Rosy retrospection. Hmmm, okay. What exactly is that?
According to Mark Travers, Ph. D. of Psychology Today, “Psychologists refer to a flawed thought pattern known as rosy retrospection. It is a well-studied cognitive bias. It happens because when we think about the past, we are more likely to think about people, events, places, and things in the abstract. And, when we think about things in the abstract, we are more likely to focus on positive generalities than the nitty-gritty and sometimes gory details.”
So basically, our brains sift out the bad stuff and we’re left with warm, fuzzy memories of the past. We look at those old family photos and think, “Ahhh… those were the good old days. Look at how happy I was here! And my brother and I are smiling and having a great time together in this photo!”
But, is that the reality? Or did I block out how at that time I was actually going through a terrible breakup and was feeling all kinds of angst? Oh, and yes my brother and I were smiling in the photo – but just a few minutes earlier, we were bickering over whose turn it was to do the dishes.
How is rosy retrospection a good thing?
So how is it a good thing? Well…let’s start with childbirth (hello!). I can see how abstract thinking can be very helpful. We can remember the emotional overwhelm of that magical experience while forgetting some of the other details.
Another positive is it might help us by enhancing our confidence and self-esteem. When you look back at photos of yourself in your prom dress and think about how amazing that night was, it’s a great thing. Carrying thoughts and images in your mind of how good things were may help you to carry more confidence in your stride.
And how rosy retrospection doesn’t serve us today:
Rosy retrospective can also be a negative thing. When we miss the good old days, we’re only focusing on what was. Our day-to-day grind and struggles seem worse. The present moment can’t compare to our joyful, glorious past. We miss the chance to appreciate how good things are right now.
That’s a tough one to manage. When the past was that good – how can the present or the future ever measure up?