Regret: The Poison We Drink Willingly

We tend to spend a large portion of our time and mental power focused on the events of the past.  We constantly ask ourselves, “If I had done X, would Y be any different?”  We repeatedly visit moments in our memories that have hurt, wronged, or injured our psyche.  I have found myself, many times, sifting through the wreckage of my past like a gold miner during the rush.  I pour over each detail with extreme scrutiny and attempt to point out the flaws in a previous conversation, action, or decision.

This introspective review usually occurs at night, before bed and tends to happen almost automatically.  It’s like I have programmed my brain to digest everything I did that day, that week, that year, or even 15 years ago and then analyze my mistakes and shortcomings.  My brain doesn’t seem to recognize time lines and blends all these painful memories or subpar judgement calls into one horror film that I sit through time and time again, without popcorn.  This is mind numbing ridiculousness.  These repeated self-critiques lead to unnecessary anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and guilt.

I feel this is a cycle that most people are caught, destined to continuously regurgitate past experiences in a negative arena that stunts growth and inhibits one’s ability to truly learn.  When all we focus on is what we should have done instead of what can be done now, we lose out on multiple opportunities to become who we are meant to be.  The mental anguish of constantly reliving painful experiences is a completely insane thing to do.

We can’t change anything that has occurred anymore than we can reason with a wasp about its stinging escapades.  We must resist the urge to finely comb our past for discrepancies and, instead, turn our attention to the lessons learned from these “sub-par” performances.  Life, for me, is a collection of lessons.  Each lesson is meant to show me a part of myself that I didn’t know existed or was afraid to understand.  Every hardship, problem, uncomfortable moment, or difficult situation is another opportunity to gain insight into who I am.

When I approach my past from the perspective of opportunity, I don’t feel the same anxiety, fear, and shame that I once did.  I make note of the lessons life taught me in these memories and strive to correct my behavior for future “tests”.  After I have done my objective critique, I release the experience.  I don’t dwell, ponder, or beat myself up over things that should have been done differently.  I remember that the moment is now past and time machines aren’t working yet.  The only thing I can do NOW is to fix what I found lacking and try again tomorrow.

The mental anguish of constantly reliving painful experiences is a completely insane thing to do.

As an example:  Not too long ago, I botched a sales opportunity.  I thought I had everything taken care of and the decision would end in my favor.  It came down to the wire and the prospect wound up staying with the current company.  Why?  I had not expelled all doubt in the program I offered him and didn’t completely understand his exact motives behind his decisions.  At first, I blamed the customer for not accepting my “brilliant” proposal.  I went through every detail for days, making myself sick over the reasons why I lost the account.  I should have been of done A, B, C, etc.  I finally stopped, pulled out a piece of paper, and wrote the words, “What I learned” at the top of the page.  I made a list of my faults, my assumptions, and my mistakes.  I read the list aloud and saw what I had done wrong.  After the reading, I threw the page in the garbage.  What’s past is past.  I now know what I need to do for the next proposal with this client and with any other client in the future.  I chose to take my lesson and let the “should have been pain” go.  The only thing I can influence is the progress I make today.

Let go of the past hardships and poor decisions that you have made.  Take note of how you can improve from the experiences of yesterday and convert those points into actions.  Nothing good every comes from exhausting all the options that could have been taken.  The event has come and gone.  It is time to free yourself from the constraints of the you from yesterday, last week, or last year.  Make a commitment to filing away the person you used to be and the decisions that keep you up at night.  Strive to learn from your mistakes and grow out of those uncomfortable moments.  Focus on today and you will find that life is beautiful when you live for now instead of yesterday.

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