Sunday, May 22, 2011

Breakout from Regret

Regret works like swallowing a bit of poison every day.
It destroys your health and well-being. It closes down
your view of life, blocking out opportunities and beauty.
Habitual regret exacts an enormous toll but delivers no

A man I'll call Tom taught me my first lesson about
regret. He showed how experiences from long ago fire
up a feeling like the replay of a video - only in real life.

If you want to find beliefs that block happiness start
with a strong feeling you do not like having. Identify
the feeling and question it.

That takes courage because when you question an
emotion with an open mind you enter into uncharted
territory. When I work with people neither one of us
knows what we will discover and go through together.
Years of explorations have taught me that the feeling
we are looking at will most likely come alive while
we study it.

The feeling Tom did not like having was rage. We began
asking questions. I did not have the answers, but Tom

What are you feeling rage about?
My childhood.

What about your childhood?
My mother died when I was twelve. I was the oldest of
five kids and my father always wanted me to take care
of them. His idea of taking care was being in charge of
them. They resented it. They hated me.

What about that leads to rage?
I felt like I only had two choices, disappoint my dad or
make my brothers and sisters hate me.

What about that involves rage?
Tom's body trembled with anger. He spoke through
clenched teeth and began to cry.

Because I'll never know! I'll never know who I would be
if I'd just been free to be a kid. I'll never know.

What about not knowing who you would be if your childhood
had been different leads to rage?

Though I've seen this look many times it always moves me deeply.
Tom's rage slowly dissolved. After a quiet moment he moved
into a sort of soft bewilderment. That's the space of creativity
where the way it was is gone and the new way can come
into being.

He smiled and said simply, I don't know. I don't feel it now.
I guess none of us knows who we would be if things had
been different.

That was a beginning of many explorations for Tom and
for me.

I began to notice the power of regret in the lives of my
students, my friends and myself. For some of us it lingered
as sadness, for others an abiding sense of shame, for many
the default feeling was anger or even rage.

What belief held these feelings in place? What kept them
alive so long?

Since we each create a unique belief system as we go through
life I found many beliefs. There was one belief though, that
everyone held that fed the feelings of regret: If that regrettable
thing or circumstance had not happened, I'd be me, with
my life, only it would be better.

The kinds of better differ; I'd be more confident, successful,
stronger, more beautiful, have more money, be unashamed,
fearless, lovable.

That belief, I would be me, with my life, only better, is not true!
You can't change one puzzle piece in real life and come up with the
same picture only prettier. The whole thing changes. Your life would
be completely different. We have no idea what it would be like. How do you
regret a complete unknown?

Instead of wondering what caused things to happen, Bruce Di
Marsico (founder of the Option Method) liked to ponder, I
wonder what this will be for? I like to ask, what would I like
this to be for, what do I want to come from this?

If there is something you regret you may want to ask those two
questions too. I'd love to hear what you find. Post comments at

Wishing you happiness, success and freedom from regret!