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|Introduction: Something Remarkable Is Possible||1|
|Part I.||Preparation for Letting Go|
|2.||Ten Steps to Letting Go||26|
|3.||Using Spiritual and Psychological Tools||37|
|Part II.||The Ten Steps to Letting Go of Regrets|
|4.||Step One: Listing Regrets||63|
|5.||Step Two: Examining Regrets||72|
|6.||Step Three: Changing Toxic Thought Patterns||80|
|7.||Step Four: Grieving Losses||99|
|8.||Step Five: Making Amends||107|
|9.||Step Six: Identifying Lessons and Gifts||127|
|10.||Step Seven: Developing Compassion||142|
|11.||Step Eight: Forgiving Others||151|
|12.||Step Nine: Forgiving Ourselves||170|
|13.||Step Ten: Living Free of Regret||187|
|Appendix A||Recommended Reading||203|
|Appendix B||Summary of the Ten-Step Action Lists||205|
|Appendix C||Quick Reference: Tools, Principles, and Toxic Thought Patterns||209|
Robert frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" begins with an intriguing question introduced by the memorable phrase: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." Which road to take? the poem asks. The narrator chose "the one less traveled by," a choice that "made all the difference." But what if he hadn't taken the road less traveled by? What if he had chosen the road more traveled by? That choice, too, would have "made all the difference." But what was the "difference" between the two roads, between the one he took and the one he didn't take? Neither he nor we will ever know, because it was the road not taken.
The road not taken is the source of all regrets. It seduces us with its fantasies of what might have been, limitless possibilities that would have unfolded for us "if only ..." When we are unhappy, we explore these roads through rich and varied fantasies, creating a world of regret around our hopes and dreams that never came true. In our "if only" daydreams, the roads not taken entice us with their infinite possibilities, poisoning the road we did take or were forced to take and the present in which we live.
Life is filled with many choices-and the uncertainty that inevitably accompanies them. We never know what our choices in life will bring. Sometimes wethink we know, but we can never really know-we can only guess. Even after we have made a choice, we cannot know what the other choice would have brought. It's still a guess. Whatever road we took-whether a subtle shift in direction or a major change in destination-the road not taken will always be a mystery to us. We cannot know where it might have led us or to what people or events it might have taken us, for good or for ill. But we can imagine....
While many choices in life are easy, some are difficult. Perhaps we are forced to choose between the city we love or the job we covet. Or we have to decide whether to accept or reject a marriage proposal or to make such a proposal. Other choices are less significant or so they appear at the time we make them. We choose between two movies, for example, but the movie we chose reinforces our desire to change careers, which we then do. What seemed to be an inconsequential decision led to a significant change in the direction of our lives.
Sometimes there is no fork at all in the road-only an abrupt turn that produces a dramatic change in our fortunes and in our lives. We have a heart attack, for example, or develop cancer, and we face difficult medical decisions that we had not anticipated. We don't like any of the options, but we have to choose among them or a choice will be made for us by our indecision and inaction. Casey's sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car accident, leaving her with two young nieces to raise. Casey was single, with a glamorous, exciting, and demanding life that left no time for anything more. Suddenly she faced the prospect of raising two little girls. She felt woefully unprepared to be their mother and dreaded the thought of taking them. But there was no one else to take the children except a stranger, which she couldn't bear. The sudden turn in her life was shocking and unwelcome, bringing deep sadness, great fear, and sweeping change. That it later worked out well for her and the children, bringing great rewards to the trio, did not seem a possibility at the time.
But a more welcome turn in the road is also possible. Charlie had all but given up hope of finding a lover when he encountered a woman giving a cooking demonstration at a department store where he was shopping. They started a conversation about the right way to prepare an omelet. The next thing he knew, he had bought an omelet pan and their conversation had turned to other dishes and then to other possibilities. They started dating and eventually married. In such positive but unexpected twists, we move from what appears to be a dead end to a broad highway and an entirely new destination.
Some choices we create ourselves and call them opportunities. Don endured substantial sacrifices to pay for college and earn a degree in computer science. He worked two jobs, ate all his meals at home, and gave up the chance for any meaningful social life. He put up with the long hours and the exhausting schedule because he wanted an enviable job that would pay well and afford him the status he sought. He wanted more choices.
With some roads, we may have spent days pondering the opportunities and the risks a particular fork offered. We had to answer big questions: Should I have children or not; accept that job offer or settle for what I have; seek a divorce or try to forgive? Which choice would make me happier? What should I do? We may have doubted our final choice even as we made it, hoping only for the best, lost in the uncertainty that characterizes life. Our restricted knowledge of the future deprives us of the certainty that retrospection guarantees. Looking back, it is easy to see where we went "wrong" in some of the choices we made in our relationships, careers, investments, and lives. In hindsight, almost any decision is one that we can later regret to some degree. Because all we have to compare that decision to is the mystery of what might have been and the fantasy we hold of it.
