We All Make Mistakes - Learn from Them, Don't Wallow in Them
What's wrong with faking it until you make it?
Posted May 15, 2015
Many individuals and families will bring their problems to counseling in hopes of everything being magically “made better” by the therapist. We believe that our inner happiness rests on the actions of others, but this is not so. It is how we internalize, perceive, or react to the actions of others that determines whether or not we choose to be happy -- it's not what is "done" to us that is the final deciding factor.
Whose actions are standing in the way of your own happiness?
Unfortunately, the expectations we carry into therapy regarding the power of the therapist to make us "happy" are not exactly realistic. And if we are unable to accept that change is hard work, we may give up early in the process and complain about the lousy therapist who couldn’t "fix" our problems.
Litanies of Regrets?
Many clients struggle to understand that even the most expert therapists cannot “make” someone else change their behaviors. And, as fallible humans, we often want to place the blame for our distress on someone else:
“If only my mother had been able to show me more affection...”
“If only my father had given up drugs for good when I was born...”
“If only my mother had been strong enough to leave my abusive dad...”
“If only my brother had never gotten into trouble with the law...”
“If only other people respected me more…”
“If only others thought I was more attractive...”
“If only I could see past my child’s flaws...”
“If only I believed I could be more successful in life...”
“If only I had refused to be bullied...”
“If only, if only, if only...”
All of us probably can brainstorm a number of ways that our lives would have been different, “if only I had taken a risk,” “if only I hadn’t been too afraid to follow that path.” Yet by the time you are in a position to voice this regret, it is often too late to go back and get a “do over.” So what can you do?
Recitations of Promise
When we ask ourselves about the metaphorical “road not taken,” what we are doing is usually one of two things. We are either finding a way to blame external circumstances for where we have ended up or idly wondering how past decisions may have shaped our present. Either way, perhaps the best option is to turn these cognitive excuses into motivational affirmations.
How do we do that? By transforming the “if only” INTO “as if.” This is a simple and eloquent transformation that is easy to articulate, but may be difficult to activate.
For instance, when you find yourself complaining that, “If only I had more self-confidence,” instead of just imagining how life would be different, live “as if” things were different! If you are trying to find love, but lack self-confidence, imagine how differently you might behave with new potential partners if you had more self-confidence. Interact with others from that mind-set—would you be funnier? Dress differently? Speak up more? Be kinder? However you imagine life might be different, act that way. Live as if you were that person you want to be.
You regret not having a million bucks in the bank? Well, aside from blowing money on whatever you wanted in life, how would you feel or behave differently? Would you be surer of yourself? Kinder to others? Less anxious about the future? Transform your negative patterns into positive actions. Being anxious about every penny can be draining, and if you had a million dollars, you might still tend to worry about the small stuff. So ditch the fear of scarcity, and embrace the richness of each new day and work to measure your wealth in intangible good fortune, rather than coveting others’ cold hard cash.
For a final example, if you find yourself wondering how different life would be “if only” you had gotten the one that got away—in high school, college, last week, etc.—imagine starting each day living “as if” you were the happiest person alive! What if each day, you awoke feeling that others thought you were special, a prize, and a catch? Would you smile more often to yourself and at others? Be a better human being? Be treated better by others? Then live as if these were your new reality.
A lot can change when we begin living as if we had everything in life that we need. And, honestly, most of us do—if we can just figure out how to scale back our unrealistic desires and let go of the “if only” beliefs that keep us from choosing to live “as if.” We cannot change the behaviors or beliefs of others very easily, but we are always in charge of what we believe about and how we treat ourselves!
As yoga teachers and Buddhist practitioners are frequently heard to ask, "Are you smiling because you are happy or are you happy because you are smiling?" We all have the power to choose how external influences affect our mood state and response, even if we cannot the external world.
Learn more about how to befriend yourself and find happiness -- order your copy of Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with Friends Who Break Them