Sometimes We Get Stuck in Regret

Sometimes We Get Stuck in Regret

I should have done things differently.

Now it’s too late.

I’ve missed my chance.

I screwed it up.

I should have known.

 I say: baloney.

You did the very best you could do under the circumstances and with the information you had at the time.

Honestly, I’m not sweet-talking you with some feel-good mumbo jumbo here — I’m serious.

As I’ve said, in my experience everyone is always doing the best they can do — and if they could do better, they would.

So we need to bless the past. We need to settle in to the reality that the past cannot be any different from what it is.

We need to look back and realize that we have, indeed, always done the best we knew how to do — even when our best wasn’t very good. And that if the universe is friendly, we can assume it’s all been, somehow, correct.

We can wish things were different, but we might as well wish the mountains would walk down to the sea, because in this very moment, they can’t be any different.

Sometimes something happens that hurts us so deeply we think it can’t be right — it must be bad. We do something awful to someone we love. We ignore our intuition and we stay in some bad job, relationship, or situation longer than we should.

We are caught in some life circumstance that feels just horrible. I’m not saying we should paint those situations pink and call them cheerful. That would be diminishing, disrespectful, and cold.

You are allowed to feel as hurt as you are, as angry as you are, as sad as you are, as disappointed as you are.

Do whatever you need to do to express those feelings in a safe way:

bash the mattress with a whiffle bat, pray, cry, run, write, sing, apologize…

If you need help to move through those feelings, for heaven’s sake, set aside your pride/skepticism/reluctance and get some. And once we’ve worked through all our emotions, we are still left with the truth: the past is what it is, and it cannot be different.

Often, having discharged our pent-up emotion about the past, we can even see how it really was for the best — how whatever happened was a valuable (if painful) lesson for us, and we can genuinely feel grateful for the experience.

Even in the case of loved ones dying, well, we have to know that as much as it saddens us to lose time with our beloveds, we all have to die. Even with everything we know about medicine and prevention and safety, illness, death, and accidents still happen — in just the same way that unlikely healings and miracles and near misses still happen.

So we are humbled by our lack of control, and we bow our heads and still our hearts and say, “It is what it is.” And it cannot be any different, no matter how hard we wish it were so.

We can cling to the fantasy that it’s possible to change the past, or we can declare the past the past, deal with our current feelings (whatever they may be), and move on. The past is what it is, and we can move on from here.

Repeat after me: I can move on from here.

Photo credit: Khánh Hmoong via photopin cc

How To Make Perfect Choices – Every Time

How To Make Perfect Choices – Every Time

Nags Head Easter 2011 - photo by Samantha Bennett

And the voice said, “Quit thinking you’re doing this wrong…”

I woke up very early on the Saturday before Easter and took a beach walk. The sky and the sea were the same shade of ever-lightening gray, and there was no one else in sight. As I walked, I prayed, and the voice came to me and said, “Quit thinking you’re doing this wrong.”

I stopped.

“Quit thinking you’ve screwed up. You are leading your life in precisely the right way. Your life is unfolding perfectly.

Not the way you’d planned, I know –

But still: diamond-perfect.”

And I started thinking about all the choices, events and situations that we revisit over and over in our minds, and how all that revisiting is stealing valuable energy and mind-space and creativity from NOW.

So I devised a few questions to help unlock a few of those…oh, “regrets” seems like a strong word to use…but the life choices that you still think about and feel sort of bad about.

Step One: You Have Learned Your Lesson

Perhaps you have a lot of these regrets and you really feel them getting in the way of your leading your best life. Or maybe you only have a few, or one or two. But all of us have at least one.

So pick an event from your past that you wish had gone differently. Could be anything:

A trip you didn’t take.
An apology that you bungled.
An opportunity squandered.

First, what is the Life Lesson of that event? What is the “moral of the story?” What behavioral change do you continually reinforce by dwelling on this?

That you are free to choose adventure over safety?
That you need to speak your heart?
That you can lean into the future rather than hanging back?

Good. So, how are you doing with that Life Lesson? Have you got it? Are you sure?

Think of three examples from your life where you have demonstrated an increased ability to be adventuresome, to heart-speak, to lean – or whatever your Lesson was.

I believe that you have learned that lesson. You may give yourself an A+ (or, for those of you who’ve studied with me, you may give yourselves a “C” 😉 because now, in the same way that you no longer have to recall the lesson of “how do I tie my shoes?” or “how do I safely pull my car into the driveway” because you’ve done it a million times, you may now assume that Lesson is part of you. It is part of your unconscious competence. It’s in your bones now, and you can’t unknow it.

So maybe you can afford to be a bit less vigilant, hm?

Step Two: You Did Not Act Alone

Let’s return to that troubling memory for a minute, and let me ask you a question:

Is it possible that you are over-accepting responsibility for this event?


Give it some thought.

Were there other people involved who also bear some responsibility for the way things went down?  Could someone else have helped you out a bit more than they did?

And I don’t mean to say that anyone ought to have done anything differently – after all, those other people are leading their lives just perfectly, too – but I want you to notice that you did not act in a vacuum.

How inexperienced were you at the time?

Did you have all the information you needed?  Are you giving yourself a hard time because you didn’t know then what you know now?  Can you see the ridiculousness of that?

Now write down the name of someone else who might’ve had a hand in this decision or event of yours.

And write down one piece of information that you have now but did not have then.

Do you see that this maybe was not all your fault?  That you were a part of a larger set of circumstances?  Could this new perspective maybe help you put down the whip for a minute?

Step Three: Do You Still Desire That Alternate Future?

Finally, answer this: how do you think your life would be different if you had, in fact, behaved differently?

Complete the sentence, “If I had/hadn’t done XYZ, I would now ________________.”

What goes in the blank?  Be a painter?  Be married?  Have lived abroad?  Still be friends with…?

Good.  Breathe that in.

Do you want that still?

If the answer is Yes, then what is one small (less than 15 minutes, easily within your budget) step you can take today to bring in this thing that you still want?

And be realistic with yourself – maybe you can’t move to Paris today, but you can buy some geraniums and a small photo of the Tour Eiffel to put on your desk.  You can start a penny-jar to save up for a plane ticket, yes?

Or maybe you think you would’ve been a famous textile designer now, so you’re going to spend 15 minutes researching new silk-screening technologies today.

Make it fun – a celebration – an experiment, even!

And perhaps you realized that you really DON’T want that thing anymore.  How marvelous!  Take a moment to celebrate that you “do not want what you haven’t got!”

And so maybe you are so glad that you didn’t marry that person, you decide to buy a special bottle of wine or imported soda pop or special after-dinner tea to commemorate your freedom from that choice.

Because you are here for the joy.  And to spend even one moment criticizing yourself for something that could not have gone any differently than it did is a waste of your light.

And the world needs your light.