7 Tips for Moving Through the Land of “If Only”

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


  1. Donald, great advice. I have never regretted anything in my life – everything can be seen as a stepping stone to something better.

  2. This is definitely a touchy subject, as I know I’m always wondering “how my life could have been different if…”.
    But it should never be a big deal, because I know what my life is at this exact moment, and am perfectly fine at accepting what it is (there’s honestly no other way worth looking at it than that).
    Sure, I’ll always try and work hard to make it better, but it’s never a matter of “what if,” but “when.”

  3. Both of you seem to be positive thinkers and emotionally healthy – and share my motto “think straight and feel great! ” Thanks for commenting! Judy Belmont

  4. I agree with Alex, this topic is really touchy…looking back most of us wish we had done this and this a bit differently, and like you said sometimes forgiving oneself can be really hard…
    This line really jumped up at me “Make the most out of today rather than reworking yesterday!”
    Accepting the situation and learning from it, is very important indeed!

  5. Thanks for the advise..it is so sad knowing that i made a lot of mistakes before.

  6. Great post, Judy!
    I especially love “The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life.” Brilliant! And so true. Life is full of holes. Some we can see fairly clearly and others take us unsuspecting and unprepared. But accepting the messiness of life can help alleviate some of the pain associated with living life in unpredictable circumstances.
    Thanks for sharing your insight, Judy!

    • Thanks so much KenWert! If you visit The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life’s web site you can download the first two chapters of the book that was released last month. There are so many other analogies of the cheese – here is a little excerpt or just one of the analogies we use:.
      Here’s a secret that only cheese makers know: The larger the holes, the sweeter the cheese! In fact, it is the cheese maker’s art to create larger holes by fermenting the bacteria. That’s right! Specialty cheese makers carefully ferment the cheese to make bigger holes. So it is the larger holes that make the cheese more flavorful!
      Applying this analogy to life, we can emerge from the difficult times in our lives, the moments that seem laden with bacteria, to taste life’s sweetness!
      I really appreciate your comment! Thanks. Judy

  7. Great article. I so much love the last part on “Embrace”. Most people mistake embrace for approval.Embracing something simply means accepting the reality of what happened and then decide on what you want to do about it. It is not what happened to us that counts but what we do about it.
    It is very difficult to change what we can’t embrace. Embracing does not mean liking the situation but simply assessing it for proper response.
    Thank you so much.

  8. What a great post. Thank you very much. Regrets are happiness killers. None of us is perfect. We can make the decision to reset at any time. There are many tools out there to help, but the real issue is that you have to decide that it is what you really want. There are so many negative influences on us if we allow them to be our guides. It is about how we think, how we feel and what we do that creates our life and lifestyle. Thank you so much.

    • Happiness killers is a great phrase when referring to being stuck in regret. thoughts so often underlie our feelings, but we are often so much on “autopilot” we have no clue what we are thinking unless we stop and WAIT and ask ourselves
      What Am I Thinking is a great acronym to remember to remind ourselves to be thought stoppers and detectives!

  9. Hey Judy,
    I like the Swiss Cheese analogy 😉 I occasionally slip up – going to bed late, eating something I regret later, wasting time,… but the faster I can accept my choice and move on to more productive things, the better I feel about myself. And that regret then quickly dissipates.

  10. Very resilient! Yes lie has a way of teaching u lessons and it seems like you are learning!

    • Sorry for the typos- i entered by accident before finishing – What I meant is that life has a way of teaching us lessons and it seems you are sensitive to the lessons learned without too judgmental or hard on yourself. Life experience (such as being tired, being too full) does a good job correcting us anyway! Thanks for the comment, Matt.

  11. Nice to read, it really amazing it happens out day to day life but still we do think..if only

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