“What if I would’ve told him how I really felt before it was too late?” “What if I would’ve been there to tell my little brother not to get in the car with his friend who had been drinking?” “What if I would’ve studied abroad during my junior year?” The real question is, why are we tormenting ourselves by repeatedly analyzing past situations and allowing ourselves to dwell on alternative possible outcomes?
First things first, it’s easy to live in the past. Our past contains all of our experiences that make us who we are up to that point. Knowing that, it’s inevitable for us to wonder why certain events in our lives happened the way they did. However, there is a difference between remembering and reflecting on the past situation, versus allowing the situation to affect your present life when it should be stored away in the past.
The first step that we’ve all heard a million times, but seem to forget it too easily is realizing you can’t change the past. What happened happened, and that is it. But that’s the problem; the situation had a big impact on us, so we get incredibly wrapped up in it, forgetting that our present day life is still currently happening.
As humans, we are all capable of distinguishing the past from the present, but our never-ending desire to find the answers takes over our minds. But here’s the thing, there are no answers to your “what if?” questions. You may think there was only one other option, which makes you believe there is an answer to your “what if?” question, but it’s not really about actual choices, its about you questioning what that other decision would have led you to do different in your life, and those possibilities are absolutely endless.
However, realizing that there are endless possibilities doesn’t really make you feel better, and not having a specific answer leaves you unsettled. This is because you are regretting something; you feel bad knowing that you could’ve done something different, which could’ve led to a different outcome. Feeling regret is so powerful, and I’m sure we can all admit to a time that it has led us to do something that is out of character. The important thing is to come to terms with it. Dwelling on the past won’t make you regret it any less; it will only continue to allow the situation to be an issue and reoccurring theme in your everyday life.
As harsh as this sounds, move on. Accept that you cannot change the past and that all you can do from here is make the best of it. Turn those feelings of regret into your motivation to make a different decision next time. Something I learned at a young age is that if you live in the past, you will miss the present. Decide not to let the situation from the past define your present, and future; you are more in control of that then you think.
Avoid torturing yourself with the “what if?” alternative reality. In the end of the day, you don’t know and won’t ever know, what could’ve happened. It does nothing except make you upset, and you are only wasting your time and energy. Trust that each situation is part of the path that is making you stronger, teaching you lessons, and getting you one step closer to becoming the person you will be. Focus your energy on the here and now because that is what you have the ability to change. If you don’t allow yourself to live in the present, one day you’ll look back feeling like you missed out, and you’ll be asking yourself, “what if I would’ve left the past in the past?”