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Who Needs a Rear-view Mirror? Successful Living by Mastering Our Past

When driving, we need to check our rear-view mirror every few minutes to perceive dangers lurking behind - tailgaters, hecklers, over speeding cars, and drivers under the influence. Aside from anticipating threats, it helps us contemplate our next move, giving us enough time to be cautious before overtaking or stopping or . . . slowing down.

So for safety reasons, the rear-view mirror is essential when driving. In life, do we need to review the past to safely navigate the present and future and their unpredictable twists and turns?

Driving the highway of life is constantly accompanied by unforeseeable events. A reliable guide to the present and future is our previous experiences. A good handling of the past can enlighten us well today.

I know a woman who can't seem to learn from her past. At a young age, she has had recurring unfortunate relationships - living in with men who have bad habits and vices. Abusive and exploitative, these men left her when she became inconvenient. Each time, she was left with children to take care of, with more physical injury, financial burden, and emotional hurts to endure. One man even sold her soul by forcing her to prostitution.

So far, she hasn't reviewed her past and her life. In a few weeks or months, she will meet the same type of men - abusers and users.

Life's patterns and perspective, whether productive or not, deserve a second look to determine their usefulness. Past mistakes likewise deserve a review so we can learn from them. An analysis of the past helps us see our strength in coping with challenges, losses, and defeats. In a significant way, a life review teaches valuable lessons better than a classroom.

Some people however are somehow stuck in the past in a harmful way. They constantly review past mistakes, losses, and problems without analyzing and realizing what they have learned and how they can avoid them in the future. They become preoccupied at the expense of their emotional health. Unable to live fully in the present, they overwhelm themselves with guilt, blame, and "what ifs" rumination. They focus on the hurts, tragedies, and disappointments.

As a result, they need a psychiatrist to help taper their turbulent emotions. Instead of learning from the past, they unlearned anything.

I know an elderly man who becomes obsessed with the past. He blamed his parents for his inability to finish school, blamed his friends for his low grades, his wife for his bad occupation, and his co-workers for his misfortunes. When I saw him, he was a bitter man and full of rage. He later became very depressed.

On further evaluation, I realized that this elderly man could have done something differently if he bothered to review his past. He could have corrected his unproductive patterns and ways early. Almost close to his death bed, it's now too late.

How can you benefit from the past?

Review your life every few weeks or months. Some people even benefit from a daily review.

Check for patterns, habits, attitudes, behavior, and mindset that are counterproductive.

Correct those unproductive ways of living your life. Do you need to change your life's perspective? Please do so and do it quick.

Learn from these reviews. These lessons can't be acquired through expensive formal education.

Who needs a rear-view mirror? All of us! Only those who don't want positive change will do otherwise. Remember, living a life is more important than driving.

Life is the product of actions and reactions interwoven in our daily existence. Life therefore requires a meticulous review of the past.

About The Author

Copyright 2003 Michael G. Rayel, MD. Dr. Rayel, author of First Aid to Mental Illness (Finalist, Reader's Preference Choice Award 2002), has pioneered the CARE approach as a first aid for mental health. As an expert and an award-winning author, Dr. Rayel has appeared on radio and prominent newspapers. As a first aid advocate, he has conducted Mental Health First Aid workshops. To learn more about his work and books, visit

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