Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunitiesby Arthur Freeman, Rose DeWolf
Who of us can claim never to have made a mistake, missed a goal, regretted a choice, or suffered because of another's action? For those who suffer from a constant sense of regret about the past, who feel their present lives have been immutably shaped by actions they could or should or would have taken but didn't, real help is at hand. In clear, uncomplicated
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Who of us can claim never to have made a mistake, missed a goal, regretted a choice, or suffered because of another's action? For those who suffer from a constant sense of regret about the past, who feel their present lives have been immutably shaped by actions they could or should or would have taken but didn't, real help is at hand. In clear, uncomplicated language, Dr. Arthur Freeman, a leading exponent of cognitive therapy, and his colleague Rose DeWolf, a skillful translator of the cognitive method, describe the techniques and provide exercises that will enable readers to actually "unblock" the past. The authors demonstrate that wouldo/coulda/shoulda thinking can be unlearned and that this process can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time.
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The sentence usually begins, "If only..."
"If only I could live my life -- or last week, or yesterday -- over again ..." "If only I knew then what I know now..." "If only I had done what I should have done..." "If only I'd said the right thing, everything would be different now. And then the sentence ends with, "but it's too late now."
Does this sound familiar? Of course it does. Who among us can claim to have never made a mistake or missed a goal, never regretted a choice we made -- or suffered because of someone else's action? Did you marry the wrong person? Take the wrong job? Fail to tell your mom how much you loved her before she died? Recognized opportunity only after you'd let it slide by? Did you goof not once but often? Do you get the feeling that it's become your way of life?
You have lots of company. Most of us can think of stories in our lives with unhappy endings. We know that even the most minuscule of missteps -- the mere impulse of a moment -- can result in enormous damage. There are many famous examples of that. George Romney was considered a front-runner for the Republican nomination for president of the United States until he made an offhand comment about having been "brainwashed" about America's involvement in Vietnam -- and his support vanished. Democrat Edmund Muskie's presidential hopes dissolved in the tears he shed during an emotional response to a vicious editorial attack on his wife.
It's possible to go wrong even when you do what most people would agree is absolutely the "right thing" to do. A good example of that is a story about ayoung man who was invited to join a lottery pool.
It seems that there was, that week, a prize of $28 million to be won in a Pennsylvania state lottery game. Five friends who worked together talked about chipping in ten dollars apiece to buy tickets together, with an agreement to share the prize if any of their tickets won. Four of the five agreed to put up ten dollars. But the fifth declined. He said he had better uses for his money. Everybody knows (and it is statistically true) that you are more likely to be hit by lightning than to win a multimillion-dollar lottery jackpot. Most people would agree the young man was only being sensible -- except that, in this instance, his buddies had the winning ticket.
And did he kick himself when he found out...when he thought about the $5.8 million that would have been his share had he chipped in only ten dollars? What do you think?
The real question, however, is not whether he kicked him self for refusing to join the pool and not whether he will occasionally shake his head about it in the future, but rather whether he will continually kick himself over that perfectly reasonable omission for the rest of his life. Will the thought of what he woulda/coulda/shoulda been able to afford poison all the pleasure of what he can afford?
The Minefield of Life
It comes down to this: When you walk through a minefield, you are bound to step wrong now and again. And sometimes life can seem very much like a field sowed all around with explosive mines.
You agree to sign a contract without reading the small print because you believe you are dealing with someone who is honest and seems to answer your questions quite openly. But later you become a little anxious. Maybe you acted too quickly. Maybe you should have checked. And it turns out you have indeed signed your way into a costly, complicated mess.
Or, you felt you couldn't ask that wonderful woman for a date because, she is very tall and you know she wouldn't go out with you because you are 5' 5". And then she marries somebody 5' 3". Every time you see her now, you wonder what life would be like if you'd been braver.
Or, you marry Charlie even though your mother thinks he is a bum, your sister thinks he is insensitive, your friends say he is a bore, your minister says he is no good, and, alas, it turns out your mother, sister, friends, and minister were right. If only you had listened ...
Or, you don't hit it off with the new boss, and as a result you are given worthless assignments. The injustice of this makes you seethe. You can't help complaining, even though you know that this only makes your co-workers uncomfortable. You know that constantly thinking about what he should have done and what you could have done aren't helping matters, but ...
You might feel you have failed to prevent harm from coming to someone you love. Or brought harm upon yourself by failing to take advantage of opportunities that came your way. Or maybe this feeling of woulda/coulda/shoulda. sweeps over you when you bump into someone you knew way back when who seems to be much more successful than you are. You can't put your finger on where you went wrong -- but you are certain you did.
Or it could be that someone close to you seems determined to foist that conclusion upon you. Someone tells you that if you had only listened to him or her, or done things this or that way, you could have, would have, and should have accomplished more.
There is no shortage of mines to step on. There is no shortage of ways to "go wrong."
How We React To Mistakes
People differ greatly in the way they deal with that sense of having gone wrong. We know that some people are able just to shrug off their mistakes (perhaps much too easily). And some people seem to have an ability to turn any adversity into a strength. For them, even the most terrible catastrophe is merely a learning experience. But most of us fill somewhere in between -- we have to struggle to come to terms with the wrong turn we have taken on the path of life.Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda. Copyright © by Arthur Freeman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Dr. Arthur Freeman is a senior faculty member of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Camden. He is also a member of the Department of Psychiatry at Cooper Hospital University Medical Center in Camden, New Jersey.
Rose DeWolf is a Philadelphia journalist, TV personality, and lecturer. Freeman and DeWolf coauthored Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.
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