“Nobody gets to live life backward. Look ahead, that is where your future lies. “ ~ Ann Landers
This past year I read a very touching news story about the biggest life regrets expressed by people who are close to dying. The top five were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I imagine that being at the end of life and carrying disappointments that cannot be fixed would be sad and unnerving. All of us can relate to moments when we wish there could be a Do-Over or a backspace button that would fix all life’s glitches. I remember thinking precisely that when I lost my dad last year and how I wished we could just do it all over again with a different outcome.
“Man, like a bridge was designed to carry the load of the moment, not the combined load of a year all at once.”
Regret, guilt and woulda-coulda-shoulda thoughts are what we humans do so well. “I wish I had worked harder and then I wouldn’t have lost my job,” or “If I had invested in different stocks I would’ve made more money,” and on and on. Regretful thinking keeps us focused on things that can’t be undone. These thoughts weigh on us, they make us live in the past….a past that is over, history.
Ralph Waldo Emerson described it simply and eloquently when he wrote, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Focus on the “Unregrets”
My year was not a stellar example of perfection…far from it. But since the setbacks are done and over and I can’t take them back, I’m not going to spend energy dwelling on them. I’ve decided instead to put energy into remembering what was UNREGRETTABLE this past year, and end the year on a more promising note.
What is an “Unregrettable?” Well, each one by itself is no big deal and makes barely a blip on my day-to-day radar. Many are things that almost didn’t happen because my logical brain almost talked me out of trying. Added together, these little triumphs force me to remember that every day, little by little, I did the right thing and made progress, which totally takes the focus off the flaws, foibles and flub-ups that would weigh me down with negative energy — and cannot be undone, anyway.
“Never regret. If it’s good it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.”
It’s like writing good things on a slip of paper, no matter how trivial they seem, and putting them into a mayonnaise jar. At the end of the year you’ve got a whole mess of positives to recall. Hard to dwell on regrets when you are being showered with ‘Atta girls (and boys).
For me some Unregrettables this year were little things like taking on a project that my head said would be uninteresting and a waste of time and discovering it inspired me. Giving myself permission to take time away from my writing because I needed to recharge myself, even though logic said I might regret it, and I found it was just what the doctor ordered. Or accidentally crossing paths with someone I had thought was my nemesis and deciding to say hello to her. It broke a nearly 10-year silence between us and now we’ve rekindled our friendship.
See, they aren’t earth shattering. But it’s more empowering to focus on what went right than what went wrong. I’m no Pollyanna. If I did something last year that hurt someone or caused problems, I know I need to attend to that. But rather than mope around wringing my hands regretfully saying, “I wish I hadn’t done (whatever it was),” I will reframe it and say, ” This is what I am DOING or WILL DO to make this right.” That attitude allows me to become a hero rather than the heavy, at least in my own mind.
So, here are some quotes that have inspired me to not carry the negatives on my back but to look beyond them and see the small but good Unregrettables of 2012. Happy New Year!
“Man, like a bridge was designed to carry the load of the moment, not the combined load of a year all at once.” ~ William A. Ward
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell
“Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.” ~ Swami Sivananda
“Never regret. If it’s good it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.” ~Victoria Holt
“Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.” ~ Miguel Angel Ruizy
“Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might have been, and look at what can be. ~ Marsha Petrie Sue