Reflect on Your Past
As contradictory as it might seem, in aiming for the future you need to look back into your past. Looking backward can actually enable you to see farther than if you only stare straight ahead. Understand- ing the past can help you identify themes, patterns, and beliefs that both underscore why you care about certain matters now and explain why making them better into the future is such a high priority.4
Consider what Joanne Chan, a pharmacist with Mannings, one of the largest health and beauty retailers in Hong Kong, learned from her leader about the past that gave her and the team perspective for moving into the future. The pharmacy department was not doing as well as expected, and Joanne and her colleagues felt frustrated and
discouraged at work. However, Andy, the senior pharmacist of the team, uplifted and motivated them by constantly reminding them about how the services they provided made a difference:
Andy often told us stories about his experiences with patients in the past. One of them involved an old lady who had difficulty walking. When she came to the store to seek advice for her health-related problems, Andy offered her a chair to sit near the store entrance, so that she did not have to walk all the way to the back of the store where the pharmacy department was located. The lady appreciated Andy’s customer service, and became one of Mannings’ most loyal customers. Using examples like these, Andy shared with us the vision that the pharmacy team could become the best group of health care professionals providing excellent services to the general public.
Joanne explained that she and her colleagues learned from Andy’s inspiration that “a leader needs to effectively communicate a shared vision to his or her followers, and show how they fit in the big picture.” Andy reflected on his past experiences, using them to bring up and reinforce the point that even a small gesture could make a difference. Sharing his past experiences pointed the team to where they wanted to be in the future with all of their customers. His storytelling brought the vision to life, because Andy’s past experi- ence not only was meaningful but also could very much happen—it represented an opportunity—for any of his colleagues at work.
Looking into your past can reveal much about the future. Studies involving senior executives reveal that those who were asked to think first about things that had happened to them in the past—before they thought about future possibilities—were subsequently able to extrapolate significantly further into the future than those executives who were asked to think first about things that might happen to
G E them in the future.5 This phenomenon is called “the Janus Effect,”
named for the Roman god with two faces, one that looks backward and the other forward. Your ability to look both to your past and your future for guidance opens up lots more exciting possibilities than doing one or the other alone.6
The past serves as a prologue for the future. When you gaze first into your past, you essentially elongate your future. You realize how full your life has been, and you become more aware of all the possibilities that could lie ahead. You enrich your imagination about the future and give it detail as you recall the richness of your past experiences. Looking back to all those highs, and even lows, enables you to better understand that the central, recurring theme in your life didn’t just materialize this morning. It’s been there for a long time. Another benefit to looking back before looking ahead is that you gain a greater appreciation for how long it can take to fulfill aspirations. You also realize that there are many, many avenues to pursue.
None of this is to say that the past is your future. That would be like trying to drive using only the rearview mirror. When you look deeply into your entire life history, you understand things about yourself and about your world that you cannot fully comprehend by looking at the future as a blank slate. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine going to a place you’ve never experienced, either actually or vicariously. Taking a journey into your past before exploring your future makes the trip much more meaningful.