You can’t expect to move forward without understanding the past. The term 温故知新 (“Onkochishin”) comes down to this simple idea for life.
In this expression, 知新 means “new knowledge” while 温故 means “to visit the old”, thus making a connection between the “old” and the “new”.
Whatever has passed is not up for grabs anymore. It existed or exists now and it has become an undeniable fact. Just like the seed was here before the tree, the past will always be here before the present or future reaches us.
This mindset is set deep in Japanese culture and can easily be found in how every company in Japan works. They will look for examples, for facts in the past in order to understand where they can go from there. After all, if a mistake was done in the past, you can then avoid it and if a success happened, you may be able to repeat it in a new context.
It is important to insist on the goal here. It is not to just repeat it. The goal is to understand the past and learn from it.
“Exploring the old and deducing the new makes a teacher.” — Confucius
The old is a reference at your disposal. You can look at it, examine it, dig into it and find its root in a further past. Then, by combining your own experience and understanding, you can start to understand the present and see a future based on it.
The verb “to deduce” used by Confucius is very appropriate here as you do not guess nor do you imagine the future, you deduce it from the knowledge you have gained by looking at the past.
Exploring the past takes time
In order to understand the past, you need to spend a whole lot of time in both introspection and extrospection. Doing either one of them is a recipe for a half-baked future.
How to do some introspection
It all comes down to knowing and understanding your own past. While it is fixed and cannot be changed, memories will alter how you perceive it.
To avoid this, the best solution is to keep a sort of diary or journal in general where you can put your experiences, your perception of those at the time and other thoughts related to each. The added bonus of writing will allow you in the future to analyze it better and see repeating patterns or evolutions in your life.
It might take time but just a month of doing this 15–30 minutes every day will show you incredible insights into yourself. Continue this for a year and see how much self-awareness you can develop!
How to do some extrospection
The observation of things external to your own mind and experiences will further consolidate all you learn about yourself. You might have been in your own past but you weren’t the only one there. Family, friends, and strangers were all around too.
What you learned wasn’t all there was to learn in the world either. An incredible amount of things were discovered, studied and developed in the past and digging into the ones you hold an interest in will provide you with great insights to deduce the future.
Become aware of what has existed, and make it your own. Study it to learn it. Share it to understand it. Expand from it to discover more.
In the end, knowing yourself is crucial for your present but knowing the world will act as an exponential factor for your future.
When was your last visit of the past? Your next discovery of new knowledge is waiting for you now.
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Mathias Barra is a French polyglot living in Japan and who has learned 6 languages and dabbled in numerous others. Being a curious child full of wonders is how he keeps on learning and can’t stop sharing about every tiny idea, even non-language-related.