The “Good Old Days” Are Now

How to use prospective retrospection to live a life without regret

Jeff Valdivia
4 min readApr 19, 2022

--

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

If you’re like me, you often take the present moment for granted.

What does this mean, exactly? It means to implicitly assume that what’s happening now will happen again.

Our thinking goes something like this: if this moment will happen again, it’s not special; if it’s not special, there’s no pressing need to pay attention to it.

This is a problem because you naturally habituate to everything in your life. So, you come to expect your partner, children, parents, and friends will always be with you, exactly as they are.

But that’s impossible, isn’t it?

Some day, inevitably, everything changes. Maybe your partner becomes dissatisfied and wants to separate. Maybe your children grow up. Maybe one of your parents becomes ill.

Then, you search your memories for the “good old days” when everything was exactly the way you remember it. You feel nostalgic and wish you could return to those times. But it’s too late, isn’t it? All you feel when you look back is longing and regret. Those times are gone, and you didn’t make the best of them while you had the chance.

The ancient Stoic philosophers recognized this universal problem thousands of years ago and they came up with a solution. It’s called prospective retrospection.

What is prospective retrospection?

We can all look back on our lives and feel nostalgic.

I do when I think of my grandparents. They’re all gone but I wish I could go back to connect with them more deeply. I didn’t when I had the chance, and this is a regret I’ll carry for the rest of my life.

I’m sure you can relate. You can likely think of countless examples of moments in your past you wish you could change.

This hurts, doesn’t it?

So, how can we prevent ourselves from stockpiling regret as we move through life?

We can practice what the Stoics might have called prospective retrospection.

--

--

Jeff Valdivia

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about psychology, meditation, self-development, and spirituality.