- Norman Plotkin Hypnotherapy717 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95814(916) 400-9885
Expectations shape our reality. Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all affected by our expectations. This makes them extremely powerful and impactful. However expectations are a complex phenomenon. There are typically two different views about expectations that you’ll hear:
“Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” — Antonio Banderas
“High expectations are the key to everything”. — Sam Walton
If you didn’t expect to get in trouble for not showing up to work on time, would you? If the people in your life didn’t expect a certain standard of treatment, would you treat them differently? Have you ever been given a “what to expect” guide on the first day of a new job or educational course? Expectations help us operate efficiently. We can make general assumptions when it comes to behavior, performance, and the situations we will be in.
Expectations can help us to set goals for higher achievement, to work hard, do our best, and motivate others to do the same.
Expectations prevent us from settling for less. Certain standards of behavior are mandatory and fair to be expected (like being respected and feeling safe in your relationships).
People often will tell you “If you don’t have expectations then you can’t be let down.” And yes, there is some merit to that. Unfulfilled expectations can be a major source of disturbance. When you hold expectations, you have a belief about how something is or how it will be. If it fails to live up to your expectations it’s going to hurt. You will feel disappointed, frustrated, and angry.
We may not fully appreciate what we have when we are expecting more or comparing what we have to what we could have.
It is important to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic expectations. It has been said that unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.
What do unrealistic expectations look like? Expecting others to do what is in our best interest but not theirs, expecting our partners to live up to what we see in romance movies, our jobs to be idealized versions we had as children, or even our lives to match up to what we see on social media.
Unrealistic Expectations That Will Ruin You -from Forbes Magazine
Life should be fair.
Opportunities will fall into my lap.
Everyone should like me.
People should agree with me.
People know what I’m trying to say.
I’m going to fail.
Things will make me happy.
I can change him/her.
The good/bad continuum of expectations pose a paradox, but one that is solvable. If we expect something to happen then we have to have a good reason for that expectation. Having expectations of things we can control is beneficial. We should be careful about our expectations of things beyond our control.
Some people suffer from a lack of healthy expectations and thus limit their potential and others set unattainably high expectations for themselves and thus assure their frustration and unhappiness. Often, expectations get in the way of our being present as our mind distorts our current experience through the filter of our needs.
In this case, we are confronted with the expectation paradox. Are expectations truly good or bad? The zen answer to this question is simply, yes. The seeming paradox around this term can lead to much confusion. A good starting point is to ask if your expectations, or lack thereof, enhance your life experience. Do they assist you in the unfolding of your life or do they justify your unhappiness?
The paradox of expectation shouldn’t be resolved by simply saying that they are good or bad. They are neither and they are both. They are what we make them and what we make of them. The responsibility lies within us. As the architects of our lives, we need to be the masters of our expectations, rather than be ruled by them. If after a thorough examination, we conclude that our expectations are authentic and self-generated and yet we still struggle in their attainment, we have an opportunity to look at why that is so. On the other hand, if these wishes are not of our own making but merely imposed upon us, we can unshackle ourselves from this burden.
Expectations frequently guide behavior and make it easier to predict what will happen next. People can develop expectations about a wide range of things. Examples of expectations include the most basic belief that the sun will rise tomorrow or the assumption that your boss will give you a raise in six months.
Expectations are determined by a combination of experience, cognitive processes, communication with others, and cultural norms. For example, if your boss gives you a raise every six months and indicates that he or she is pleased with your performance, you are much more likely to believe you will get a raise than if you have never gotten a raise or have been recently disciplined at work.
Expectations serve as hypotheses about the future and can be false. Life history, mental illness, and other issues can increase the likelihood that a person develops false expectations. False expectations can have a negative impact on a person’s well-being. For example, a person with anxiety might develop catastrophic and fear-based expectations that are not based in reality but that compel them to take drastic measures, such as refusing to leave their home or avoiding contact with other people.
A term related to expectation in the health and wellness context is expectancy. Expectancy plays a tremendous role in your day-to-day health, but it is especially powerful when you are sick and/or in a diseased state. It has been scientifically proven that focusing your attention on illness will make you sick. A 1966 study in the Journal of Medical Education titled Medical Students’ Disease: Hypochondriasis in Medical Education found that 79 percent of students reported developing symptoms.
