SHOULDA, WOULDA, COULDA
Lamenting what you might have done differently is not only holding you back but potentially making you sick and preventing you from living your best life. Instead of trying to rewrite history, Meg Mason finds it’s all about reframing it
Cringing over a past transgression? While you may not be able to change history, you can reframe it.
You hear women describe it as a weight on their chest, or a stab of pain. Something more like nausea, coming in waves, or the sense of being on the fluttery edges of a panic attack. They experience and describe in physical terms something that’s purely emotional: regret.
It feels that way, like something concrete and immovable. It’s one of the most universal aspects of human experience, with 90 per cent of us easily identifying at least one major decision we’ve gone on to regret, according to tech start-up Happify – and who has ever met a member of the 10 per cent? But if regret is so common, why don’t we know how to deal with it? Why do we let it sit there, defining us and informing all our subsequent choices? Why do we lie awake at 3am reliving it, going back and back over how much better life would be right now if we hadn’t done the thing, or had done the other thing, when that only serves to sharpen the feeling and make sure it will hurt just as much in 10 years as it does right now? Or in actual fact, hurt more.
“I think about it all the time and when I do, I feel such a heaviness in the pit of my stomach,” 27-year-old Lea Sharp says of her decision to stay in an unhealthy relationship for years after she first realised how destructive it was, less than a month after it began. She was 21 at the time, pregnant and preparing to be a single mother when she began dating a man who she had known for a while and was already a single parent himself. “At the time I thought, ‘Oh, this man must be amazing to want to take over parenting a child who isn’t biologically his,’” Sharp says. “And he was very doting to begin with, but after the birth he became very jealous and threatened by my son. My instincts flared right away but my mindset was that I just needed to stick it out.”
So many years later, happily married and with another child, Sharp says, “I just wish I could go back and have the time over with my son, just the two of us. I still struggle, and even though I tell myself I’m doing so much better now with my second child, certain things will remind me of what I missed the first time that I can never get back. I still regret every moment of it.”
Hers could be an object lesson in regret. And most of us could tell a version of the same. Out of every small