What If…

What if I had said “I love you” back, and just accepted his conditions?

Disapproving WomanWhat if I had worked slower, and produced a more average result that didn’t threaten my boss?

What if I had been able to move to a different location after my divorce, or I had pulled my tiny nest egg out of that investment fund when I wanted to, or I had said no to driving to the library the day of the accident?

What if, what if, what if?

Do you second guess all your major decisions, and hundreds of tiny ones? What if you didn’t?

Hindsight is 20/20… and then some

We all know the expression that hindsight is 20/20, that when looking at the past, we see more clearly than when looking at the present or the future. Once a deed is done, and the dust has settled, of course we see with clarity.

But when it comes to personal lessons, we view what is past with greater than normal vision (20/20) – we are hyper-aware of the unanticipated results, and often, critical of ourselves for what we couldn’t have known.

It is only with time that we can truly assess our losses and their impacts. Beating ourselves up over what we cannot change accomplishes nothing, except exacerbating a perception of the world that fills us with bitterness.

Living in regret

I’ve spent months, sometimes years, living in regret. Worse – not only was I punishing myself over actions and decisions that were within my control, but equally, over those that were not. Living in regret may be part of the grieving process when you lose a loved one, an illusion you need for a period of time, or a piece of yourself that is beyond regaining. But dwelling in that place of regret or habitually blaming yourself for whatever goes wrong in life is not an answer.

Living in regret erodes belief in yourself, and worse.

Anger and doubt, particularly turned inward, will eat you alive emotionally and physically. Eventually, won’t living in regret lead to dying in regret?

The story of my life. Yours, too?

We all make bad choices. We also make terrific choices, but we don’t necessarily pat ourselves on the back for those. We don’t stop to analyze them or celebrate them; we keep going, accepting their happy, healthy, or measured results.

We’re busy, we’re looking forward, and since we aren’t basking in regret (or self-flagellation), these moments go unheralded.

Self awareness is a start to forming healthier habits. Life happens. Hardship hits us all. Often, we’re left dealing with events at least partially beyond our control: accidents and injuries; painful endings to relationships; disappointments in those we count on; problems with health, work, money. When we say, ruefully,  “it’s the story of my life,” isn’t it really the story of anyone’s life?

A bit of “if only” or “what if” is natural as we pull ourselves back – or perhaps more accurately, forward – to a new normalcy. It may be a time-consuming process following a life-altering event. But living inside an impression that the story of your life is about your bad choices makes no sense. Constantly blaming yourself for troubles, large and small, is as skewed as blaming others in entirety.

What if…

What if we put self-doubt and recriminations away, letting go of a habit that isn’t helpful? What better time than at the start of a new year – and a new decade?

  • There are mistakes in judgment; we need to learn our lessons from those choices.
  • There is the upside: the what if that concerns imagining a future – and that’s another matter altogether.
  • What if you looked back enough to cull wisdom from experience?
  • What if you looked forward to small, positive changes and to new goals?

What if we celebrated our choices that are turning out well? Perhaps there’s a great woman you’re taking the time to know, though she doesn’t fit your “type.” Or the baby is sleeping through the night now that he’s on formula. Maybe your teenager is taking on more responsibility because you’ve given it to him, or you’ve finally completed the master’s degree despite the fact your family thought you couldn’t do it.

What if…

What if we congratulated ourselves for getting through trying days during painful transitions? For persisting in fighting our way back from injury, depression, financial disarray, or personal loss?

Sometimes, making it through the day is a triumph. What if we acknowledged that, and started the new year in the light of all we are and all we accomplish that is good, rather than past events we cannot change?

Am I actually talking to myself – hoping to absorb important lessons?

What if I am?


You May Also Enjoy



  1. says

    You are so good for me. I have been wallowing in ‘what-ifs’ this week and with your thoughts, now know that is a fruitless exercise. Time to get out of my self pity rut and move forward.


  2. says

    What if I congratulate myself on finding you this year and look forward to a friendship that will continue to grow in the new year?

    What about that “what if”? It works for me.

    As the French say, which I’m sure YOU can say in French — unlike some people we know. . . “You can’t change the past. It’s gone, over, finished, move on.” Et voilà.

    I’ll be back later to wish you all sorts of good stuff for the new year.


  3. says

    I like this post. I wonder why americans like to put more energy in to pondering over negative events than in to celebrating good times. If they ever do celebrate, it’s temporary. then after the party is over and everyone has gone home, it’s back to their “exercise.”

  4. says

    Nail on the head. I am one of those idiots who constantly re-lives the most shameful moments of my life. The Movie in My Mind. Why? Isn’t time supposed to be the balm for youthful transgressions?

    Why do I go there, repeatedly? And why can’t I forgive myself for my stupidity and folly, when everyone else has?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      We all re-live some. It’s knowing when to stop – and it’s not easy. Here’s one approach for the “youthful transgressions” – was anyone hurt, without there being a life lesson gained?

  5. says

    I love the way you present both halves of this whole: both the living in the register of regret and the forgetting to acknowledge the little victories of the everyday. I don’t actually spend that much time asking, “What if?” – but I also don’t give myself much credit for the things I do right.

    Hmm…maybe I’m just not a very reflective person. Maybe.

    Thanks, as always, for tasty – and nutritious! – food for thought.

  6. says

    Nah, I really don’t ask “what if?”. If I did, that would take a LOT of time I dont have! 😉

    I don’t live my life with regret but I do try to learn the lessons from my past so I dont repeat the “mistakes”. My judgement is better and I am wiser for having made those mistakes and in some cases, I even received some blessings along with them, like my children.

  7. says

    I, Like Mindy try not to regret. There was a time when it was all I did. Tough times. I lost a great friend over the holiday to suicide. He had too many regrets and let it get the better of him.
    I don’t wish his pain on anyone.
    Let them out, learn and move on. Life may throw you challenges but never more than you can handle.
    Love this post. I love the hind sight and I often say to myself ‘Story of my Life’ and there is more than one post on my blog about good ol Murphy law. This will be the year I stop saying that.
    I am very grateful that the challenges I face are not what some are facing.
    Happy New and Great 2010 to you and your readers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *