Note: This is a guest post from Judy Belmont, M.S., L.P.C. of JudyBelmont.com
“IF ONLY …. I had taken the other job.”
“IF ONLY …. I had chosen another college.”
“IF ONLY …. I had gone to college!”
“IF ONLY …. I never broke up with her.”
“IF ONLY…… I never moved here.”
“IF ONLY …. I encouraged my kids to stick with music lessons.”
“IF ONLY …… I hadn’t said that!”
The list goes on and on. No one goes through life without some “if onlys.”
However, some people make the land of “IF ONLYS” a place they live in, not just visit. Too many people think that if only they chose a different path in life they would be much happier, and spend too much time kicking themselves for what seems obvious in retrospect.
Here are seven tips to help you move through the Land of “If Only” to the Land of Today!
1. Use your broken dreams, disappointments and “what ifs” as stepping stones towards a better future. If you regard what you learned as lessons to pave a better foundation moving forward, you can see any setbacks from the past as laying the necessary stability for a better tomorrow. Make the most out of today rather than reworking yesterday!
2. Those who are stuck in the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” often have a hard time forgiving themselves for not knowing better or not doing any better, which seems so obvious in hindsight. Self-forgiveness is vital for moving ahead in life rather than spending time living with a constant pull from the past. Forgive yourself for not knowing everything when you were five!
3. Remind yourself that you do not know what would have happened if you chose the other path – it could have been worse! By thinking of how things could have been worse, we can put things into perspective. All too often, we think how things could have been better rather than focus on what could have been worse! And believe me, they could have!
4. Refuse to play the “Blame Game.” Often people stay stuck in “what ifs” because they can not let themselves “off the hook.” They see even their present difficulties such as misbehaved children or being suddenly unemployed as further evidence that they are to blame for all their misfortunes! They think “If only I had……then this would not have happened.” As the bestselling book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner emphasizes, the world is not always fair and sometimes really good people get real bad breaks just because life is not often fair, not because you deserve it.
5. Realize that to be steeped in “if onlys” is to be stuck with unproductive regret. Regrets can be productive if you learn and grow from them. Differentiate between productive and unproductive regret. Unproductive regret keeps you focused on how the past would have been better, and productive regret helps you make better decisions and choices now as you immerse yourself in the present and look towards the future.
6. Allow yourself to grieve. There are five stages of grieving according to Grief Pioneer Dr. Kubler-Ross. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. All are necessary to give up past expectations and make new dreams today. So do not get worried if you experience anger, feel very sad, and at times try to make deals with yourself, others and even God. Recognize that they are all stages of the grieving process and are necessary to the the final end stage of the grief process, which is acceptance. Acceptance helps you make peace with “what is” rather than what “should have been.”
7. Embrace “The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life!” Accept the fact that life is not smooth and predictable like American or Cream Cheese. Rather, it is more like Swiss with all its characteristic holes. Interestingly enough, it is a fact that the bigger the holes in the Swiss, the more flavorful, sweeter and more distinctive the cheese. Using this as an analogy to our lives, we have the opportunity of getting stronger and developing more character when we get through large life “holes” and obstacles.’ So, with the notion of The Swiss Cheese Theory Of Life, you can feel more positive no matter what comes your way, and will be able to “SMILE AND SAY CHEESE!”
Judy Belmont, M.S., L.P.C. is the co-author of “The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life: How To Get Through Life’s Holes without Getting Stuck In Them!” She is a psychotherapist, a national wellness speaker and corporate trainer. She is a mental health expert in print, radio and TV. Visit www.judybelmont.com
Photo by filtran