Using the Mind’s Time Machine

Projecting the problems of a possible future can help you avoid them
September 4, 2019 Updated: September 4, 2019

Everyone has at least one dreadful experience in which a small bit of forethought could have staved off some minor or major disaster and, in some cases, saving us a lifetime of regret.

Our remorse is amplified with moans and groans about the action or inaction that led us to ruin, whether we chose our course consciously or fell into it for lack of attention.

Whether large or small, these calamities share an irrefutable fact: They are locked in the past and there is nothing we can do to reverse them.

But what if we did have a time machine? What if there was a way to undo these wretched regrets?

The truth is, if we had more closely examined the choices before the incident, we’d find many mistakes could have been avoided by using common sense and a bit of brainpower to turn forward the hands of time.

When a person buys a house or makes an investment, they attentively and conscientiously evaluate their exposure to any possible financial issues. They save money in the bank, hire a lawyer, and get a home inspection because they can foresee the potential of problems down the road.

All of these actions are based on calculating risks and taking actions to mitigate these risks. Who wants to lose their hard-earned cash by making a bad decision? The regret and devastation of such a mistake come without benefit. And yet, by calculating risks, ruin can be avoided. Simple common sense protects from harm.

But we don’t apply this process as much as we could and often should. Such calculations needn’t require any great volume of thought. And for this reason, we should apply this approach in our daily routine, perhaps most especially when driving.

While driving our car, often in a rush, we think about our loved ones, our jobs, our problems, or even what’s for dinner. We are intent to get where we are going as quickly as we can and yet distracted as our minds churn on everything but the road.

Then there’s the even worse example of texting while driving.

As drivers head to their destinations, heads full of ideas, plans, and other thoughts, they get the itch to check their phones. Or maybe a text comes in and they hear the siren song of the message alert “ding.” They act on the immediate impulse to check the message and reply, an instinctual action known for wreaking havoc on roadways across the world.

Too many deaths and disfigurements come about in such a way, countless lives ruined by the havoc that can be avoided entirely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Driver Distraction Program defines distraction as “a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention from the driving task to focus on some other activity instead.”

According to NHTSA, in 2017, there were 34,247 fatal crashes in the United States involving 52,274 drivers. As a result of those fatal crashes, 37,133 people were killed because of 2,994 distracted drivers. Bodily injuries were not included as well as monetary damages. That number is much higher.

One incident I saw on the TV news described a 19-year-old woman who crashed into a man jogging while she was texting and driving. The horrific accident killed the jogger, leaving children without a father and a woman without her husband.

In court, the camera captured the young lady sobbing uncontrollably, her eyes swollen from crying for the lives she ruined, including her own. She had no words of comfort for the widowed wife and her two fatherless daughters as they sat listening to her trembling voice. She could only offer an apology filled with gut-wrenching regret.

Such a tragedy over so small and inconsequential a thing; she chose to text without thinking of the consequences. Her thoughtless need for an insignificant text prompted a choice she would never have made if common sense ruled her for that brief moment.

“If I could turn back time and undo what I did to this poor family,” is what she’ll say for the rest of her life.

I read in a newspaper of another car accident in Pennsylvania, in which a mature businessman thought he could text and drive without any problems. He thought he was a careful and experienced driver, but this was a delusion.

He lost control of his car on a highway and landed on top of an oncoming small truck driven by father with his son as a passenger. They had no time to react. They were both pinned in the cab of the truck. The rescue team needed hours to extract them. The son suffered multiple broken bones and his father almost died. Even after many surgeries, both have to deal with constant pain and enormous medical bills. Their lives will never be the same.

This businessman chose not to consider safety first. The emotional and physical pain inflicted on the father and son was caused by an almost subconscious decision that he was fine to text and take his eyes off the road. He will regret the horrific accident for the rest of his life and likewise lament, “If only I could turn back time.”

What if these two people had gone into the future, before the crash, visualizing themselves in an accident. They would have determined the consequences were too severe and their behavior would have changed instantly.

This isn’t theoretical. We all have a metaphorical time machine. I’ve used mine most of my life and still do to avoid many problems.

If I’m driving in a rush to get to my destination, my conscious mind says, “The road is wide open and easy. There are no police around and I can save time by speeding.” Another part of my mind is thinking about what excuse I could give for being late, making me even more intent about getting there quickly.

My conscience knows it’s wrong to speed at 55 in a 35-mile-per-hour zone and I direct my mind to imagine the situation 30 seconds into the future. I visualize the worse-case scenarios.

“If a deer jumped out of the woods into my lane, what would I do? I could hit a tree and die. What if I hit an oncoming car? The driver could die or become paralyzed. Will I survive? What if a child ran in front of my car?”

I imagine the pain and suffering I could cause to someone else and most likely to myself. Will I be able to handle the consequences and regret. Will I say those words, “If I could only turn back time?”

In the flash of this thought, I decide to slow down. I focus on driving.

I may not have had an accident, but now I’ve made it all the less likely I ever would. I scanned the future, envisioning the horrific consequences and decided speeding wasn’t worth the risk.

And, by the grace of God, I haven’t said, “If I could turn back time …”

You can use this instant time machine to imagine the impact of hurtful words, or lying to a loved one, or an accidental death caused by texting and driving.

Why invite problems and despair? Who wants ruination? Visiting the potential horrors of the future can save us regret and despair. Common sense needs to be applied.

The mind has a powerful tool—a time machine. But rarely do people use it to go into their future. If they did, maybe they wouldn’t wish they could go back to change the past.

Heidi Le Bris is a conversationist with varied interests courtesy of the savoir-vivre gained from having owned a fine French restaurant. Aka “The French Chef’s Wife,” Le Bris also provided entertaining cooking lessons. From being a “Jersey girl” to living the French culture gave her a spirited grasp of the multifaceted curiosities of life.