This phenomenon has been referred to as the nocebo effect. Where the placebo effect reinforces the power of nurturing, hope, positive thinking, and expectation, the nocebo effect points to the power of negative thinking and how it can cause one to experience physical symptoms. In either case, we see the power of expectation, state of mind, and the foundation for the mind-body connection.
Expectations provide people with important guidance about how to behave. After all, if you believe the sun will not come up tomorrow, you have little reason to get your work done or to go to bed on time. Thus an ongoing problem of false expectations can alter behavior and interfere with social life. While false expectations are not in themselves a mental health problem, the inability to accurately form hypotheses about the future can be caused by a variety of issues, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
Expectations can also influence future outcomes. For example, a person who believes his or her next relationship will be abusive might be less likely to actively seek out a healthy relationship. A person who has a false belief that he or she will get a promotion at work might not work as hard or accurately assess his or her job performance.
Tips for Navigating Expectations:
-When you go into a situation, ask yourself what you expect to happen. Ask yourself if your expectations should be this way. Where did these expectations come from and are they realistic?
-Be adaptive. Dalai Lama said, “Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.” Practice emotional detachment from your expectations.
-Remember perfection doesn’t exist.
-Develop the habit of not taking things personally and realize that each of us behaves in accordance with our unique set of standards and beliefs. When you understand this, you can move toward acceptance of both others and your own imperfect nature.
-Life is going to surprise us with curveballs. The past is the best predictor of the future but this doesn’t mean history will always repeat itself.
-If you want things to be different, focus on things you can change, things that you are in control of.
-Be gentler when expectations aren’t met – learn from the failures, make a plan for getting what you want next time.
-Never assume – communicate! It is hard for someone to live up to your expectations when they don’t know what they are. Unspoken expectations are almost guaranteed to go unfulfilled. Talking openly about what you expect from other people might improve your chances of fulfillment. At the same time, it is unrealistic to think that merely communicating your expectations clearly is going to get people to behave the way you want them to.
-Find something to be grateful about, even when things do not turn out the way you hoped and you will experience serenity rather than resentment.
-Choose to expect the best outcome & you’re much more likely to get it. Expecting the best puts you into a powerful frame of mind and when backed with preparation and action – orients you toward success.
So, as you can see, expectations and how we handle them play an important role in our lives. Some might even say they can make you or break you, they are that important. But there is another school of thought oriented around the notion of expectation and that is the Law of Attraction.
Simply put, the Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on.
It is believed that regardless of age, nationality, or religious belief, we are all susceptible to the laws which govern the Universe, including the Law of Attraction. It is the Law of Attraction that uses the power of the mind to translate whatever is in our thoughts and materialize them into reality.
In basic terms, according to proponents of LOA, all thoughts turn into things eventually.
If you focus on negative doom and gloom you will remain under that cloud. If you focus on positive thoughts and have goals that you aim to achieve you will find a way to achieve them with massive action.
The Law of Attraction is one of life’s biggest mysteries. Very few people are fully aware of how much of an impact the Law of Attraction has on their day-to-day life.
Whether we are doing it knowingly or unknowingly, every second of our existence, we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out.
Unfortunately, so many of us are still blind to the potential that is locked deep within us. Consequently, it is all too easy to leave your thoughts and emotions unchecked. This sends out the wrong thoughts and attracts more unwanted emotions and events into your life.
With that said, discovering that the Law of Attraction is at work within your life should be a great cause for celebration! When you have learned how to effectively apply the LOA to your everyday life, your entire future is yours to create.
The work of quantum physicists during recent years has helped to shine greater light on the incredible impact that the power of the mind has on our lives and the universe in general. The more that this idea is explored by scientists, the greater an understanding we have of just how significant a role the mind plays in shaping our lives and the world around us.
As physicists come to supply us with more and more information regarding the law, the more we realize that we are the creators and controllers of our life and the energy we are all made of.
The exercise of understanding the expectations paradox is helpful as a foundation for understanding the true power of the Law of Attraction.
