We’ve all heard the expression “Hindsight is 20/20.” But what does that kind of expert vision accomplish if it just manifests as regret. Absolutely NO good! In order to be valuable, hindsight has to give us a little foresight. In other words, it must be combined with learning to have any benefit in the future.
My husband Peter and I had this discussion recently after a very regrettable incident, and yes, if he could have predicted it, he would have done things differently. But one thing is for darn sure . . . he will never, EVER again stand on a chair without being very mindful. Actually he may never again stand on a chair at all!
Here’s what happened. Peter woke me up one morning last week with the urgent news that there was a bat in our house – a bat now trapped under a bowl on our bookcase after he cornered it – and I needed to get up to help him get the bat out of the house.
So there I was, cookie sheet in hand, while he slid the bowl ever so carefully off the shelf onto it. Everything was going perfectly . . . until Peter lost his balance and fell off the chair. The bat was captured successfully, but Peter landed badly and his knee was not looking “right.” Actually it was looking very, very wrong, with a huge bulge protruding away from his leg.
This long story ended with a trip to the Emergency Room and surgery to repair a torn quadriceps tendon a day later. He will now be on crutches for 6 weeks. What a set-up for a case of the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s”! But it doesn’t help his current situation to realize that he was focusing too much on the bat and too little on his balance.
Experience is a great teacher though. This recent setback has started me thinking that learning from the “slips” of eating habits – the equivalent of falling off the chair (or the wagon!) – presents a similar opportunity. Unfortunately it is all too common for people to get stuck in the regret of their disappointments, looking back with hindsight (that crystal clear perspective) to see that “I shouldn’t have eaten so many cookies,” instead of understanding what caused it to happen and looking for solutions . . . changing the hindsight to foresight.
We can predict that destructive eating patterns will happen again if all we do is display perfect hindsight. That’s easy! In order to turn it into something productive, we need to give up on the regret and “if only’s” so we can actually learn something useful.
If having an abundance of cookies in the house causes a cookie binge, there is a difference between saying, “I shouldn’t have eaten all of those! I have no willpower,” and observing that “having all those temptations in the house is not very supportive of my goals. I will practice self-compassion by not buying them.” (awareness + insight = learning)
The first method is judgmental and negative. It does not get beyond the regret and shame of “messing up.” The second is supportive and useful. This may sound like picky semantics, but it makes a big difference! Are you learning or just finding fault with yourself?