The highly successful Brian Tracy wrote, “Always choose the future over the past. What do we do now?” That’s good advise, I think, when it comes to solving problems. But it does little to release those of us tortured by past regrets and mistakes.
Some of my bad choices from many years ago caused painful and damaging consequences for other people. Those are the regrets that can haunt me the most. Those memories sting and I placed myself in an emotional jail where I inflicted suffering upon myself as punishment for hurting people I care about. My thoughts would persistently remind me that I was unworthy, marred, screwed-up, or whatever the word of the day was.
It took time for me to heal with soul-searching therapy. I understand how other people live fully in the past and why they speak about regrets and degrade themselves for mistakes from years ago. I get why their current happiness isn’t possible because of this or that occurred last month or last year.
I’m here to tell you, from experience, that as long as you cling to the mistakes of yesterday, you make another mistake today. When you’re busy mentally torturing yourself, you’re unable to focus to learn from, and understand the mistake so you can become wiser, so you can grow, so you can help others through their pain. Making a mistake is not a crime. Passing judgment on yourself along with a sentence to an emotional punishing prison for penance, doesn’t work. There’s nothing you can do to alter your actions of yesterday, but you can choose differently right now. No amount of self-punishment will alter what happened. But you can make amends where possible. You can remember that you’re not perfect. Mistakes happen.
“People screw up. People screw up a lot. We allow our own selfishness to overpower us at times. It happens. But you can’t allow that to tear you down. You can’t keep dwelling on your past choices, and your past actions, or else you’ll never learn from them.”¹
Give your past regrets meaning today, not punishment, by seeing them as turning points in your life, not condemning moments.
The prison of previous mistakes comes with jailers of guilt and regret. Together they hold you captive, torturing you with images of what you could have been and what you could have accomplished had you not done this or that or the other.
If you allow it, there are three ways that the past can haunt you. You can be tormented by memories of what happened to you, what you did, and/or what you didn’t do. No matter how many times you think about yesterday, it isn’t going to change. You can’t rewrite it. Every single person since Adam and Eve, have noted at least one event they regret and at least one choice they wish could be reversed.
Dwelling in yesterday is delusional because you’re not dealing with the reality of today. Each morning you’re given a new beginning and a wiser mind-set because of the knowledge you gained from yesterday.
How will you live today so it won’t be a regret tomorrow? -Dr. Sandy
Where do most people who want to change their life tend to get stuck in the process? Choose the answer you believe is correct: A. They get stuck because they don’t know how to change others so their own lives get better. B. A snow-bank. C. They get stuck because they don’t know another way to handle things or people. D. They get stuck because some people in their life just don’t get it.
Correct answer is C.
Author E. E. Cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” Many people desire to make positive changes in their lives but get stuck because they don’t know how to handle things differently. It’s scary to think of life any other way than how we’ve been living it, even though it’s been far from a picnic. It’s scary to examine what we learned in childhood surroundings that may be incorrect. It’s scary to take a look at what we assumed to be normal. It’s scary to face what’s wrong and not working for us. But when we blame other people for our unhappiness, keep doing things we firmly promised not to, fail to do what we decided to do, then we begin to understand that we don’t know how to fix the mess our lives are in. We realize that we’re no longer able to soothe our fears and hurts. There remains nothing left to pull out of our hats. And we’re left stuck because we know no other way to think, feel, and act.
We know we’re unhappy, but we don’t know what to do differently. With all we’ve done with our attempts to be in control, we can no longer control our own sadness, which has no doubt reached a miserable level. We focused on solving problems that couldn’t possibly be solved with the ways we were trying to solve them. And when we failed to fix these problems, feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and even anger multiplied. All our inadequacies and all our hurts joined our self-doubts which we spent an enormous amount of time hiding because we needed to appear competent and in control. Marriage and Family Therapist Robin Norwood writes, “Most of the insanity and despair you experience comes directly from trying to manage and control what you can’t.”
So what would you do? Please share your suggestions on improving situations and making positive changes. –Dr. Sandy
“The art of life isn’t controlling what happens, which is impossible; it’s using what happens.”¹
The events in our lives change us. They’re supposed to. They’re intended to make us stronger, better and wiser; but I can personally attest that there’s a journey one takes into the fifth ring of hell before arriving at that point of view.
It’s a journey through hurt, disappointment, confusion, loss, and injury that takes some people a long time to travel through, and some individuals get stuck on the way. I was one of those individuals. It was effortless to allow the unfairness of life to engulf me with no comfort. Somehow, it appeared rational that I was entitled to moan awhile and be excused from life because of the loss and pain, both physically and emotionally, I had endured. I started to believe that the God of life had overlooked me and I was destined to be crippled and unworthy. There is no happiness to be found on the Injured Reserve list in life; only persistent defeat and depression. The more I sat on the sidelines, the more pessimistic, blaming, and self-righteous I became.
