Planning for the Future With Help From the Past

the view from our carribbean cruise balcony

The view from our room’s balcony as we left a Caribbean port.

It’s easy to forget where we’ve come from. As the political season swirls around us, politicians are making bold, sweeping plans for the future. Yet, time and again leaders’ “plans” are thwarted because they forget their history.

They forgot to look back.


My wife and I went on a cruise a few weeks ago to celebrate our first year of marriage together. It was a fantastic chance to get away and look back on the year. I took a few (5!) books that I wanted to read, and a few sturdy notebooks to jot down ideas and future plans.

While I only read two of the books, my wife and I were inspired to plan out large chunks of our next year.

The beauty of a cruise ship is that you’re forced to disconnect from the outside world due to lack of (cheap) internet and phone connectivity. This kind of environment is perfect for planning and fleshing out details. No distractions, no outside influences, just my wife and myself and a pen. Not to mention an awesome view of the water 24/7.

It was an insanely valuable experience, but not in the way that I expected. I’m a nostalgic guy, but it turns out that looking back helped us far more on making future plans.

After all, how can plan where we’re going, if we haven’t taken stock of where we’ve been?

You see, the dirty little secret about planning is looking back first. Looking back allows you to get perspective so you can get a base for future plans.

walking on the beach in Grand Turk

One of the remote beaches we explored.

By default I’m a nostalgic guy, but it had never occurred to me that in order to see where we wanted to go as individuals and as a family, we needed to look back on what happened over the past year. So we started recalling things like

  • memorable moments
  • things we loved doing
  • things we hated doing
  • things that needed to be improved in our marriage
  • and things we never got around to doing that we wanted to

In my case, I’ll fall all over myself trying to make plans. I love making yearly plans, but without really looking back on the previous day/week/month/year on a consistent basis, anything I plan for the future is pretty much worthless.

Right now I’ve got a lot going on. (Heck, who doesn’t?) Planning is the thing that’s going to be keeping me on task and sane, and if I didn’t take this opportunity to take a deep breath and look back on the previous year, my future planning wouldn’t have stuck.

Without that introspective review, I would have planned for things differently. I wouldn’t have taken key things into account that would have changed how I executed, keeping me from ultimately accomplishing what I want to do.

So what about you? Do you find looking at the past as a way to help “right the ship” and keep you on track?

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Dan M November 4, 2010, 1:15 pm

    I’m starting to realize that this is something I need to do more of. Or any of. I used to reflect on things all the time when I was younger, and I think it’s because I was bored a lot back then. Now I can’t remember the last time I was truly bored, so who knows how long it’s been.

    Thinking ahead, I’ll probably try to schedule in some reflecting time somewhere, but it almost seems like it won’t really count if I set out to do it explicitly. Almost like the whole point of reflecting is that you do it when you’re ready, and you can’t change that.

    Either way, happy anniversary :)

    Reply
    • glen November 4, 2010, 2:01 pm

      “Almost like the whole point of reflecting is that you do it when you’re ready, and you can’t change that”

      I agree to some extent, but I also think you can prompt yourself with various cues. Questions like “what did I really like last year?” or even just going through last year’s calendar can spark memories and “oh yeah!!” moments.

      At least, that’s what worked for us :)

      Reply
    • Brandi April 29, 2017, 4:46 am

      I’m not easily impedssre. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

      Reply
  • Janis November 4, 2010, 3:01 pm

    Glen, glad to hear your cruise was relaxing and inspiring. I think there is something about being surrounded by ocean that helps stimulate both forward and reflective thinking.

    When my husband and I where considering quitting our jobs and spending the summer in Europe (in our mid-40s) we went away on a 7 day Mexico cruise to “seminar” the idea. From that week, we came away with agreement on all of the actions steps to make it happen 3 months later. Or, and then we went to Europe by ship!

    Reply
    • glen November 4, 2010, 3:05 pm

      I read somewhere that being in nature (and even more so with water) helps our overall mood a bunch. Good points!

      Reply
  • Patricia Lyons November 5, 2010, 9:10 am

    Glen, I enjoyed your letter and was glad for more positive and inspiring reasons to plan for a cruise. I’ve known in my heart that it would be an incredible experience for a couple or family to have together. Your perspective on reflecting on the past to see your way into the future is right on. It’s the same as learning by looking at our history and figuring out what is the best plan for the future. Without that we would be bound to make some big mistakes. Reflecting and assessing are key to making a good fact based life plan. Writing it all down creates a map to follow. Good insights.

    Reply
    • glen November 5, 2010, 9:24 am

      Thanks Patricia. If you can swing it, get a balcony room. It’s a bit of a price different, but it makes it a *completely* different experience.

      Reply
  • Smiddy November 5, 2010, 3:15 pm

    I really needed to read this post. As 2011 quickly approaches us, my wife and I have already sat down to create an outline of our next (7th) year together. We always do this, but as you stated we fail to look back and monitor our progress adequately. Congrats on your first year of marriage and your regrouping trip together!

    Reply
  • Travis November 12, 2010, 6:11 am

    I really like the logic of this idea- namely that if you want MORE of the good stuff that already happened, you need to start by looking back and identifying what the heck it was! Goes well with the idea that happiness isn’t creating something new, but EXPANDING something that was always there.

    The past may not equal the future, but it can if we don’t use it to help craft our plans. Great post.

    Love the blog….

    Reply
    • glen November 12, 2010, 9:45 am

      Goes well with the idea that happiness isn’t creating something new, but EXPANDING something that was always there.

      Excellent thoughts. I love the creating vs. expanding phrasing. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Lauren E January 18, 2011, 11:51 pm

    I feel that as humans we tend to fear examining the past and blindly look forward, or live so much in what has happened that we are afraid to move forward. I know for myself I have spent too much time dwelling in what will happen, and have been often oblivious to the things I’ve done and learned that could help me in those situations. For example, as a college student, I seek out my path for my future, and have yet to find a direction that I could see myself in. But it’s been so long since I did any of the things I use to love to do that I may have lost a bit of myself through neglecting those passions. And if I did take more time to look at those things that once made me so happy and content, then maybe I would find the path I’m meant to go down for my future. Our lives consist of multiple days rather than for just one for a reason we all seem to ignore. If we focused on “looking back first” as this post suggests, we could perhaps find our true places of happiness in life.

    Reply
  • parvez February 9, 2011, 1:52 am

    Nice article! thought provoking one, made me to rethink my future goals and yearly plans. You made an interesting point – “looking back first” which is very crucial

    Thanks
    Parvez

    Reply
  • Pranga lakshmi March 20, 2011, 9:24 am

    Planning should be proper and in a manner to save our time in our work……..

    Reply
  • Pranga lakshmi March 20, 2011, 9:25 am

    Its nice to read your article……

    Reply