How many times do you have thoughts like this?
“I should have known better…”
“If only I’d done a more thorough job of planning, this wouldn’t be happening.”
“I can’t believe (the traffic, the weather, the economy, politics, that this person is late, ________ [fill in the blank]).”
“I shouldn’t be feeling this way.”
“If you really understood me, you wouldn’t be feeling the way you’re feeling.”
Or the grandslam:
“What is happening shouldn’t be happening.”
We seem to share a cultural perspective that, with enough planning, foresight, or thoughtfulness, we can make life predictable, keep it under control. The corollary to this is that, when something unplanned happens, it is a personal failure. Much criticism in relationships comes out of this: “If you’d paid that bill on time, we wouldn’t have these extra charges;” “Why are you having such a big reaction? I’ve never liked this kind of food;” “what were you thinking! You should have known that those ideas would never work.”
Keeping our attention on what we should have done to keep what is happening from happening is the perfect recipe for self-hatred. The self-flagellation that comes from thinking we should have been able to keep what is happening from happening is really an inside-out version of believing we should be able to control the uncontrollable. It also means we’re watching the wrong show: We’re looking back to the past, with some analysis of what we should/could/would have done. But it’s already been done. It’s over.
The alternative is to come into the present. All the research that money can buy won’t keep the present from being what it is. (Look at New Coke.) And placing our attention on the past keeps us from facing into all the details of what is going on around us right now–which is where we can actually do something, respond and take actions towards what we really want.
How much of your energy goes into trying to correct what has already happened? What would it be like for you to squarely be with what is, right now, with no thought of trying to make the past different? How does that change your personal effectiveness? Your serenity?
Save the date! Thanks to all of your support, I’ll be doing a book reading/signing for the Relationship Ride at the Boulder Bookstore on Wednesday, September 21.