Running Your Business from the Rearview Mirror

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When you look at your venue and your life, is your attention on the right things? Are you focusing on what's in front of you instead of looking behind you at all times?

Your mind does an incredible job of playing tricks on you. Even when you know your attention should be on the present so you can achieve in the future, your mind can draw you into replaying your past on a loop.

The mistakes you’ve made can become restless spirits that haunt you day after day. They make you question everything and turn your once confident behavior into a game of second guessing.

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Would have.

Could have.

Should have. 

Living your life and running your restaurant by looking back constantly is never a good strategy. When the past pulls you backwards, you lose your focus on the present and moving forward. You’re stuck in a mental time warp where you replay scenarios and try to rethink what you should have done. The problem is that staying in the past makes you a prisoner. It doesn’t matter what you do in your head, that past is not going to change.

Welcome to the land of suffering. 

You suffer because you just won’t let that shit go. So, why do we hold on to the past? There are a few reasons.

I was talking to a client the other day about holding on to the past even though they know it’s not good for them. The past, even if it’s painful, is comfortable. There’s a saying that sums this up: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Fear of the unknown is sometimes overwhelming to those who crave consistency in their lives.

Read this: Stuck in a Leadership Rut? Here's How to Pull Yourself Out

Study human needs theory and you’ll see we all have six needs that must be fulfilled. These are not wants, they are core needs. The only difference is how people go about getting their needs met.

Here’s a quick rundown of those six human needs:

  1. Certainty. It’s our need to feel in control and know what’s coming next so we can feel secure. It’s the need for basic comfort, the need to avoid pain and stress, and the need to create pleasure. Our need for certainty is a survival mechanism.
  2. Uncertainty. While we want certainty, we also have a need for a little variety in life. Yes, life is paradoxical at times.
  3. Significance. We all need to feel important, special, unique, or needed. Some bully others to feel significant, some lift up others as a leader or coach.
  4. Love/Connection. This is like oxygen for the soul. You need love and when you don’t get it, we settle for its cousin: connection. That’s why you have so many social media followers you don’t know—you want to be connected.
  5. Growth. Call it an evolutionary trait to evolve and adapt. Humans have an innate need to grow and become better. There’s an old saying that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. #truth
  6. Contribution. Giving back is the highest human need we have. People with this need see the “we” before the “me.” It’s also about sharing and having a purpose to your life.

The first four are your primary needs. The last two are higher level needs. Everyone has the first four needs met one way or another, some get the last two. Those who are most fulfilled in life seek to grow and contribute. Most have that equation backwards which is exactly why they get stuck running their restaurants while looking in the rearview mirror feeling frustrated, lonely and stressed.

And if you think you don’t have these human need cravings, bullshit. If you’re human you have them, you want them, you need them. Clinging to the past is trying to meet two human needs: certainty and connection.

Read this: Never Say These 3 Things to Your Staff

Certainty is comfortable. It like that favorite sweater you wear that has the holes in it. It’s that movie you’ve watched 20 times and know the ending word for word because it still makes you feel good inside. We all crave the good old days. However, if you really sat down and carefully examined all the seconds from those good old days, you might be shocked to see that they weren’t always so good. In fact, many of those times sucked! Take a long hard look back for a second and it might not be the rose-colored world you once thought.

Connection is the strongest of the human needs. We all want to connect to other people and feel like we matter. We want to feel like someone cares. You’re hardwired for this from the time you’re born. Infants who don’t get enough tactile stimulation can die from a condition called failure to thrive (FTT) syndrome.

We need human connections. Combine that with certainty and it’s a recipe to stay connected to people even though doing so may not be in your best interest. You keep a person who impacts your life negatively around a little longer than you should. You smoke or drink, not because you want to but because you don’t want to lose connection. When you’re around people in your personal life you should want to surround yourself with only those who elevate you. Avoid the negative energy vampires at all costs!

Here a simple test to see if that person either on your team or in your life is a good match: It’s either a hell yes or a hell noDon’t waste time or energy if you’re somewhere in between! 

When you focus too much on the past and all the things that could go wrong, you fail to operate your restaurant from growth and opportunity. Instead, you become obsessed with your past and not making the same mistakes. You don’t take risks. You don’t make the changes needed to rise above the competition. You end up losing it all.

Read this: Giving Yourself a Fighting Chance

The past needs to be put exactly where it belongs...behind you. When you focus on it too much you lose the gift the current day offers. Try driving your car forward while only looking in your rearview mirror and I think you’ll get the picture: You’re so focused on where you’ve been and what you’ve done (or haven’t done) that you don’t enjoy things that are happening now. You’re so lost in the past that you can’t see the opportunities in front of you (the future).

The past offers lessons. Take the lessons and leave the rest. Kylo Ren said it best to Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”

The past can be a powerful tool to run your restaurant (and your life) if you use it and don’t allow it to use you. Rip down that rearview mirror, keep your eyes forward, and step on the damn accelerator!