Choices and Expectations
Every decision involves a set of expectations about the future. We may articulate these expectations as predictions or leave them as vague hopes, as much feelings as thoughts. But when we choose a road to travel, we do so on the basis of those expectations. When the expectations aren't realized, we regret the decision. We wish we had done something different. If we don't let go of the regret, we begin to revisit the decision-sometimes in sadness, sometimes in anger, sometimes in despair. Perhaps we revisit it over and over. The choice seems so obvious now! How could we have been so foolish? How could we have been so careless? How could we have been so blind? These repetitive visits to the decision gather steam, and we become increasingly angry at ourselves over what we have done or have not done.
On the other hand, perhaps our regret stems not from our own action or inaction but from something someone else did to us-or didn't do for us. Or from an event over which we had no control. A tree falls on our car. The house is flooded. A fire burns up the garage and the two cars inside. We say to ourselves: "If only I had left earlier." "Why didn't I buy flood insurance?" "I should have checked the wiring." Or we contract a debilitating illness that changes our life.
Whatever the cause of the problem, we begin to regret, and our regretting builds until it spirals out of control. We want so much for it to be different, to be the way we had hoped or dreamed, that we cannot accept what has happened as the way it is. We jump into anger, plunge into sadness, or sink into self-pity. We whine in the hope that someone or something will change it, make it better, or take it away. We complain as if we were children believing that our parents will fix it if only we cry enough. Instead of being empowered, we are victimized by the thought of our regrets. Our anger and despair grow, and the conviction develops that we have messed up our lives beyond correction or that life has messed us up beyond redemption. Nothing, we tell ourselves, can help us now. We are sinking in the quicksand of regret.
We return to our regrets over and over, repeatedly thinking:
"If only I had ..."
"If only she hadn't ..."
"Why didn't I? ..."
"Things would be different if ..."
"I can't believe I didn't ..."
"If I had it to do over again ..."
"If only I had known ..."
"If only I hadn't ..."
"I'd give anything if ..."
"Why, oh, why didn't? ..."
When we have these thoughts on a repetitive basis about the same regret or when our regrets are intense and painful, we have identified our burdensome regrets-the regrets we need to let go.
Regretting is the act of revisiting past decisions or events, comparing them to what might have been and wishing they had been different. When we give those past decisions or events the power to hurt us in the present, we have created burdensome regrets that corrode our lives. Regretting is a trip to the past for which we pay by losing the present. Regretting takes us from today to yesterday, from what is to what was. It carries us from the present, where we are actors with the power to change our lives, to the past, where we are victims lacking that power, victims of what might have been.
Why is it that we regret? Regrets arise from unfulfilled expectations, from shattered hopes and lost dreams, from failures and tragedies, mistakes and misjudgments. They arise naturally out of life's events and are woven into the fabric of the human experience. Regrets are to be expected as part of being alive. They are inevitable, but they don't have to be burdensome. They can be accepted as part of the unique life we have led. All of us have practice in letting go of regrets-we do it many times a week. But these are usually small regrets and easy to manage. "I shouldn't have ordered dessert." "How could he have forgotten my birthday?" "I shouldn't have bought that sweater." These little regrets bother us only briefly and then we let them go.
But some regrets are bigger, more urgent, and not so easy to release. The stakes are much higher than a few added calories or a forgotten birthday, and the consequences are much more severe. Unlike small regrets, these are difficult to release. They are the regrets that entrap us. We become obsessed with the repercussions of our past actions and with the past and present sadness of their consequences. We board the merry-go-round of regret and ride in endless circles of, "If only I had ...," "If only I hadn't ..."
The older we are, the more potential regrets we have to keep or give up. There are more roads not taken, more years to appreciate what has happened to us, and less time to "correct" our mistakes. We will experience many regrets in a lifetime, always with the same two options: Hold onto them or let them go. That choice is always ours.
Ways of Regretting
Regrets come in many forms, but they can be grouped into seven categories, depending upon the cause of the regret. Some regrets develop from multiple causes and so fall into more than one category. As you read through the categories, match them in your mind to your own regrets. Later you will match them on paper. This process of categorizing regrets is part of a larger process of systematic analysis through which you will gain control over your regrets and reduce their power to hurt you.
The seven categories of regret are:
1. Acts you committed (but wish you hadn't)
2. Acts you didn't commit (but wish you had)
3. Acts others committed (that you wish they hadn't)
4. Acts others didn't commit (that you wish they had)
5. Acts of fate or circumstances
6. Inevitable losses (that you regret)
7. Comparisons (that lead you to regret)
Let's take a look at each.
