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The What If Time Machine

How to learn from your past, and not beat yourself up over it.

I think we can all agree that in order to live a successful life, we need to take actions that move us forward. And if we are moving in a forward direction, we need to be keeping our eyes on what is in front of us. In this mode, stopping to peer behind us is unnecessary, it slows us down. This is mirrored in the fact that some of us don’t like our past and when we look at it, it’s uncomfortable, perhaps even painful.

We all make mistakes, and quite often that’s how we learn. From the time we begin to crawl we make errors in judgment and run into things. While most of us are beginning to walk as toddlers, we learn that if we head toward danger, we are picked up and turned in the right direction. We learn the word “No” is meant to keep us out of trouble and life becomes a continual process of mistakes, failures, lessons, and triumphs.

Two understandings that generally occur during our early learning cycle are:

1. We celebrate our successes.

2. We beat ourselves up over our failures.

The problem with the second one is that when we beat ourselves up over our failures it’s easy to unintentionally get on the “what if” hamster wheel. Cycling around and around, not going anywhere, just constantly looking into our past and beating ourselves up over questioning what if we had done things differently, what if the other person had done things differently, what if we were kinder, or more proactive?

When we’re stuck in this cycle, we question what we could have done better. The what if questions go on and on, and that particular hamster wheel can be exhausting both physically and emotionally. The mental motion of the spinning wheel can build many mixed emotions of self-doubt, regret, bitterness, anger, resentment, even hatred toward ourselves or the other person involved in a particular situation.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a time machine that we could use to go back in time and fix a previous situation and create a different outcome, or a more successful outcome; one that we didn’t regret?

Well, I’m here to tell you that this is possible on a deeper, internal understanding level. Each of us has our own time machine and that time machine is our learning process. Instead of using our time machine to constantly go back and dwell on past what ifs in a negative or judgmental way, we can use our time machine to learn from those errors.

When we spin the what if and ask ourselves what if we had done it this way instead, then we can plan our future with that in mind so that we don’t make the same mistakes that we continually beat ourselves up over. With just a slight shift, we can go from taking our time machine into the what if of the past, to using the knowledge that we have of that failure to create the what if of a brighter, more enjoyable life.

As we move forward we will be able to keep our eye on the past in a healthy way so that we successfully maneuver ourselves into a better future.

How to Use Your Time Machine to Create a Better Future

When you start cycling over a mistake or regret that you have, stop yourself and grab a pen and paper, or open a computer to type it out.

  1. Write down the situation and the mistake you made in it, explaining why you believe it was a mistake.
  2. On new line or page, write what outcome you would have liked to have happen and what you could have done differently to create that outcome.
  3. On another new line or page, write what you would like to happen in the future.
  4. List some steps you will take to do things differently in your current life in order to make that your reality.

Yes, time machines require some work but all machines do. Just like your car gets you from point A to point B, your what if time machine can as well. We all make mistakes and if we’ve hurt someone, it’s our responsibility to make amends for those mistakes, or if you’ve been hurt, it’s important to work to get closure from that person so you can forgive and move on into your successful future.

Learn from your past, don’t beat yourself up over it. Always keep your eye on your present and future so that when you find yourself in a similar situation again, you can do things differently. Forward momentum feels as though we have accomplished something and accomplishment feels good.

Isn’t it time to get off that negative what if hamster wheel and jump into your future what if time machine?

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