Avoiding the mistakes of the past

Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
– George Santayana

It’s an aphorism we know all too well, quoted and mis-quoted freely. It reminds us to study history, to understand past blunders so we may avoid them in the future.

It tells us to look at what others have done so that we might avoid their folly.

But it always seems to applied on a broad, society level which seems to miss most of its power and value.

Sure, as a society, it’s important that we understand our past, especially the mistakes, but this seems very abstract and theoretical. It doesn’t seem like something which is easy for each of us to collectively contribute to. But what we can contribute to, is an understanding of ourselves.

This reflection is a tool that can, and should, be foremost implemented at the micro level of our own lives.

We spend our short and busy lives facing only in one direction: forwards. With our eyes fixed on the horizon, we stumble into the future, tripping on hazards we could easily avoid if we spent a little more time studying the terrain.

We all want to be better, smarter and more productive tomorrow, but how many times do we reflect on how we went today? How many times do we sit down before bed and pick over the last day, week or month looking for opportunities to improve?

We’re always keen to get tips, hints or tricks from others on how we might improve, how we can find shortcuts to success, but we really only need to stop walking turn around and look at our own past few steps.

Institutions which have high stakes missions and projects formalise these reviews of the past as debriefings or wash-ups, but we rarely take advantage of them as individuals.

It’s neither time consuming, nor taxing to sit down at the end of the day and ask:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go so well today?
  • What can I do to improve tomorrow?

It doesn’t take much to remember the past so that we can choose to take a better path in the future.

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