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Avoiding the road of "what might have been"
As we get older it is not uncommon to look back at our younger selves and reflect on our choices are where they have taken us. This reflection is useful in keeping us on track and mindful of the fact that today's decisions lead to tomorrow's realities. However for some people, this look back takes place often, and is accompanied by a feeling of regret as they think about the road not taken and the door left unopened. Since there are no do-overs, these thoughts can bring about a lot of sadness and a belief that something has been lost forever that can never be recovered or compensated for. While this is not necessarily true, it is certainly an easier path if one makes a conscious effort to ensure this will never happen to them. Since risk is inherent in life and no one has the benefit of 20-20 hindsight beforehand, there is never a certainty to anything. However making conscious and thought out choices that are inspired by our passions, priorities and goals can help ensure that we end up with a life that is not marked by regret. In other words, we need to live purposefully in the here and now, never losing sight of what really matters to us.
The following behaviors are frequently observed in the people who voice the most regret in life and who wish they had handled things differently. See if any of these resonate with you and if so, pay attention to my suggestions for what you can do to avoid being one of them.
Frequently telling yourself what you "should" be doing with your life
If you are telling yourself that you should be doing something with your life-- this is a red flag signaling that you probably need to put any action on hold and do some honest reflection instead. Should is all about what you think is expected of you, what the larger culture has dictated is the right thing for you at this age and stage of your life. It is this thinking that leads to a herd mentality, where people in a certain demographic group check the boxes that have been assigned them as they complete each expected task. These are the same people who wake up one day and ask themselves "how did I get here?"
Instead of using that standardized list as your guide, try visioning to see a future that is fashioned by your individual dreams, desires, and passions. Though it won't be perfect and you may have to face additional challenges to get there, you are much less likely to find yourself someday wondering "what if?"
Placing your focus on doing what others are doing
Essentially this is when you are always comparing yourself with others. Think about the swimmer or runner who looks to the right or left as they power towards the finish. That one or two seconds spent checking on someone else's progress could cost them the race. This is very true in the game of life as well. We should keep our eyes on the prize and not lose focus on where we are, where we want to go, and what we need to get there. If you are focused on what others are doing, you will never hear your own voice, guiding you towards your true north.
Frequently telling yourself "later," but later never comes
If you frequently put things off to "later," you will miss opportunities in front of you, right now. This is just a way of avoiding and delaying what you know you need to do and perhaps fear you are not capable of doing. Those who wait for later find that it often never comes. They talk about what they want to do, plan to do, how they will do it--but never seem to take even the first steps towards doing it.
If this is you, write it down, put it in your schedule, and make it happen. You may fail, but you will never have to wonder what might have been if you had only tried.
Doing the same thing over and over with the same results
If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and nothing changes, stop. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Yet it is hard for many people to do. We tend to gravitate to the safe and familiar--but playing it safe almost guarantees that nothing will change. Instead, think about what you (realistically) can do differently. What are your options and potential choices? Think outside the box and get creative. Over time, you will become more comfortable with change and taking calculated risks will get easier. What have you got to lose but time and new opportunities and experiences?
Placing your whole focus on your work and career success
If you think work is the most important thing in your life, think again. Yes it has importance and you need to place a priority on it. The problem is when it takes over your life--when you are too tired, too busy, and are stretched too thin to find the time for all the other things that a full and satisfying life contains. Everything is a choice and you really can't have it all, all the time. That myth has led many people (especially women) to wake up wondering how their lives went so wrong when they did what was expected and did it so well. If you don't remember how--learn again to play (and play hard), to let go, and to be completely present in the moment. This is where you will find true joy.
Always finding good reasons why you can't do something
If you always have a good reason for why you can't do something, find reasons for why it is important that you do. This is easier than you think. If you are always telling yourself that you can't take time off from work to go away, to take a class, participate in a sport, or pursue some other desired activity--substitute a few reasons why you really need to do this, and do it now. Make a list of what you hope to get out of that time/experience and what you could lose if you don't pursue it.
Letting fear be your primary motivator
Fear can be a powerful motivator. It can also keep us from taking risks, moving past our comfort zone, and/or trying something new and different, and therefore potentially scary. Do you know someone who is living a full, challenging, and satisfying life? Ask them how they got where they are. It's likely they will talk about the challenges they faced head on, the risks they took, and the moments they were terrified but didn't let it get in their way. Do you want a safe, predictable, and vanilla life--or something more? The choice is really yours to make.
Looking everywhere rather than yourself for the answers
Do you ever think that if only you had better luck, different friends, good connections, or the right social opportunities that life would be so much better? That if you met that great successful guy, you could have the life you have always dreamed of? While it is true that the right environment or good connections can help, they are no guarantee of success. Essentially we make our own luck, and we do this by knowing ourselves, staying focused on our goals, working hard, and going for it--even when we can find many reasons not to. Know your heart's desire and design a life that will help you get it.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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