Trap #13: You get weighed down by dwelling on if only

25 Nov, 2021
“If only” can be altered to accept what is done, and minimize its negative effects on your future, by illuminating positive ways to move forward.
Detox Your Thoughts

Trap #13: You get weighed down by dwelling on if only


“Regrets…I’ve had a few.” Frank Sinatra sang it best: regrets are part of life. We can choose to be the person we are today because of things that have led us here, for better or for worse. Or we can choose to let “If only I hadn’t…” weigh us down for months, years, or even a lifetime.


We all screw up, and it’s natural to have feelings about it. (Remember, our goal is not to stuff our feelings.) But the problem with “if only” is it can’t lead to action. We are unable to engage in time travel and do anything about the past — at least at the current moment I’m writing this — and so “if only” thinking keeps us from being inspired to take action in the present.


It’s another trap that becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Dwelling on how we should have gotten better grades in college may make us less likely to shoot for a more challenging but rewarding job. Resenting how we “wasted” years on a dysfunctional relationship may make us think it’s too late to bother going out and finding someone good.


Plus, history has no control group. If you are going to sit around and fantasize about tinkering with your past, imagine the domino effect that it could have if you were actually able to do it, like a bad time travel movie. In reality, you have no idea how things would have turned out differently had any given thing not happened. The path you took is what’s real. And it led you to where you are right now — with a wide open future.


You don’t have to let go of your past entirely, of course. It helps give insight and guide the way for your future. “If only” can be altered to accept what is done, and minimize its negative effects on your future, by illuminating positive ways to move forward.


Take Action:


  • Identify a significant regret, like a missed opportunity, a career misstep, or a broken relationship. Now, ask yourself how you learned — or can learn — from what happened. How can you carry it with you in a more positive way, incorporating it into the fabric of who you are, rather than trying to cut it out of your life?


  • Do a visualization and breathing exercise that involves accepting that X happened, while visualizing that Y is the positive way you will carry it with you in terms of your growth, wisdom, or experience. Perhaps it made you a more empathetic, strong human being, or it taught you about your emotions, or gave your life a depth or richness of experience. Breathe through that visual. 


Up next: Our last trap. Are you ready?

In the meantime, if you have questions or news about your progress in this challenge, I host a live weekly anonymous chat online on Tuesdays at 1 PM EST here. Feel free to drop in! You can also find me on Facebook. —Dr. Andrea Bonior


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