Be happy, for the universe is always on our side! Shifting from the third dimensional analysis of the virtue of expectations to learning how to use the Law of Attraction effectively will lead to a true appreciation of how fulfilling and rewarding your life can be. There are no restrictions! Open your mind and enjoy the natural abundance of the Universe.
Episode 60: Put Yourself in the Service of Others
“Vulnerability is a paradox because the more vulnerable you allow yourself to be, the more powerful you will feel. When you are no longer afraid of what others will think, you’re more willing to put yourself out there in all the various ways there are to do that: in relationships, in your career, with your art and creativity, with your exuberance and heart.”
– Karen Anderson
The best part of being human is being able to connect with other humans. We’re hardwired for it. We live in tribes and families, work in groups, love as couples and thrive in friendships. The drive to connect is in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
Yet, we’re seeing more loneliness, more depression, more broken relationships, more disconnection. What’s happening?
Vulnerability is the driving force of connection. It’s brave. It’s tender. It’s impossible to connect without it.
But somehow it has been turned into a weakness in the eyes of most. Think about it, no one wants to appear weak, most want to project strength.
We’ve made ourselves ‘strong.’ We’ve toughened up, hardened up and protected ourselves from being hurt. We’ve protected ourselves from vulnerability and disallowed the surrender.
Here’s the problem. When we close down our vulnerability we are shielded from hurt, but we are also shielded from love, intimacy and connection. They come to us through the same door. When we close it to one, we close it to all.
Paradoxically, it is only the strongest among us who can embrace their vulnerability.
Perhaps one of the greatest demonstrations of the vulnerability/strength continuum is riding a motorcycle. On a motorcycle there is no protective cocoon like a car has with fenders that crumple and absorb the shock of impact. It is just you and the bike in a sea of vehicles of all sizes and shapes with drivers who look right at you and don’t see you.
But in this vulnerable state lies strength, freedom and liberation.
So too in love. It has been said that loving someone is giving them the power to destroy you and hoping they won’t.
The joy in life, the road to bliss is understanding that you could walk out your door tomorrow and a meteor could land on your head and turn you into earthbound space dust, but you get up, clean up, get dressed and face the day anyway.
Vulnerability can be defined as susceptibility to a negative outcome or the state of being unprotected from some type of danger or harmful experience. People who are vulnerable may experience feelings of anxiety, fear, and apprehension due to the risk they experience for some type of harm.
The concept of vulnerability is broad, as the term can be used in multiple contexts. In its most general sense, vulnerability may refer to the natural state of children, young animals, and others who cannot care for themselves. This vulnerability is often overcome with time.
All people experience some level of vulnerability to disaster or other types of trauma. In this context, vulnerability can be understood as the reduced capacity for a person to avoid, cope with, or recover from the impact of a hazard or other traumatic event.
Although the term vulnerability often has a negative connotation, the field of psychology is increasingly recognizing the value of being vulnerable. According to existentialism, vulnerability is part of the human condition. While being vulnerable indicates the possibility of being hurt, it also suggests one has an increased ability to live an authentic life.
Brené Brown, an author and researcher, has written much on the topic of vulnerability, and her work is widely known and highly regarded. According to Brown, vulnerability allows a person to deeply connect with others and experience emotions fully, and she believes one’s vulnerability signifies courage and strength rather than weakness.
In one example, think about a situation wherein after reading a few articles about the benefits of yoga, you decide to try it yourself. You buy a mat, find a nearby class, and put on some stretchy pants. Then you get to the studio and all of a sudden you see other students walking confidently in, their mats slung over their shoulders and you begin to feel strange. Your heart rate speeds up, your palms grow sweaty, and you think, “what the hell was I thinking to ever think I could do this?”
This shaky feeling is vulnerability, and it makes you want to turn around and run home, where you can escape the potential judgment of others and your own fear of the unfamiliar.
But by pushing through those doors, you are doing something far more healthy and transformative. You are connecting with others and experiencing emotions fully, particularly the emotions of courage and strength.
For most, vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. It’s that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control.
