When you think about it, when/why does one look over his/her shoulder?

  • Uneasy
  • Fear of someone/thing invading our space
  • When lost and need reassurance we are going in the right direction
  • When confirming it is safe to make a move, to change a lane

It appears most over-the-shoulder behavior is a result of uncertainty—which is curious since behind is generally where you were most recently and in front is where you have not yet been—behind is known, ahead is the unknown.

I remember that night; I was in a parking ramp after a rough day at work.  I remember the feeling of being frozen in my path, looking over my shoulder, while deciding if I would give or not give my handbag to a guy who was pointing a knife at me.  Now this was not a deeply thought through decision, basically I needed to know only one thing—was he alone?  This process of pausing to looking over my shoulder was perhaps 3-5 seconds (I’m know because I was holding my breath too).  I do have a point to telling you that story, but before we get there, I know you will wonder unless… yes, he was alone, I bolted into an on-coming car making the driver stop the car, and the guy fled.  He was not arrested or rather he was never charged with assaulting me.  My point: this was a good time to look back.

To look over one’s shoulder, one needs to look backwards while facing forward.  Now if you are committed to doing yoga regularly this may not apply to you, but to most of us standing still looking back it’s not so tricky, but when trying to move forward while looking back, that causes a whole new set of challenges:

  • Loss of focus
  • Increased sense of uneasiness
  • Less clarity of the unknown – what’s ahead
  • An imbalance in your critical choices – like what happens when you take the next step
  • Physically you can only have one eye facing the direction in which you are moving

Yes, it can be done, but the reality is you will not be doing either one well.

How often have you tripped over your own feet, gathered your composure and then looked back to scowl at the unknown culprit that interfered with your purpose.  Okay—you say you have never done that, but you have watched others who have.  Looking back over your shoulder to blame someone/thing for a misstep is futile since most of our missteps come from tripping over our own toes.

Looking over your shoulder is especially risky when you do not trust those around you.  If you trust someone to have your back, and trust another to lead you forward the risk to over-the-shoulder behavior is lessened—right—you have others to assist you, to share in the scary steps you are taking.  If by chance you are looking over your shoulder because you don’t trust others, you assume a considerable helping of risk on your shoulders alone.  The likelihood of stumbling is high, and when you do who will be there to pick you up?

Second-guessing a decision is another trigger for over-the-shoulder behavior.  No matter how much deliberation, analysis or input is obtained, there are days when making a decision/putting a plan in place just doesn’t have your full support.  The danger in looking back questioning your decision rather than trusting that you have made it with the best information you have at the time.  When you are not fully invested in your plan, you have compromised your decision/plan from the get-go.  Over-the-shoulder behavior does not allow room for the full engagement in the decision/plan you have put forth.

Looking over your shoulder is not the same as reviewing, readdressing your decisions/plans.  Purposeful analytical review is critical to managing your choices, looking over your shoulder is not believing in your decisions.   Looking over your shoulder is not giving your plan its’ best chance at success.

Before I lose you to a trip to the store for pork shoulder and a bottle of wine, over-the-shoulder behavior is usually a good idea when driving or when you are deciding to run from a guy with a knife.  Over-the-shoulder behavior is NOT a good idea in the workplace.