Guest post written by Kirstie Summers who writes for Daily Zen
Usually it’s when things are looking really bad that you start to wonder if things could be different. Sometimes, it’s just when you’re bored and sort of curious about a decision you’ve made. Occasionally, you might find yourself looking around you and wondering how you got to where you are. And it’s pure curiosity – you just wonder what your life might have been like if things had gone differently.
If you’d studied something else. If you’d dated someone else. If you’d taken up a different hobby. If you’d accepted a different opportunity. If you’d stayed in education longer. If you’d gone to work sooner.
There are infinite possibilities of how your life could have gone. And sometimes, it’s fun to contemplate the what if
s and if only
But it’s important not to get too caught up in those fantasies.
Whether you’re looking back because you’re grateful or rueful of a decision you’ve made, remember that whatever you see in that alternate world is purely imaginary. You can’t ever know if things would’ve worked out if you done something different.
You can only guess.
And if that guess feels great, that’s when it’s important to remember that it is just
It’s not what definitely
would have happened.
Assuming that it is can get dangerous. Getting caught up in a fantasy that feels better than real life almost always is. Wallowing because you could
have done something differently and maybe
things would be better, definitely is not.
Maybe you’re right. Maybe things would be much better.
But so what?
There’s nothing you can do about it now. You made your choice and now you have to live it.
If you regret it, if you don’t like it, find a way to make it work for you. Find a way to make the best of your situation, if it really is that bad. Remember that, when all you could do was guess how things were going to go, this is the option that seemed most desirable to you. Make the expectations you had then come true. If it’s a bit more work than you expected, that doesn’t make it any less worth that effort.
The if only
s are only ever a waste of time. They distract you from the things you really need to be focusing on. If you have so many problems that the if onlys
start seeming so attractive to you, then that is a sign that you have more important things to be worrying about. If things were that bad that you wished you’d taken a different route, maybe spend that time trying to fix whatever is wrong with this one. Because at this point, you can’t go back and it’s not worth tricking yourself into thinking you can.
Instead of wasting time wishing, use the imaginary life you want to identify what’s wrong with this one.
Enjoy the occasionally what if
, if it’s something you enjoy. As a thought experiment. As a bit of fun – what life might have been like is a nice curiosity. But is never something worth getting upset about.
Use the if onlys
you have when you’re upset to guide you in choosing what to do next. When you need to properly think about what you want to change and how you need to go about doing it.
But don’t let those daydreams consume you. It's better to let go
What you really are – what you do, what you feel, what you choose – is so much better than any fantasy if only.
Kirstie was born in Luton, but left for London to study Creative Writing at university. She now writes for Daily Zen; a site that helps people be positive and let go. She likes comedy, cabaret and musty old libraries. Twitter @ActuallyKurt
Photo by Sebastian Raskop