How to Let Go of Regret
driving your car backwards
a picture of regret
Pick off your Ticks
I was in New Mexico recently. Before you go to this land of tan and rock, everyone will tell you “The sunsets are incredible. You’ll feel like you have gone to a new planet.” Great. I’m a Chicago kid and I know New Mexico sunsets because I’ve seen the steel mill sundowns and packing house gray smokiness of a west wind coming from south side slaughter rooms. Now THAT is a different planet!
It’s funny how New Mexico sunsets and regret are really one in the same. The sunsets change from green to purple to pink, just like regrets change with each mistake one makes. If it’s not being an absent parent, it’s eating three pieces of cheese cake for supper and then wondering why the weight around one’s belly packs the pounds on. Jodi Picoult says “Living in regret is like driving a car that only goes backwards”.
So what is regret? Why do we experience it? What can we do to alleviate it? These are simple questions with difficult answers. Looking at the questions with loving eyes may offer insight into this most deadly of all mental conditions.
From a Choice Theory point of view regret occurs when the images of our lives and the scenes of our mind are out of balance. What we want does not match up to what we have. The divorced parent wanted a Norman Rockwell family, but achieved a Viet Nam firefight. The remembrance of these firefight moments causes an emotion that does not feel good. Essentially, “If only. The two saddest words in the English Language”, according to Lackley.
Where does regret stem from? Many therapists discuss role of the past. Others reflect on the idea of mistaken choices or misinterpreted information. The bottom line is this; regret comes from the realization that one has made choices that showed fallibility. The universe has slapped our face to remind us that we are not GOD. Given the fact that we all have the strong desire to control our world, this makes complete sense. It’s the whole three year old who didn’t get what he wanted disappointment routine. “What I got and what I wanted are different, so I’ll tantrum”. The problem is that most often, the tantrum takes on inner forms. Guilt, depression, addiction… can you relate?
Regret is a wood tick sized pebble that walks with a person each day until the cigarette of forgiveness burns it out or the regretter develops Lyme disease. It’s as simple as that. The prescription is as painful as the heat of the cigarette, and as welcome as an ice cube on the forehead of a New Mexico cowboy at 4:00 in the afternoon. Get the picture?
Dealing with regret is never easy, and yet it’s as simple as remembering two concepts. Concept one is profound. As you read this, take the test and see if you can discover the concept for yourself. Start by looking at your hand. Notice the skin. What color is it? How is it made? What scars does the hand show? How does it feel when you rub your fingers over it? Stop reading and take the test.
What have you noticed? If you really worked hard you will have discovered profundity number one. You….are…human. You make mistakes. You screw up. You goof up. Does it feel good to know that you are in the vast majority of all the people who have ever walked the earth?
Concept two is more difficult to embrace. It requires persistence and a mode of travel. Car, bike, space shuttle, will all do. To discover this concept, begin by grabbing your credit card and some high carb food, as you’ll need the energy. Go outside and find some clouds. In certain areas, you may have to travel a distance to begin the exercise. Once the clouds have been found begin chasing them. Wherever the clouds go, follow them. Quit and you fail. After a day or so ask yourself this question: “Will I ever be able to catch these clouds?” If the answer is “yes”, stop reading, continue traveling, and let me know when you finish. If “no”, you have discovered the second concept. Chasing the past is nothing more than chasing clouds, so why bother?
When a person reads the regret literature, most strategies relate to journaling, talk therapy, acceptance or other external attempts and revisiting the past. Here is a new paradigm. When memories of guilt and shame fill your life, ask the question “Is this getting me what I want?” Ask this question consciously. Know that you are asking it, as this conversation is not meant to be a metaphysical waste of time. If you answer an honest “yes”, then enjoy yourself and fill your mind and spirit with all the regret you can handle.
After asking the question, talk aloud about where the regret is on your body. Is it in your heart, your chest, your diaphragm? Regret is a real person because you made it so. What is the best way to have a conversation? So, have it with your friend Regret. When you are done, say “good bye” and “See you next time”. I write these last paragraphs in complete seriousness.
Here’s the very bottom line, how long will you be alive? How long will you be dead? Can you bring back one second of the past? Is living in the past getting you the love you deserve in this present? Is your pain worth your pain? If it is, then feel it, beat yourself, and maybe, when you are done, someone will place a statue in church for you. Wanna bet?
Thus, when in regret, know it. Feel it. Embrace it. Send it back to history and move on. How? Move, talk, know, acknowledge and look ahead. The victory one gains over the ignorance of possibility will defeat any regret over what might have been. And always remember, “Don’t look back; someone might be gainin’ on you”. Satchel Paige.