Believe me, whatever painful event that happened to me or you isn’t anything special. Pain is universal. It’s global. It’s everywhere. But what you do after getting marred in life can be special. When you rise above the hardship instead of allowing yourself to be pulled down into an abyss of despair, then you’re in a position to see the happiness that is waiting for you. Today, don’t cry “Why Me?” Instead, use what happened to you to become stronger, better, and wiser. Press on! –Dr. Sandy
It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it didn’t happen over several nights. But the more I became aware of what I was saying to myself throughout the day, and in what attitude I was thinking, the more I was able to stop and change the thoughts that were harming me; and thus damaging how I was living. Harping on my critical thoughts and sarcastic attitude was impacting my conversations with my family, friends, co-workers, well, everyone in my path!
The attention we pay to the nature of our thinking, therefore, is the most powerful attention we can pay.¹ Holding a healthy mind-set is the most valued possession you and I own. It’s absence of guilt, self-pity, resentment, and a mess of other unhealthy toxins enables us to live with some enthusiasm and hopefulness. If our thoughts contain anger, blame, depression, or insecurity, we will produce doom and gloom experiences every day–who wants that? If our thoughts are filled with appreciation, love, and generosity, we will create situations in our day where those attributes return to us.
You experience, every single day, what your thoughts dwell on. What are your thoughts creating for you? Dr. Sandy
Fred Rogers tells us, “The roots of a child’s ability to cope and thrive, regardless of circumstance, lie in that child’s having had at least a small, safe place (an apartment? a room? a lap?) in which, in the companionship of a loving person, that child could discover that he or she was lovable and capable of loving in return.”¹
What did the adults in your childhood tell you about yourself?
We were born with an enormous amount of self-love and love for others. Our enthusiasm and joy for life was clearly apparent as we began to explore the world. Whether those attributes were able to grow within us, and thus enable us to believe in ourselves, depended a great deal on how the adults in our lives handled our individual needs and how they dealt with our mistakes.
If we were encouraged to be great and if we were not shamed when we were not, then it is easier for us to believe in our abilities. If the adults in our childhood believed in us and trusted us, then we are more likely to believe in ourselves and possess self-confidence
It is never too late to have a happy childhood. Today, provide to yourself the love and acceptance which may have been missing in your childhood. -Dr. Sandy
¹From Mister Rogers Talks With Parents by Fred Rogers
“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another—it is one damn thing over and over,” wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay.*
Whenever we resist the realities of life, we are headed for despair. That’s where you will find me at least a few minutes once a day. In my visit to despair I try to reason with the timing death of loved ones, the change that every loss demands, the sadness of missing family and friends, and the unwanted adjustments forced on me. And, perhaps like you, there are changes in life I resent.
Life is faithful to present to us everyday a host of disappointments that need submission, mistakes that need correction, interruptions that require patience, losses that need acceptance, and problems that need solutions.
If we accept this reality of life, we’ll experience a happier existence and less time in despair. Life does not care if we are angry at it or not; it’s not altered by our rebellion or hissy fit. It’s unmoved by self-pity or our definition of common sense. Life yields to no reality other than its own which means the more we need to stick together to get through it! –Dr. Sandy
Our real enemy is neither war nor poverty. Our greatest opposition isn’t the economy or people with differing opinions. Our worse enemy is the inner critical voice that resides in each of us. It’s that voice that will not allow our success, security, or peace.
In the 16th century, Sir Thomas Browne became aware of this inner woe. He was an English polymath and author of varied works which revealed his wide learning in diverse fields including science and medicine, religion and the esoteric. He wrote, “But how shall we expect charity towards others, when we are uncharitable to ourselves? Charity begins at home, this is the voice of the world; yet is every man his greatest enemy, and, as it were, his own executioner.”
Our opponent is not the stock market or threat matrix; it’s the echo of self-degrading comments that arrests any love or kindness towards ourselves, and therefore; towards other people. We must break free. What are your thoughts, your comments, about where do you stand with your real enemy today? -Dr. Sandy
In our head, the past seems to always look worse or better than it really was. You don’t have a past to live. You have a present to live. Mulling over regrets and losses from yesterday will not allow happiness and enthusiasm to radiate from you today. Jane Eyre said, “Remorse is the poison of life.”
Yet, it is important to experience a stage of self-solace after regrets and losses otherwise incorrect conclusions and unprocessed thoughts and feelings will prompt depression, emptiness, and loneliness in the present.
Do not allow today to be a day you will regret tomorrow. -sn