10 Ways Nostalgia Clouds Your Judgment

Dead AirplaneYou’ll sometimes hear people talking about the good old days.

They’ll talk about how wonderful things used to be and how lesser they are right now.

I’m a fan of the way Paul Harvey thinks.

You may not know Paul Harvey, but for many decades he was one of the most influential voices on radio. He didn’t do many interviews, but in the few he did he would sometimes say that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be even better.

Or something like that.

The point Paul was trying to make is that we have to overcome the feeling of nostalgia. A yearning for the past.

A fondness for the past cripples your movement today. It holds you back from what you can accomplish in the future. In fact, many of the most successful people have succeeding in avoiding nostalgia. They often look back on the most successful times in their lives and don’t remember much. They were in the moment. And they struggle to get back in that frame of mind in the present the more they look back.

Not sure if nostalgia is holding you back?

Here are a few clues…

1. Selective Memory

We often have selective memory when it comes to the past. We might look back on sixth grade and think about how wonderful that year was because the team we were on won the city little league championship.

That would make it a great year, but it’s usually no the full story. We selectively forget to remember making our best friend angry over something stupid and not speaking to them for a couple years.

We can’t remember everything from the past. In the case of nostalgia, that often makes things seem better than they actually were…even if they were pretty good.

2. Incorrect Memory

Building on that first point is the point that we often make stuff up about the past.

Sometimes we misremember something. A small detail. It’s often not on purpose. Maybe it’s our mind trying to make the story seem better than it really is.

I remember (I think) a few years ago when Packers general manager Ted Thompson was discussing the importance of the final preseason game. He spoke about Desmond Howard returning a punt for a touchdown and helping his case to make the team.

The context became that the final preseason game is very important. The only thing, though, was that Howard had made that return in the third preseason game. Not the fourth and final one.

3. Correlation, Not Causation

This one can be especially dangerous in business. We think back to something positive that happened. Landing a big client. Making a great hire.

Then we start to think about what led up to that decision. Then we start connecting the dots and trying to figure out how to make the same decisions in the future.

This can work sometimes. But other times it could be just correlation and not causation.

The best are able to find the causation.

4. Coincidence, Not Brilliance

Similar to the last one is being fortunate, but thinking that we’re brilliant.

Many successful businesses are simple the result of good timing. Well, not just good timing, but good timing and execution.

But it’s easy to think that the execution is the main result and not the timing. That can lead to a sense of invincibility and poor decision making in the future.

5. Forgetful Technology

Remember how wonderful life was in 1995?

Now take away your smartphone and computer…oh, and the Internet.

We often forget about the technology we have today and how important it is in our lives.

6. Quality Of Life

We take our current quality of life and view yesterday in the same light.

This is similar to the technology one, but take the example of sanitation in the United States. Is it perfect in all areas? No, but it’s drastically better than it was in the not-so-distant past.

When we remember the past we often take for granted the gains in quality of life that have occurred even in the most recent few years.

7. Fear…Of The Future

Here is a tricky one. We often think fondly of the past because we already know what happened. We don’t know what will happen in the future.

It’s much easier to wallow in nostalgia than to think about the future. And especially the unknown. The future is a lot of work. You have to make decisions. You have to change. That’s scary.

8. Lack Of Control

And building on that is the fear of losing control. We have control over the past. It’s already happened. Often when we think about the future we realize how little control we have over it. For control freaks like me that can be terrifying. We like control and when we don’t have it we avoid the situation.

9. Today Is Bad

The news makes today seem worse than it really is. And in the world of 24-hour news channels and social media the world can seem really bad.

But think back to yesterday. How bad does yesterday’s news seem today? Or last week’s? Or last month’s?

It’s never as bad as it seems in the moment.

In fact, there was probably a horrific news story the day you so fondly remember in your nostalgia.

10. Part Of The Story

As children, we often saw the wonder in the world. Rarely the dark underbelly.

Life has all kinds of sides. Good, bad and everything in between. When we look back on the past we often see only the good. Often it’s because we just didn’t see the bad that was going on. Some kids do see the bad. But many kids only see the good.

So as we get older we start seeing all sides of life and that makes the past seem better than today.

Final Thought: The Future Is Good

What if you flipped your thinking… What if you started looking at the future as fondly as you look at the past?

It’s not that crazy. In fact, some of the most successful people I’ve read about have thought this way. They’ve spent much of their time looking in the future and looking at it fondly.

Nostalgia can cloud your judgment. It can stop you from moving forward. From growing. It cripples you while making you feel good.

Don’t give into this drug. The more you do it the more you’ll suffer.

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