1. Acts You Committed (But Wish You Hadn't)
Regrets in this category arise from actions that you took that you wish you hadn't taken. "I shouldn't have said that" is a common such regret. Usually the misspoken words don't produce long-term effects, except in the case of public figures or in families when the words create lifelong rifts between members. Many other actions in this regret category, however, do produce long-term effects and are complex and difficult to let go. One woman regrets her abortion, for example, while another regrets her illegitimate child. A young man squanders his inheritance on cocaine. Another accidentally causes the death of a friend, while another makes an error in judgment that costs him a leg. A woman steals from her company and gets caught or tells a lie that leads to tragic consequences. A man diagnosed with lung cancer stops smoking but it's too late. These examples are regrets of commission, acts people committed that they wish they hadn't.
2. Acts You Didn't Commit (But Wish You Had)
These regrets arise from actions that you did not take that you wish you had taken. "I should have called on her birthday" is a regret at the minor end of the spectrum. More serious regrets in this category stem from a failure to act that resulted in grave consequences or lost dreams. A woman neglected her child, who now struggles with abandonment issues. A man loses a parent to a sudden heart attack, leaving him with "I love you" left unsaid. Perhaps a passion for writing fiction was squelched in order to pursue a more stable career, despite an obvious talent and a dream of becoming a great novelist.
Missed opportunities are common in this category of regret. Bob didn't buy Microsoft in the 1980s when he predicted its future rise and had plenty of money to buy it. He played it safe instead, investing in blue chips and watching his portfolio underperform the market even as he spent its principal. Now all he can think about is how rich he would have been today, "If only ..." "How could I have done that?" he continually asks himself. "How could I have been so stupid?"
Julie struggles in a menial job, barely able to make ends meet, because she has no skills and no education beyond high school. She didn't go to college even though her aunt offered to pay for it. She wanted to see the world, hang out with musicians, drift with the wind, and avoid the tedious life of her parents in their boring factory jobs. Somehow the months turned into years. The men who shared her life grew less reliable, the easy jobs less attractive. Now Julie regrets her lack of education. It would all be different, she tells herself, if only she hadn't turned down her aunt's offer. If only she had gone to college. If only ...
These examples are regrets of omission, acts people did not commit that they wish they had.
3. Acts Others Committed (That You Wish They Hadn't)
Regrets in this category arise from actions that someone else took in relation to you that you wish they hadn't taken. You may have played a big role, a minor role, or no role at all in creating these regrets, but their consequences were painful. A thoughtless comment about you falls into this category but is generally easy to dismiss. More serious actions may not be. You were defrauded by your best friend and lost everything. Your spouse cheated on you and then sued for divorce, ending the marriage and your dreams for a stable home that would nurture your children. A stranger rapes you. Your best friend commits suicide. You lose your dream job in a power struggle you did not initiate. Whether the actions of others were deliberate or inadvertent, they still hurt.
Excerpted from No Regrets by Hamilton Beazley Excerpted by permission.
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Posted September 27, 2005
I started reading 'No Regrets' hoping to come to terms with the one big regret I had in my life. Instead, what I found out was that I was a serial regretter. I had a mindset and psychology of regret and remorse that had infiltrated my everyday thinking. 'No Regrets' put me in touch with my faulty thought process. From there, I am slowly learning to recognize this negativity and, using the tools in the book, get my thinking on a more positive track.
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Posted December 5, 2007
Shogun, written by James Clavell, is an interesting read with a plot of adventure, betrayal romance, and other movie-like qualities. Set in feudal Japan, the 1600's, Shogun is one book in a series which follows the saga of the gallant Englishman John Blackthorne who finds himself stranded in Japan after his ship is wrecked on the coast during his quest to circumnavigate the world. The story begins after Blackthorne, nicknamed Anjin-san by the Japanese, has finally overcome his culture shock and has embraced the 'exotic' ways of the Japanese. He assumes the new culture with the help of Lady Mariko, wife of a powerful samurai, interpreter, close friend, and Blackthorne's love interest. Having been accepted as ¿almost¿ civilized, Blackthrone finds himself playing an important part in the plans of Lord Toranga, the feudal lord he serves. Caught between Toranga's struggle for power against his enemy Lord Ishido Blackthrone finds himself becoming more like a samurai everyday and preferring it that way. Clavell does a good job of creating vivid characters and descriptive scenery, not to mention the confusing tangle of plots the come to light as the sky darkens and lines are drawn among the feudal lords and their subjects. Many of the characters were based on actual figures in Japanese history and the situations they face mimic those of their historical counterparts. Unfortunately even the best books become dry at times. This becomes most painful during the twenty pages describing Toranga¿s makeshift council with his vassals during which they speak of nothing but handing out land and the details of Ishido¿s stronghold. Clavell also tries to make the complicated web more reader friendly by adding crude humor and bodice ripper situations every other page which often detracts from whatever plotline is being developed. This makes the characters involved in the situation seem as two dimensional as soap opera stars. Overall the realistic portrayal of feudal times makes Shogun an attention grabbing read, especially for someone in need of escape from the real world.
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Posted December 15, 2009
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