Looking Back on the Future – Understanding Prospective Hindsight to Create Success

Looking Back on the Future - Understanding Prospective Hindsight To Create Success

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Prospective Hindsight!? My DeLorean is in the shop!

The holidays are here and it is almost (again) time to eat healthy and get the ever-widening rear into gear. You will not be defeated by your resolutions this year! From Thanksgiving to New Years Day, it sometimes seems like a non-stop food fest. So delicious, but not always so nutritious. That one piece of mincemeat pie is a challenge to your better judgment for sure. This year you’ve given yourself the pep talk and will enter January with RESOLVE!


Wait! What is going on here! Who deposited that colorfully decorated plate of Christmas cookies in the break area at work? Nobody is even guarding it! How are you supposed to make it through the day knowing there is a sugar cookie (or two, or four) of Ol’ St. Nick taunting you. Maybe you’ll start tomorrow you think as your commitment flags. Failure on day three?


So what if I told you that none of the above scenario actually happened. You just used prospective hindsight to take a peek into the likely future and consider all that may present barriers to implementation of your goals.


How does Prospective Hindsight help?


Does it help to look ahead? When faced with unanticipated scenarios, our minds resort to the path of least resistance, usually by bringing forth a typical habitual response so we can easily resolve the mental stress. Even when the contrived obstacle does not match the actual scenario, the mind, primed for potential outcomes shifts, is now more adept at responding, particularly if you already have a resolution to an obstacle.  For example, if you already considered the idea that someone might bring a platter of goodies for the break room, you have already told yourself that you are not interested and have a fresh, minty mouth courtesy of that pack of spearmint gum within finger’s reach, the colleague that cheerily delivers Happy New Year gift bags of Lindt Truffles to the entire office staff is much less likely to derail your plan. It is now easier to hide away that bag of goodies until you can find a suitable re-gift recipient. While the chocolate gift never entered your mind, the possibility of saboteur treats bought you the expectation that you would keep the bag un-plundered while you considered your options before deciding to give the goodies to that amazing barista who’s been feeding your caffeine addiction for the past 15 months (that’s a resolution for another time).


So where does this idea of prospective hindsight come from?


Prospective hindsight, also known as a pre-mortum evaluation, is a concept that came out of research by Mitchell, Russo, and Pennington in 1989. It was already known that we are able to analyze events much more deeply when we have a sense of certainty about them, hence the saying, hindsight is 20/20. This research considered what would happen if we thought about future events as if they had already occurred. What the researchers found was that those who conceptualized a future event from a past perspective could give far greater detail about how the event would go, including potential issues to implementation, than those who viewed it as a future event with all of its perceived uncertainty.


Prospective hindsight is a technique that I use to help clients reach their goals. It is not enough to just set goals and create habits to support those goals. Among other aspects, it is vital to regularly peek into the days and weeks ahead to discover potential roadblocks in making these important life changes. It does not matter what area of life you hope to impact, failure to plan for obstacles is one of the greatest killers of your best intentions.


What questions do you have about prospective hindsight? I welcome your questions @ [email protected] or leave a comment below

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