Brown writes vulnerability and attempts to debunk myths surrounding vulnerability, the most popular being that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. If you were to think of times that you have felt vulnerable or emotionally exposed, you are actually recalling times of great courage. These may be huge life events, like deciding to put an ailing parent in hospice care, but it’s just as present in those small moments of fear that pop up when we share our feelings with another person or ask for forgiveness.
According to Brown, what most of us fail to understand…is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity,” she writes. So while going to that new yoga class may feel uncomfortable, you’re also opening yourself up to the opportunity to make new friends and learn a new, healthy habit. But if you run away the second those shaky feelings arise, you’re just reinforcing the voice in your head that says I’m not good enough.
That insecurity is present in all of us, and it’s so strong that we often go out of our way to avoid situations that might make us feel fragile. Brown has described the ways we try to sidestep the shaky feeling of vulnerability: we emotionally “armor up” each morning when we face the day to avoid feeling shame, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. The particular armor changes from person to person, but it usually revolves around one of three methods: striving for perfection, numbing out, or disrupting joyful moments by “dress rehearsing tragedy” and imagining all the ways that things could go wrong.
Do any of these sound familiar?
All of these types of armor can make us feel safe and “in control” in the moment, but they’re really doing us more harm than good.
Perfectionism can be a mega shield we hide behind. We think it will protect us but it keeps us from being seen. And numbing our emotions is doesn’t work either because it has a universal effect in that you can’t numb fear without numbing joy at the same time.
Brown’s research suggests that the urge to imagine the worst-case scenario in moments of joy (such as not being able to enjoy a hug with your child without worrying about something bad happening to him) is an amazingly common phenomenon. And why is it so hard for us to soften into joy? Brown says that it is because we’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. Predictably, this has a negative impact, for without vulnerability, there is no love, no belonging, and no joy.
The goal should be getting comfortable with vulnerability. It’s important to begin to recognize those fragile moments of vulnerability and work with them.
Mindfulness is a good place to start. Adopting a practice of openness and awareness of your environment as well as your own thoughts, feelings, and triggers will help you recognize when you’re disengaging because you’re afraid.
After you become aware of where you are, you will be more certain about what changes you would like to see in your life. And of course, keeping love in your heartspace leaves no room for fear and doubt.
It’s only recently that we have begun to speak about emotional vulnerability. Being vulnerable emotionally was generally compared to being weak, or at least easily hurt or frightened. Maybe it was never discussed much, because it is a natural, daily, unavoidable part of our existence as human beings, and frankly it feels bad.
If you’ve ever felt the unease of admitting something or of asking for a raise at work, you know the feeling. You may be more familiar with the uncertainty of waiting for a phone call with test results from a doctor or reaching out to a friend who just lost a loved one. It is uncomfortable, unsettling, and anxiety-provoking. It can be about as welcome a subject as death or getting taxes filed.
So why talk about it? Because as we have been discussing, allowing ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable is also a tremendous source of strength and the only way we can truly connect in our most personal relationships. Let’s try another definition; what is emotional vulnerability?
Emotional vulnerability is most often felt as anxiety about being rejected, shamed, or judged as inadequate; uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Think about that for a moment. Uncertainty is a given in every day of our lives. It is deeply tied to anxiety (like the meteor example above). In fact, very often those who suffer from chronic anxiety have particular difficulty accepting the uncertainty in their daily lives.
Let’s look at risk, for example, the risk of feeling rejected if the object of your love does not love you back (the power to destroy you and the hope that they won’t!). Or, that your boss will not only deny the raise but will also tell you why you are not worthy of it.
And emotional exposure: You’ve decided to partner with someone, and you begin to feel the fear that this person will get to know you better than you know yourself.
These situations are more frightening to some of us than to others, depending upon our personal histories, our cultural backgrounds, and our basic personality traits. The feeling of shame is a particular risk for many individuals, especially if they were raised in a shame-based culture. However, nearly everyone struggles with emotional vulnerability to some degree every day. (The exceptions are those with no desire to feel connected, such as extreme narcissists and sociopaths.)
How can vulnerability be a strength?
