Have you ever had the experience of walking away from a conversation or an argument and just as it is a little too late, you think of all the things you should have said?
Have you ever thought to yourself ‘I really should have seen that coming’?
Have you ever said to yourself that you could have done better, should have known better, or that you made the wrong decision?
Yeah, me too!
At this time of year, it can prompt us to look back and review the year we have had, as well as looking forward and planning for the New Year.
Having the ability to look back at events in hindsight can sometimes be a helpful reflective process.
We can review what went well and what didn’t go so well.
We can refine and improve the things that work well and learn from our mistakes.
We can gain a different perspective.
When hindsight is used in this way, alongside a kind and compassionate attitude, it can be of great benefit to us.
Most of the time when we look back in hindsight, the aim is to learn something from it or to do better next time.
Our ability to look back in hindsight can often leave us:
- kicking ourselves
- criticising ourselves
- blaming ourselves
- feeling disappointment, regret, embarrassment, shame
- or thinking that we were stupid.
So where does hindsight go wrong?
One of the difficulties with hindsight is that it is subject to bias.
To illustrate hindsight bias, let’s take the example of:
At the start of this year you were offered two similar jobs and you chose between them based on pay, distance from home and how you found the employers at interview. You started in your new job and discovered that the work culture is harsh, the management is unsupportive and you are not enjoying the job.
When we look back on an event, we have since gained new knowledge and new experience. Since taking this job, you have found out that you don’t like it there.
One of the mistakes we make is to treat the past event as if we already had the knowledge or experience we have now.
You may think:
- I knew I wouldn’t like it here
- Why did I choose this job over the other?
- I should have accepted the other job
- I made the wrong choice
- It’s my own stupid fault for taking this job
We also imagine that the outcome of an event was more predictable than it actually was.
You may think:
- I should have known what it would be like to work here
- I should have picked up on the work culture when I went to the interview
- I’m so stupid, I should have seen this coming
- It should have been obvious what the management is like – how did I not see it?
We can also assume that there were ‘better’ options and assume that if we had taken a different action, it would have had a more favourable outcome.
You may think:
- It wouldn’t be like this at the other place
- If only I had gone to work for them, I would be so much happier
- I’m a bloody idiot – I knew the other job would have been better
How to beat the bias
- Pause, breathe, re-focus.
- Remember that you were acting on the available information and experience you had at the time. You didn’t know what you didn’t know.
- Acknowledge that you are not a fortune teller. Even if the outcome feels obvious now, it didn’t then. There was no way for you to know the outcome in advance.
- Accept that you cannot know what the outcome of an alternative action or decision would have been. If you took the other job, it may have been better, it may have been worse or it may have been the same.
- Think of what you would say to someone else in your situation. Would you be as harsh? Would you be more compassionate and forgiving?
- Give yourself credit: you were doing what you thought was right at the time.
- Ask yourself what you can learn from it.
- If there is a current problem, think about what you can do to solve it. Rather than dwelling about things you can’t change, think about how you can make 2019 a great year!
Reflect kindly on 2018 and enjoy your New Year celebrations!
Happy New Year!
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