There are some phrases we would be better off not knowing, and one of them is: ‘If only…’ It almost always expresses regret about something in our past: ‘ If only I hadn’t eaten that chocolate cake’, or ‘If only I’d held my tongue in that conversation’, or ‘ If only they had noticed that I was struggling’.
Most of them give us reasons to beat ourselves up, and some of them give us reasons to resent other people. None of them are useful!
They are usually referring to things that have already happened, and we can’t change that. It’s a terrible waste of our energy to wish something in the past were different, and positively sinful to beat ourselves up about it!
The alternative is to use those thoughts as a means of doing something different in the future. We can use those phrases to help us to create a different story for ourselves from now on.
If I hear myself doing an ‘if only..’, I ask myself a couple of questions:
- Can I do anything to rectify it?
- How can I approach similar situations differently next time, so that it turns out in a better way?
Can I rectify it?
If I ate chocolate cake, it’s done! But if I was mean to somebody, or unfair, I may be able to apologise to them and acknowledge that I know I got it wrong.
If someone upset me and I’m holding a grudge, there’s not much I can do about being upset, although sometimes when we re-examine the situation, we have a different perspective on it, and realise that it wasn’t really that serious – we just took it that way at the time.
How can I approach similar situations differently next time, so that it turns out in a better way?
Here’s the useful bit!
If we think about alternative approaches we could use, we are doing two useful things:
- We are learning from our experience, instead of repeating the same errors, or beating ourselves up about it – and by the way, beating ourselves up about it means that we replay the experience and practise to do it again next time!
- We automatically play our improved version in our minds, and this is like rehearsing to do it more effectively next time we experience something similar, so we have some practice at the new improved way of handling it, and are more likely to use this version.
So next time you find yourself saying: ‘If only..’, use these two questions and stop it in its tracks!