If things were different they wouldn’t be the same.
From an episode of Law & Order
Every decision comes with a cornucopia of unanticipated consequences. How could it be otherwise? Like crystals growing in a petri dish, they build, one on top of another, into configurations previously unimagined. Similarly, every second in life is full of mystery and ripe with unforeseen possibilities.
Think back to when you were young. Could you ever have imagined the twists and turns life would take? Were most of your relationships, experiences, challenges, or transformations predictable? What if you consciously decided to see them all as perfect catalysts for your growth, whether you liked them, or not?
No matter how challenging your circumstances, you are blessed with free will. You can choose your thoughts, the templates through which you view your experiences. Even if emotions drench you like a tsunami leaving confusion in their wake, you can still accept the onslaught as an opportunity to feel, change, and grow, rather than regret the choices that brought you to this place.
Regret is such a hubris filled thought. It implies there would have been a better outcome if only you had made different choices. A wild assumption with no basis in reality. If you had chosen other options things definitely would have been different, maybe worse. Why torture yourself by inventing rosier scenarios when you haven’t the foggiest idea what might have happened? The truth is all decisions spark chains of reactions you can’t possibly anticipate, let alone imagine. Unless you are clairvoyant, it is highly unlikely you can accurately say what would have happened had you acted differently. The only thing you can be sure of is the mental torture that comes from wondering, and Monday morning quarterbacking.
Where does the urge to imagine alternatives come from? Dissatisfaction and ego. The notion you could have chosen another path and all would have worked out beautifully. But there is absolutely no guarantee that course would have yielded happier results. The only thing you can know for sure is that there would have been another trajectory with its own set of unforeseen consequences. It is an assumption to think those would have been more gratifying or agreeable. It is somewhat egotistical to think you should have known the outcomes of your actions before taking them. You couldn’t because no one can. Unfortunately, the times you did guess correctly only fuel the egoic notion you should always be able to predict the results of your actions. Obviously, that is impossible. Thinking it only leads to remorse, grief, guilt, anxiety, and depression.
A veritable slew of factors, some conscious and some unconscious, collaborated to tip the scales in favor of one decision. The trick is to ride the waves without looking back and thinking you should have predicted all outcomes so you could be enjoying more happiness now. When looked at this way, doesn’t it seem unhelpful to blame yourself for things you couldn’t possibly have known?
The most loving way to deal with thoughts of regret and “shoulda, woulda, coulda,” is to remind yourself you didn’t know what would happen as a result of each decision you made, and consciously choose to believe everything is happening for your highest good. It may not be true, but it certainly beats alternative views. Since you get to choose, why not pick the thoughts that give you peace of mind and foster an optimistic outlook?
The following are a trio of healing meditations to help banish the tendency to regret. You can focus on one, two, or all three.
Sit comfortably and breathe naturally.
Open to what is. Your life now.
Settle into the grace of your unique experiences on this earth, and recall some of the most satisfying ones.
Welcome the unfolding of your life with curiosity and compassion.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang