The Importance of Learning from the Past

A man was walking one day towards a certain town. He came to a fork in the road where he could take one of two paths in two different directions. The only problem was that the sign showing where the paths lead was not upright but laying on the floor. The sign had three posts on it, one which showed the town where the man had come from, one of the town where he was going and the third to a different town. The man lifted up the sign and placed the post which directed to the town where he had come from in the direction of the path he had just used. When the man put up the sign in this way, automatically the other two signs pointed in the right direction.

The story above is true also in life, when we are confused about what we should do, looking back in the past can explain why things are happening presently and be a sign post, to steer us in the right direction for the future. This is not only true for contemplating about the decisions we have made but also thinking about people who have gone through similar events in their lives can help.

Thinking about what other people have done in similar situations and what the good or bad consequences were, can help an individual understand how they have reached their present situation. It can also help them make an informed choice what would be a good choice to make now.

The same is true of proven therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT), which uses therapeutic techniques to help individuals with varying issues e.g. depression, anxiety etc who are experiencing higher levels of distress. CBT is able to help people based on past tests of hundreds of people in similar situations and experiencing similar levels of suffering.

Nevertheless, even the founder of CBT, Aaron Beck, explains that during the process of therapy an individual can have a setback. That is why a CBT therapist will construct a setback plan with their client, to see what they could learn from situations which do not go so well. The set back plan will help the individual look at the events, decisions, emotions etc which led up to the setback and will help the individual then see how in future they can make better choices.

Whether in therapy or not, it is important for an individual to stop every so often and ask themselves: “how did I reach this point in my life? Can I learn from my mistakes and my good decisions for the future?” If someone does not take this step, it is very likely they will repeat their bad decisions and incur the same hurtful or distressful situations.

It should nevertheless be noted that accounting our actions, thoughts and feelings should not be done too often. A simple analogy would be from a business man who needs to make take stock of his business every so often. The business man does not do this every day otherwise it would take too much time away from making money in his business. At the end of each month he might take stock of how his business is fairing for that month and make a more overall complete detailed account at the end of the year. The same is true of each individual who needs to think about how they have fared over the last month, how they could improve on the good they have done and the other things they need to improve.

A last point should be made that if this type of activity is causing an individual to become depressed then they are doing something wrong[i]. The goal is to become a better person, living a healthier lifestyle not to become inactive. If an individual does feel this way they need to speak to a professional who could help them see where they are going wrong.

Yitzchok Kaye BA, Pg. Dip., Msc is a trained, qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who also specializes in other therapies. He helps individuals and couples with their challenges and issues. He has been a practising therapist for a number of Counselling Organisations but now has his own private practice. He is available around the world via Skype. He can be contacted at

The above article is a general structure for people but for specific problems a qualified therapist should be consulted.

[i] Igros Kodesh 12 p 205

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