A few weeks ago, some friends of mine entered into a contract to buy a house. They asked many questions and secured the best deal they could. When they took ownership and looked further into the house, they realized that they had “failed” to add a clause to the contract regarding any problems they encountered once they moved in.
Upon realizing their error, they began to engage in “regretful” thinking..
“Regretful” thinking involves thoughts which imply both that what you did was, in some way, wrong, inadequate, hurtful or damaging to you, the situation, or another person and that, by some unknown means, you could go back and change what you did.
Here are some examples of regretful thinking..
as in “We should have …”
If only ida’s…
as in “If only I had…”.
I wish I hada’s…
as in “I wish I had…..”
There are several maladaptive issues with regretful thinking..
Regretful thinking can be rather powerful because it has a veneer of truth to it. Yes, if you had acted differently, the outcome would have been better. The main issue, however, is that you can’t go back and change what you did or did not do.
Secondly, depending on the emphasis you place on your regretful thoughts, other emotions will be elicited by those thought which could be problematic for you including:
- regret (I did something dumb and I can’t change it),
- sadness (I lost something important),
- shame (I’m really a bad, dumb, or worthless person),
- anxiety (My future will always be messed up.), or
- anger (that seller really screwed me).
The Emotions as Tools (EaT) Model informs you of the steps you need to take to deal with “regretful” thoughts and the emotions these thoughts elicit.
The EaT steps..
- Take a deep breath and a step back from the situation. This might involve taking a walk, putting the situation “on hold” for a moment, doing some other important task and so forth.
- Acknowledge and label the feeling you are experiencing and the message of each emotion. (Deal with only one emotion at a time.)
- “IWBNI” Explain to yourself that you did what you did (We’ll come back to this below with the BRR) and assertively invoke an IWBNI (It Would Be Nice If) you had acted differently. Viewing your situation through the lens of an IWBNI enables you to acknowledge both what you did (or did not) do and the actions you wish had done instead.
- BRR. Eliminate judgement by remembering (and applying) the BRR (Basic Relationship Rule) which states that everyone (including you) always does the Best they can (not the best possible) given their Model of the World (how they are perceiving, viewing or conceptualizing) what is going on in the moment and their Skill Sets (the tools, behaviors, abilities, emotions, knowledge) they bring to the situation. The BRR does not justify or excuse any action or inaction. It only helps to understand what took place and eliminate any personal condemnation. Any judgement of one’s actions, if appropriate can come later. So, if what you did was not what you have preferred to do, take a look at how you perceived your situation (your Model) and the tools you used to determine what actions you did take. Did you fail to fully understand what was going on or did you not use some tools to help you act differently than you did?
- Forgive Yourself. Forgiving involves letting go of any self-condemnation as in “I should have…”.
- Learn from the situation so that you can make a different decision in the future. This involves learning from the information you now have to be more aware in the future and make a different decision.
- Acceptance. Acknowledge that your situation is what it is, you’ve extracted whatever learning you can from it, and it is time to move on. In other words, “This, too, shall pass.”
My friends basically did all of the above. They finally decided that they would just have to live with their actions and “In time, it would pass.”
As a follow-up to the above, in my next post, I will republish a post from July 2022 dealing specifically with the emotion of regret.