by Eric Sudler, M.S.
I hear a lot of people use the phrase, “If I could do it all over again…” or “I should have done it differently” or “I wonder what my life would have been like if only I had (insert lost dream or missed opportunity).” The coulda, woulda, shoulda syndrome can make our lives very difficult to live and even arrest forward movement altogether. Yes, of course you “could have” done this or you “should have” done that and of course you “would have” done it differently… but the cold hard truth is that you didn’t. So unless you start driving a DeLorean, you can’t go back in time and change anything. Constantly looking back only makes it harder to move forward. I’ve also heard that regret is one of the frequent nonphysical concerns for the emotional well-being of the elderly.
What then is the alternative? Live your life perfectly, do everything you’ve ever wanted to do, and never experience regret, right? That’s a good solution, except for the small fact that it’s virtually impossible. As long as we’re breathing, we’re faced with an infinite amount of choices each day. Nobody gets them all “correct.”
Knowing this, how rational does it sound to upset yourself over one decision? Not very rational at all. Even if your decision causes you pain and discomfort, it’s only temporary. However, if someone only thinks in absolutes (I have to make the right/perfect decision; anything else would be terrible/unacceptable), then that person is almost certainly setting themselves up for failure. That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure. However, let’s say that same person approaches the same task thinking I make thousands of decisions each day; it’s not within human limitations to get them all right. Therefore, I’ll make a decision knowing that I can endure the consequences. Which thought process will lead to feeling regret in the case of unfavorable results?
Perhaps we need a new outlook on these decisions. Maybe instead of right and wrong or perfect and horrible, our decision trees should be a little more flexible, like the second scenario above. We’re not going to be 100% satisfied after every decision in life. However, we often react as if we expect to be. Knowing that there’s always going to be “what ifs” no matter what you do may help you to make a choice. Understand that sometimes we don’t have all the answers. Making a bad decision doesn’t make you a bad person nor does it make you incompetent. You’re still the same person. No more. No less. Whatever you do, harping on a bad decision can only lead to a bad case of the coulda, woulda, shouldas. Medical Science has yet to synthesize a cure for that. The only medicine I know of is acceptance that you’re a fallible human being.