When driving in your car, the rearview mirror lets you see what is coming up behind you. On the road, vehicles in back of you can follow too closely, hit you, or pass you. But if you try driving by looking only in the mirror you won’t get very far before you crash.

The highway of life is different. On this road, the events behind you stay behind you and move farther away with each passing day. Yet there are people who are obsessed with looking backward rather than forward. Although they would never try this stunt while driving, they habitually refuse to look through the front windshield of life.

There are only 24 hours in each day. Therefore, any time spent looking behind you, into the past, robs you of time to look forward into the future. The fascination with the past stems from the desire to change history. As intriguing as this concept might be, the chances of accomplishing this are zero.

Yet, people get caught in a quagmire of what could have been if only they had done this or that. Thoughts of could have, should have, or would have seize hold of the mind and clog it with useless and pointless activity.

The value of the past is that it can teach you what to change, refine, and improve when moving forward. But when you dwell in the past, forward movement stops. Although most people would make at least subtle changes, if they could do things over, there are no do overs.

As you age, the speed at which you move down life’s highway seems to increase yearly. As this perceived velocity grows, obsessing with the past can be very disconcerting. You don’t know where the time has gone and the reality of mortality becomes clearer.

This phenomenon of the accelerated passage of time is another reason why all of your attention, energy, and effort should be focused forward. Only with this directional orientation can you fully realize the potential of each day.

Imagine how boring life would be if each day was spent watching a video of what you did yesterday. You wouldn’t have time to do anything new. This is exactly how people spend their time when they get trapped in the past by looking only in their rearview mirror.

Being consumed with what has already transpired causes a great deal of stress, anxiety, and even depression. You feel powerless to change what has already happened, because you are. The only control you have is what direction to go while moving forward. You can’t go backward, but you can stagnate.

An acceptance of the past is the first step to being at peace with yourself. You may not like what has transpired, but you can’t change it. Learn from the past. Repeat those things that produced desirable results and avoid behavior that didn’t.

It’s easy and tempting to second-guess yourself. Others will also throw in their opinion of what you should or shouldn’t have done. This combined with your own tendency to analyze, over assess, and redo the past makes it difficult to stay focused on moving forward.

But move forward you must. For to live in or dwell in the past ensures that you will squander the present and short change your future. Whenever you find yourself drawn to the past, remind yourself that you are wasting time and immediately try to refocus on the present. You will realize that more time than you had thought is spent looking in life’s rearview mirror.

With consistent practice you will be able to reverse your orientation so that a minimum amount of time is spent looking backwards. Tear off the rearview mirror and devote yourself to looking forward. The results will be a happier and more rewarding life.

NOW AVAILABLE: “Dare to Live Without Limits,” the book. Visit www.BryanGolden.com or your bookstore. Bryan is a management consultant, motivational speaker, author, and adjunct professor. E-mail Bryan at bryan@columnist.com or write him c/o this paper.

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