Is it me or do you feel life moves along at a pretty quick pace? It seems like yesterday that I was… (you fill in the blanks). Recently I have become aware that many of us are guilty of reflecting on past mistakes carrying them into our future in a way that isn’t very productive. If life moves at a fast rate of speed, how much time should we spend on our past? Or, is there a better way to use what is on our minds?
We are all aware life is complicated and sometimes a messy endeavor. As such we naturally stumble and fall along our life’s path. How many of you are beating yourself up for what are felt to be blunders over life’s choices? i.e. I made a bad decision that lead to a missed opportunity… I did some stupid things that lead to a ruined relationship… I would have been set financially if I had not done… My hope is to create an understanding that will pull the positive from the past, leaving behind the potential hinderances it may be placing on your future.
While beating ourselves up over past miscalculations, how do we get past the feeling of “my life could have been different?” Certainly not with the title words from Neil Young’s song, “It might have been…” but maybe with the last verse, “It’s not too late, To set things straight, Let’s never say, It might have been…”
What is important is to begin understanding that there isn’t a soul on earth who doesn’t have regrets, or decisions they wish were made slightly different. Also, if we spend too much time thinking about our past decisions, these times of reflection rob us of the happiness which we should be experiencing now. So how do we turn the tide?
Ask yourself this question: What does punishing yourself over your past do for you (particularly of you can’t change it)? If it serves no purpose, then why suffer from your past or let it ruin today? The best question we can answer is, How do we eliminate these feelings of regret and use them to our benefit?
Think about this:
- We just answered a question above that suggested punishing ourselves for past mistakes doesn’t serve us well, so choose to let go of the shame. We are here in life to learn and grow. To properly grow we need to make mistakes along the way. We wouldn’t be who we are or have learned what we know if we hadn’t had a little difficulty along the way. The thought that we “should have known” suggests we are perfect. This thought would be ridiculous wouldn’t it? Give yourself permission to stumble while you walk learning about each fall as you go.
- Look at the choices you make on your life’s journey as stepping stones to your betterment. Don’t let them define who you are or what you think about yourself. We often find ourselves in places or circumstances where we don’t want to be. Don’t stay there! Move on… Think of life’s decisions like this: we need to experience some “not so fun places” to realize there are “many good places” on our journey of life. This simple realization makes us feel better about our life.
- Realize the path we are on is what is right for us. The choices we have made are designed only for us; even if they didn’t end as we had planned. If we needed a different lesson; we would have taken a different path. Trust in your journey. It is perfectly designed so that you can be all you are meant to be. Live trusting your journey is a plan created for you to make a difference and become who you are to be.
- Live with an understanding that you are a student in the classroom of life. At every stop where a decision is meant to be made, you are doing so with all you know at the time. Hide sight is thought to be 20/20, however you couldn’t have known more or seen things differently than you did when you made the choices you did. Looking back we can say we could have (should have) done things differently, but you couldn’t (wouldn’t) have with what you knew then. Through our decisions we experience what is needed to progress and grow. Just as we have “unfinished” projects, we need to understand we too are “a work in progress.” We are human, give yourself permission to make mistakes and guess what? Others will give you permission as well…
- Write down some of the decisions you regret. Next to this list, write down the positive things that have come as a direct result of this background. You will quickly learn the positive impact these “bad decisions” have had on defining who you are becoming. Realizing how favorable these experiences really are in the big picture will allow you to see them differently. It will remove the “sting” in seeing them for what they are. These life lessons are needed for us to become the people we are meant to be.
- Lastly, know there is a way that reflecting on our past mistakes can serve us well. Let these choices create the future you want. We have said we can’t change the past, but the other side of the coin is that we can change who we are to be in the future. What actions do you need to take that will allow for your life lessons to work for you? Focus on your future and who it is you want to become; this is in your control.
You will never be as young as you are today. Spend today in a way that understands the positive side of regret and builds on it. Every day is priceless: love a little more, have more fun, do something meaningful, and invest wisely in who you are to become. Don’t waste another minute dwelling in fear of those things that are over and done. Take those lessons into building a positive future as you focus on becoming the person you want to be. Facing forward as we walk builds a bright future merely because we see where we are going.