It is only through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable that we can understand, feel empathy, forgive each other, and know that we are worthy of love and belonging. Emotional courage is sharing our feelings with those who are important to us and accepting their feelings as valid and important. Being vulnerable allows us to create new ideas and to see fresh possibilities that were previously blocked from our minds. We take the risk that our creations will be judged poorly or rejected and that we may feel shame or inadequacy as a result.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you practice mindfully embracing vulnerability in your own life:
Recognize that facing vulnerability takes enormous courage.
Take small steps out of your comfort zone and be proud of your bravery when you do.
Let go of the constant worry about what other people think of you. Most people are focused on their own internal struggles, not you.
Feeling overwhelmed? Focus your attention gently on your breath and the sensations in your body for a few moments before returning your attention back to the task at hand.
Don’t worry about being perfect. In fact, don’t even consider it. No one is perfect, and the more you hold yourself to an impossible ideal, the more easily you will give up.
In the end, in order to have the chance of success we must risk failure. Embrace your own vulnerability and that of the people that you love. Be open to sharing what you feel and taking those risks when your sense of judgment tells you that the risk is well worth it.
Rebirth: the action of reappearing or starting to flourish or increase after a decline; revival.
Rebirth in Buddhism refers to the teaching that the actions of a person lead to a new existence after death, in an endless cycle called saṃsāra. This cycle is considered to be dukkha, unsatisfactory and painful. The cycle stops only if liberation is achieved by insight and the extinguishing of craving. Rebirth is one of the foundational doctrines of Buddhism, along with karma, nirvana and moksha.
The rebirth doctrine, sometimes referred to as reincarnation or transmigration, asserts that rebirth does not necessarily take place as another human being, but can also lead to an existence in one of the six realms of existence, which also include heaven realms, the animal realm, the ghost realm and hell realms.
Rebirth, as stated by various Buddhist traditions, is determined by karma, with good realms favored by kushala (good or skillful karma), while a rebirth in evil realms is a consequence of akushala (bad karma). While nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhist teaching, much of traditional Buddhist practice has been centered on gaining merit and merit transfer, whereby one gains rebirth in the good realms and avoids rebirth in the evil realms.
Carl Jung is famous for among other things, his Theory of The Psyche. In this theory, individuation is a psychological concept that can be defined as the achievement of self-actualization through integrating the conscious and the unconscious parts of our mind. Its aim is to become aware of who we truly are without any filters or barriers, and reach our full potential by acknowledging all parts of our mind. or as Jung prefers to call it ‘’ psyche”.
According to Jung, most people do not understand the role that the unconscious part of their minds plays in their lives and how it controls and manipulates their actions. So, it is their duty to discover it through bringing it to the conscious realm and becoming aware of it. As he said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
The psyche, based on this theory, has two parts. The conscious, which is the part that we are aware of. And the unconscious is the part that controls our life and behavior behind the scenes because of our unawareness. So, the process of individuation consists of bringing parts from the darkness of our unconscious into our conscious side in order to prevent it from controlling us. We recently talked about the shadow and its integration. This is what we mean when we talk about individuation and Jung believed that when we reach this integration, we experience a rebirth.
Consciousness is the part of our minds that we know through our thoughts, emotion, etc, and the center of this side is ego. What is ego? It is a projection or a reflection of the “unconscious” and a result of social conditioning. Our ego is like a cloud that appears to have a form, but it changes constantly. It is the mask that we wear to hide our true “self” from ourselves. It is not solid but a misinterpretation of who we are and who we should be based on some idealized traits and false notions that differ from one person to another according to the context and the environment. Unfortunately, we over-identify ourselves with our Ego to believe that it is us.
Ego is shaped through our growth. When we were brought to the world, we had no sense of self, and no association with different names and opinions (which gradually develop to form our ego). As we grow older, our brains become more conditioned according to our environment. So, the first part of the individuation process is to learn how to separate our ego from ourselves and understand that it is not our identity, but just its external layer.
Some people misunderstand this concept of individuation as getting rid of our Ego, but that is impossible. Our ego is essential for us to survive in society, it is what gives us the subjective experience of life. The aim of individuation is not to get rid of it but rather identify it, understand it and control it. In order to do that, according to Jung, we have to go through “ego transformation”, which means reconstructing our ego (thoughts and beliefs) all over again in a healthy way without identifying it as who we are.
