Retrospective: Understanding Life

Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Intuitively this makes sense, but what does it mean for the way we live or what we teach our kids about living?

Understanding backwards

The first half of Kierkegaard’s statement reminds me that often lessons aren’t learned in the moment. They’re learned as we examine what happened…devoid of emotions experienced at the time. To me, this means that we need to set aside time for retrospection. We also need to set aside the emotions these memories elicit in order to analyze what happened objectively.


Today, far too many of us race from one activity to another, from one item on our to-do list to the next. So much so that we don’t take time to:

  • Celebrate our successes
  • Learn from our experiences
  • Enjoy the things that make us happy

Consequently, we:

  • Feel overwhelmed
  • Repeat mistakes frequently
  • Exhaust ourselves
  • Preclude much of the joy life affords

To gain understanding we must set aside time each day to reflect on what we experienced…to celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes. As we celebrate success, our confidence grows. As we objectively examine the mistakes we made we position ourselves to deal with life’s challenges more easily and effectively in the future…which also boosts our confidence. The result is more joyful living.

Living forward

The second part of Kierkegaard’s statement reminds us we must not live in the past. It’s one thing to take time each day to analyze, without emotion, the day’s experiences so that we can learn from them. It’s another thing to dwell on the past and in doing so rob ourselves of the joys the present affords. 

We are meant to enjoy life. We can’t do that when we’re consistently beating up on ourselves for mistakes made or wallowing in self pity. We can’t enjoy life while we’re nurturing harsh judgments about ourselves.

In order to live forward we need to learn from what we experienced during the day, then take those lessons forward knowing that today’s successes, and lesson’s learned, have positioned us for a better tomorrow.

Will each day bring new lessons to learn? Absolutely. But you’ll look forward to them because you are comfortable in the knowledge that you can handle anything that comes your way. You find peace and comfort in this knowledge. Peace and comfort make living forward joyful.

For you

Set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day, each day, to reflect on the day’s successes and explore mistakes made seeking a better approach for the future. As you identify better ways of doing things in the future, celebrate these insights as additional successes for the day. For, indeed they are successes.

For our kids

Live this message, for when kids see you taking time each day to reflect on the day’s events, as they see you do so without judgment, and as they see the joy with which you live, they too will develop this habit.

When you see kids get down on themselves for mistakes made, or wallowing in self pity for a  perceived slight, ask them “What did you learn from this experience? How will you use this knowledge in the future?” As kids experience the emotional shift these questions trigger, they’ll use these questions on their own in the future because they feel more confident and more in control after having answered these questions.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your experience in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link) (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).


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