I went to visit a friend in Charleston recently and walked through the gardens at the Episcopalian cemetery. At one entrance (which one?), they've placed the symbol of the Sankofa, a bird looking over it's back. It means learning from the past in order to move forward.
Without active reflection we don't learn from the past, nor do we move forward and apply the learnings of the past.
Reflection on learning is a skill educators are trying to teach kids these days, but it seems to me that most American adults are cognitively stuck in perpetual immaturity when it comes to being able to reflect on their life experiences and then apply the learnings to new experiences.
Harvard Business School researchers describe learning from reflection as "the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught an experience." Their study determines that in the professional environment reflection is a key part of development.
So if reflection is important in the educational and professional arenas, I'd hazard to guess that it could be useful in our personal lives, too. How many men and women do you know that are repeatedly attracted to the same personality in the opposite sex, and those relationships keep failing over and over again?
It's not easy to deliberately explore our experiences and learn from them. We often don't want to think about the past. I don't want to think about times I have been inappropriate or been hurt or acquiesced when I could have taken a stand, times I've run away when I should have made a difficult leap forward. We feel regret, embarrassment and pain. And sometimes it seems counterproductive. It's much easier to just move on and push away those memories. After all shoulda coulda woulda, right...?
I've come up with a structure for analyzing the past in order to move forward in a healthier, smarter, happier, more successful way. This has applications in all areas of your life.