People tend to resist this transformation because it represents a threat to their identity and the foundation of the character that they adapted for too long. This ego transformation does not happen deliberately. It happens when you realize that your beliefs contradict with reality through a hard experience, which may lead to an identity crisis, or even as what some people call an existential crisis. which ends up with the rebirth of a new healthy ego.
The persona is a reflection of our ego. It is the mask we wear to hide our real selves from the others. The more comfortable we are around some people, the less it conceals parts from our real character. If you have ever wondered why we subconsciously act differently around people, it is because our ego dictates how we should act according to the context. Some people may face trouble trying to understand themselves through judging this persona which may lead to confusion, but they are merely a reflection of the ego.
The unconscious realm is the hidden side of yourself, it is the main and the leading part of our psyche. It is made of many archetypes and each one of them has a role and an effect. The unconscious projects itself into our lives without our awareness, it controls our behavior while we think that we are fully aware and responsible for our actions.
The unconscious produces our thoughts that we display through our ego, but we identify ourselves as the thoughts while ignoring its real source. For example, some people go through traumatic experiences in their childhood, take as an example physical abuse, it makes them feel unworthy of love as children. This part of their lives is hidden in the unconscious part, but this traumatic experience comes from the unconscious and projects itself on the ego as thoughts like, I am worthless, I hate myself, no one will love me… Unfortunately, the individual starts believing what his ego repeats regardless of its validity.
A huge part of our personalities is built throughout our childhood.
According to Jung, it is wrong to identify ourselves as good or bad because we are inherently flawed. As we have discussed before, the unconscious part is made of archetypes including the shadow.
The shadow is the dark side of your personality, and by dark, we do not necessarily mean negative, but it is hidden and repressed somewhere in our unconscious. It consists of both negative or positive qualities that your ego considers as unacceptable, so you have subconsciously disowned them through time. Because ego does not know what is right and what is wrong.
It is a survival tool that aims to keep you away from any potential danger even if the threat is not real. We hide sides of ourselves because we fear judgments and need to fit in, which creates a false sense of self that is made of these beliefs, thoughts, and conditioning.
After becoming aware of our ego, we start to understand how our thoughts are a product of the unconscious. Then we move to the next step which is the Shadow Work.
As we have explored, shadow work is the process of exploring your inner darkness, it uncovers every part of you that has been disowned, repressed and rejected and not displayed in public. Shadow work is one of the most important parts of in-depth psychological work. Jung used this method in his analysis because Jungian Analysis encourages us to seek out our shadow. It is liberating and would enable the individual to discover who she or he really is and reach their full potential using the traits that were oppressed before.
We should proceed by accepting the fact that we have flaws and hidden parts that need to be worked on without feeling ashamed because the refusal to accept our dark side is a refusal to accept our entire being.
But how can we reach individuation and re-make our character? Can we become another as if born anew? Most models of human development place tight bounds around our capacity for self-directed change. Although I work with clients in the realm of the subconscious and often achieve rapid change, we are a conservative creature. We crave order and a have a deep need for a stable sense of self.
Change, according to these models, is best accomplished in a gradual manner. We need to focus on taking small steps each day in the direction of the person we wish to become. We need to break down our bad habits, cultivate good ones and over time these small changes will cumulate to produce impressive results.
This approach to self-change is not the only way that we change, nor is it adequate for all situations. For while we are conservative creatures, we are also mortal creatures with limited time and a limited capacity to endure suffering.
Sometimes life requires radical change, not merely a change in a habit or two, but a change of such significance that it leads to what is known as a psychological rebirth. Fortunately, this type of change is possible and occurs in more lives than is often realized.
Doing the work of integration, taming the ego and the shadow can lead you to a realization that your beliefs contradict reality. You can avoid this realization being the result of a hard experience, which can lead to an identity crisis, or even as what some people call an existential crisis. Instead, doing the ego and shadow work before a hard lesson can end up as a rebirth of a new healthy ego. A psychological rebirth of integration and individuation.
Regret: A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.
From a psychological standpoint, regret is a negative cognitive or emotional state that involves blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been, or wishing we could undo a previous choice that we made.
