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The future can dictate your past – if you let it. Thus spake Tony Robbins, generally accepted to be the world’s  most famous and top performance coach (despite what other coaches claim). His intention is to tell you not to live in the past, but the subtext is not to live in a failure-based past. In a similar vein, many coaches promote the idea of making sure your past is gone – truly gone – before you move along, there.

The reason is that even when you are future focused, there is still something you have done that is incomplete, or you feel an emotional, nagging feeling that something might not be truly over. Either way, not dealing with it can be self-defeating. Not always, but sometimes.

Several writers do suggest that when preparing your future, you look at the past in depth. For some writers, the objective is purely forward focused in the sense that they ask, “What did you do as a child that really made you feel happy?” and then suggest you use the answer as a guide to what to do next. (If that went as well as suggested there’d be thousands more spacemen and no chiropodists.) The other motive for analysis of your past is to simply see what you can learn from it, and to use that knowledge as part of the planning.

In either case, the gazing backwards can identify some things you wish you’d done but hadn’t; some things you wish you hadn’t done but did; and some things that you started but didn’t finish even though you should have, or wanted to. The benefits are clear.

Incompletes, as Jack Canfield calls them, will play on your mind for ever. If your reminiscing identifies some incomplete that you can do something about, organise your time so you can do it. If you’re reminded about an offence you wish you could take back, send an apology or simply let it go. If there was a goal you still have time to achieve, get to it. If there is a lesson to be learned from what was done or was not, write it down and learn from the experience.

Once you’ve looked at what went wrong, look at what went right and ask similar questions. Everything that happens to us, teaches us something. Covey and other put it something like this – experience has no motive. It teaches us lessons we need to learn without judgement. It has no bias or ulterior objective. Experience just ‘is’. It is a valuable teacher.

I therefore recommend analysis of the past with an open-mind.

As Jinny Ditzler puts it her excellent book, ‘Best Year Yet’, ask yourself “What were my disappointments, what were my accomplishments, what did I learn and (importantly) what am I going to do about it?” Find the answers, because therein lie the plans you need to make and the actions you need to take in the near to intermediate future if you are going to have a sense of contentment when it all comes to an end.

Don’t be led by other people’s experience and advice. Listen to it, consider it, decide whether or not it is something you need to act upon, but don’t blindly follow someone else’s plan – their plan is based on their needs, values and experiences. Their plan is based on their disappointments, accomplishments, lessons and wants. Not yours.

What have you/haven’t you done that you need to do or let go? What are you going to do about that discovery?

Do It Now.