I believe there are two types of people in this world: forward thinkers and backward thinkers. My father-in-law is a prime example of a forward thinker. He does not dwell on the past because he knows he cannot change it. Instead he focuses on what he can change, taking life as it comes despite its hiccups and because of its joys. As a result, he is regarded as quite amiable and light hearted. Everyone he knows would most definitely say, “Jim is a very merry fellow.” I believe this is a direct product of forward thinking.
One of my great friends Carrie is another perfect example of a forward thinker. She literally lives life in the exact moment it’s happening, very rarely pausing to consider past regrets. In fact, she hardly thinks about the past at all. Most of her time is spent considering the possibilities of the minutes, hours, and days ahead of her. She dreams big and often, which makes her very exciting and excitable. But it has its downfalls, she’ll admit to that. Her childhood is a vast blur and most memories before yesterday are very, very faded. I will say, “Wasn’t it fun when we saw that movie a few weeks ago at the park?” And she will inevitably reply, “Remind me.”
I am the opposite. Anytime I let my mind relax, it automatically wanders to past moments, whether it’s the lunch conversation from yesterday’s workday or my first day of 3rd grade. My childhood is very vivid, my memories sharp and detailed. Positive side effects include sentimentality and attention to detail. I can recall feelings, smells, sights, and sounds from decades ago. But this, too, can backfire. Painful experiences heal at a snail’s pace when they are constantly on replay and I’ve always struggled with big changes. This doesn’t mean I am unable to move on from the past, consider the potentials in life, or dream about the future, just as I’m sure Father Baer and Carrie pause to reflect once in a while. What it means is that depending on our personalities, our minds wander in one of two directions, affecting how we live our day-to-day lives.
There is a distinct need for both types of thinkers to exist. It keeps us all balanced, people to help us reflect and those to help us look forward. That is a fact. What is not known is how to exactly channel those thoughts, backwards or forwards, positive or negative, into what we want them to be. We can only pick through what surfaces and try to understand why we think what we think without our brains exploding and try to rely on our opposing thinker friends and family to keep us in check.
Stereotypically men are not backward thinkers, forgetting things such as what she wore on the first date, when they said “I love you” for the first time, or what she asked for at the grocery store a few hours ago. Conversely, women are often branded as the scrapbook packrat type, rereading journals and remembering every last mistake. This is probably because men tend to be fixers and women tend to be reflectors, but like all stereotypes there is much room for disparity. My grandfather recalls the most obscure particulars from his childhood as if it was yesterday and I know many women who live life without looking back. It all depends where our passive thinking leads us and how it affects and trains us.
I notice it the most when I’m in the car and my mind is not being occupied by anything but default driving maneuvers and the occasional switch of the radio dial. As my mind relaxes instinctively, all of a sudden I’m back in high school singing Fiddler on the Roof or falling into my first kiss. I assure you it is completely reflexive, and I frequently jerk myself out of those memories and try to replace the space with where I want to be in five years instead of where I was. But it’s no use. We can try to fight our natural progression of thought as much as we like, but no amount of struggle can keep you from yourself. I’m hoping that will turn out to be a good thing.
The thoughts that come often unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are commonly the most valuable of any we have. -John Locke, 1699