Most, if not all, of us want to live life with no regrets; some push life to the ultimate limit and want to experience just about everything. But sometimes the craziness of life’s day-to-day tasks gets in the way of making progress towards your ideal life.
Unfortunately, while you may be busy with the routines of life, time may fly by all too fast and before you know it you may be looking back on your life with some big regrets.
Regret can have damaging effects on mind and body when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps people from re-engaging with life. This pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking is characteristic of depression—and may be a cause of this mental health problem as well. Other research shows that regret can result in chronic stress, negatively affecting hormonal and immune system functioning. Regret impedes the ability to recover from stressful life events by extending their emotional reach for months, years, or lifetimes.
The best way to limit these regrets is first by understanding what the biggest ones are and second, by taking action before its too late.
Here are some of the biggest regrets people may have as they look back upon their lives.
Sweating the Small Stuff- In surveys, the elderly report regret over having wasted so much time and energy stressing over little things of life. That’s understandable though, right? We all know that at the end of the day, not to mention the end of our lives, it probably doesn’t really matter that your spouse forgot to take out the trash, or that your dog pooped on the carpet, or that you had a bad hair day.
Letting those things go can free up so much energy that we can redirect towards appreciating the big stuff. Worrying is the number one way of wasting precious time, time that you can never get back, which in turn severely affects your happiness, so if you’re going to do it, make sure it’s about something important.
Not Making Amends- It’s no surprise that not making amends with old friends and family members is a regret. Sure, sometimes we need to let go of toxic people in our lives. Other times, we hold grudges that aren’t healthy and definitely don’t make us happy.
Always take a minute to reflect on each situation. There is definitely at least one opportunity to make amends that popped into your head when you heard the statement, right? Think about whether you really want to move on or if you might want to mend that bridge. Remember that sometimes making amends isn’t about making the other person feel better, but about your mental wellbeing, letting go of anger or bitterness, or some other unhealthy emotion.
Words left unsaid- Another way that fear stops us from living our lives to the fullest is that so often we are afraid to speak our minds, to tell people how we feel, or to say something that might make us vulnerable. Of course, that includes the usual suspects: “I love you,” and “I’m sorry.” But withholding your feelings when you’re struggling, hurt, or upset can cause just as much damage to our relationships and lead to serious regret in the long-term. Choose your words wisely, we don’t want to be hurtful, but say what you feel. When you don’t you are withholding a little bit of the truth inside.
Not following their passion.- Again, most of us aren’t exactly encouraged to follow our passions in this workaholic society that believes in a conventional life of having a good 9-5 job, loving your spouse, adorable children and an oversized home. Doing what you love doesn’t necessarily mean giving all that up and quitting your job to become a painter, or moving to Costa Rica to lead retreats every day (although it totally can, though).
Do some real reflecting on why your dream job is your dream job, and whether you’re truly setting yourself up to be happy with what you do. I encourage my clients to ask themselves: what do you want, why do you want it and what are you going to do to get it.
Unaccomplished Goals- Goals are super important, like intentions, they are the coordinates that we navigate through life with, but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I let life get in the way of completing items. Surely many people at the end of their lives have fallen into this trap and have regrets about not achieving their dreams.
Things like busy work and, let’s keep it real, laziness can hold us back. But more often than not its fear that stops us from reaching our goals. Writing down your goals is a good step, but it’s only the first step. Figure out one thing that you can do every day to get one step closer to achieving what you really want.
Working too much- Put your phone away! Having our phones in our pockets can mean constant access, making it harder than ever to mentally clock out at the end of the day. Add that to the double barrels of having a home office and that most employees aren’t encouraged to take time off of work, and it is easy to see that we live in a real workaholic culture.
Even if your job brings you genuine joy (this might be a good time to ask yourself: by the way, does it?) and you tend to overwork yourself, at some point you’ll probably regret not having carved out more free time to explore the other things you love. I love what I do, but it comes at an energetic price. I must always be mindful that I need to recharge my batteries so that I can show up for those whom I serve in my best and highest way.
