have to recognize how we react in certain scenarios so we can make the necessary adjustments moving forward. Triumphs can be quite tough to replicate, while mistakes seem to repeat themselves over and over with ease. In either case, the way to increase or decrease the probability of an outcome is to evaluate what’s already happened. This is true in merely every category of human behaviour. When you feel good, take a moment to look backwards and see what led you to where you’re feeling this way, then see if you can repeat it. When you feel bad, do the same and make some adjustments. Take inventory on your relationships and determine what and when things are going well. Have a look backwards at how you’ve been treating people. With a little effort, you’ll find some trends. Repeat the good ones, limit the bad ones.
This is what Andy learns in “The Office”. The character has a famous quote near the end of the series. He says “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days when you’re in them”. He’s reflecting on his time working for Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, finally realizing the amazing job it’s been for him. Imagine how much enjoyment you could get out of life if you took stock on your life more than once per decade. The thing is that it’s more or less impossible to realize the significance of what happens on a day to day basis. This isn’t to say that every day is life altering, but it could be. You probably won’t know until later, so don’t forget to look back on what’s happened to give you a clue about why things are the way they are. If you practice this, you’ll find it easier to live in the moment, and planning the future will become natural.
Reflecting on past events is one of the more under-utilized tricks to living a good life. You might not know what I mean by a good life, but if you look back on your own, a picture of what you might define as a good life will become clear. Don’t just make it up as you go. Stop, look around and see what’s led you to who your are, how you think, where you live, who you talk with and what you do. Make some mental notes (or physical ones), then step forward. Big things might end up being small and small things might end up being big. You won’t know until later.