A New Year’s Resolution, No More Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Both AARP Magazine and New York Times Science Section included articles about how people handle regrets for the decisions they made in the past. One of the things that became clear was that younger people who harbor feelings of regret about the mistakes they made and the consequences of those mistakes. For the older generation regrets have more to do with decisions not made or paths not followed. In either case, young or old, dwelling on the past and thinking about the age old question, “what if,” is not helpful and can become depressing. Everyone has regrets about many things but it is how that is how those are handled that determines whether it ends in depression or not.

It is how past decisions are thought about that helps people cope with the past. In point of fact, it is better to live in and enjoy the present than ruminate about something that no longer exists because it is from long ago. For example, realistically assessing past decisions in the context in which they were made can be helpful. Remembering things like financial constraints, the contribution of other people in the decision making process and the very real probability that the past decision, if it had been followed, might have ended in disaster.

Personal Example: As a young man I had a wealthy uncle who prospered running his own business offered to set me up in a pet shop. The plan was that he would advance all of the money needed for the business and help choose a good location. As the business prospered, I could gradually repay him and at some rate of interest that was never determined because I declined the offer. There were times in my life when the thought flashed through my head, “what if I had followed that path.” In asking myself that question I wondered if I would have made “lots of money.” However, I am also well aware of the fact that if I had made that choice it would have been disastrous for me. For me, a small retail business would have been extremely boring. Also, coping with my uncle, who could be a difficult person, would have been problematic to say the least, because of the money I would have owed him.

Dwelling on the “what if” question is a dead end that can end only in low self esteem, depression and feelings of misery. As the Zen Masters of Meditation and Self Awareness remind us, we live now and if we dwell only on the past or the future, then, we are not living.

Live now and have a “Very Happy New Year.”

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