Worrying too much about what others think.- Everyone struggles with this self-consciousness in a different way, and for many it takes a long time to overcome. Interestingly, we all tend to walk around worrying what others think of us. But think about it for a minute, how much time do you actually spend analyzing others and judging their decisions? Not much really and neither do I. When it comes right down to it, they are probably not concerned with analyzing you a thousandth as much as you’re doing it to yourself.
The sooner we let go of this inhibition, the sooner we’ll be able to be our true selves and focus the things that actually bring us joy.
Taking life too seriously. – It’s difficult to fully imagine which of our stressors, achievements, failures, and dreams will still seem important to us when we’re on our deathbeds. But you can probably come up with a pretty good idea in the moment if you need to. Many of the things that we believe are “the end of the world” in the moment won’t even matter in 10 to 20 years, maybe even in a month.
It’s easy to remind ourselves not to sweat the little things, but sometimes we need reminding that those ‘big’ stressors might not actually be so big either. Plus, most times you have no control over them, just the way you react to them. So, take the time to put things into perspective and learn to laugh a little more.
Not listening to their intuition. – We all know what will make us happy—and often, it’s not even buried that deep down. We can get a little mixed up and need to correct our course sometimes, but we also know what it feels like to be drawn towards one decision only to have our instinct tell us to go in another direction.
Not listening to that instinct can get us into all kinds of messes that can feel completely overwhelming; winding up in a career that you don’t enjoy, in a city you don’t love, or neglecting a passion that you slowly let fall to the side. Check in with yourself—that intuition wants to be heard.
Not spending more time with family and friends. In the end, our relationships with family, friends, and partners bring us more joy than working or superficial successes do. At the end of their lives, people so often regret not having spent more time with their kids, not having been a better spouse, and not keeping in touch with friends and relatives.
Luckily, this is a fairly easy one to fix: look at your calendar for the week, figure out how much time you spend in the office or doing household duties, and compare that to how much free time you have. Schedule in spending times with your loved ones, just like you would any other appointment.
For young people in particular, regret, although painful to experience, can be a helpful emotion. The pain of regret can result in refocusing and taking corrective action or pursuing a new path. However, the less opportunity one has to change the situation, the more likely it is that regret can turn into rumination and trigger chronic stress that damages mind and body.
What Can We Do to Cope With Regret?
We can harness the functional aspects of regret, which, like all emotions, has a function for survival. It is our brain’s way of telling us to take another look at our choices, a signal that our actions may be leading to negative consequences. Regret is a major reason why addicts get into recovery.
If there is nothing you can do to change the situation, let it go. If you get stuck blaming yourself and regretting past actions, this could turn into depression and damage your self-esteem. Find a way to forgive yourself and let it go. You could think about what you would say to a loved one in the same situation to make them feel better. Most people have an easier time forgiving others than themselves.
Make sure you are not taking too much blame. Consider the circumstances that may have made it more difficult to make good choices in that particular instance, or the fact that you had limited knowledge at the time. Perhaps you had to make a quick decision under time pressure or had multiple stresses going on.
Reframe the situation more positively. Think about life as a journey. Everybody makes mistakes. They can be opportunities to learn important lessons about yourself—including your values, vulnerabilities, and triggers—as well as about other people. You can also use past regrets to decide how to take better care of yourself in the future.
Regret can be an aversive emotion impacting life-satisfaction. However, if regret is confronted appropriately, it can have a positive effect. Regret can lead to a retrospective analysis that may help people understand the reason why they thought or acted as they did. At that time, there may have been a specific reason. By making sense of their past thoughts or actions, individuals may:
Feel less pain, remorse, and self-condemnation; Change their thoughts and behavior that will lead to a desired outcome; Learn from their mistakes and incorporate this into their subsequent decisions and actions.
Regret is an emotional mechanism. If one ruminates on lost opportunities, then regret becomes maladaptive and can stymie growth. On the other hand, if regret reminds us that our time is short and that opportunities may be transitory, it helps us strive for a life well-lived.
On a daily level, being self-aware can help you make incremental changes. But after decades of making those small adjustments, hopefully we can avoid sharing some of the common regrets listed above and instead harness the functional aspects of regret. I hope to learn from these lessons and continue to live a “no regrets” kind of life and I hope you can, too