As we grow older and begin to show our wear like faded paint on an aging barn, it’s common to find ourselves reflecting back on our younger years. We ponder the countless choices we made. Every decision that propelled us forward into the world and made our lives rich and meaningful textiles are now open to seemingly endless reflection. We have so many amazing stories to tell that make us laugh until we cry and make us cry until we laugh; and then there are those stories that make us question just what the *%@! we were thinking!
Many decisions we make during our lifetimes don’t turn out as planned. The more years we have behind us, the more we tend to think back over our lives with regret, or wish that we hadn’t made certain decisions. Each of us have moments from our past that we say we would change in a heartbeat, if only we could. We often think of those particular times as our biggest mistakes or missteps, and we’re absolutely sure we’d do them differently. If only we could go back in time!
We dream of the untapped possibilities and imagine how much better our lives would be now if only we could go back and choose differently. You swear that you’d change it, but I know you actually wouldn’t. Even if you could hop into a time machine and return to that very second in your earlier life, you still would not make a different decision.
Why am I so certain of this? Because there are key factors that your brain simply refuses to acknowledge when you are deeply dwelling in regret and feeling sadness about the past.
Memories are imprecise at best. Every minute of every year since that “regret”, your thoughts about the event itself – what actually happened and how you remember it – have morphed into a new story that you tell yourself. There are hundreds of little elements of a past moment that are so easy to forget when recalled in your present mind, like was it storming outside?, were you lonely?, were you broke?, did you have a migraine?, were you in a hurry? All of these aspects and countless others were influencing your decision-making. On a different day, all the factors could be (and will be) completely different.
Every decision made is based on a limited set of momentary cognitive and emotional characteristics, as well as external factors. Therefore, it is much too easy to think on the past and insist that you were just being dumb, blind, or simply confused about those pesky feelings you were feeling. You frame your past with your current mind-set, not using the very different mind-set of that past time. Things can’t be done differently. You did the very best you could in that exact moment in time.
So, STOP beating yourself up! STOP thinking that you’d actually make a different decision. AND for goodness sake, STOP relying on your thoughts about past decisions to tell someone else how they should now decide for themselves. You are not in their shoes, just as they could never have been in your shoes when you were making your past decisions.
Every second of every day is different. The millions of combinations of individual cognition and emotion that we experience in every moment, cannot be compared to your past or to anyone else’s life.
Forgive yourself, and move forward without regret. Forgive others, and love the uniqueness of our individual experiences. Less judgment, and more compassion will bring us closer. Peace to you all on your journey.