If only there were no ‘if onlys’

About a month ago I met with an accident. A biker bumped into my car and fell down. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt; though I can’t say the same for my car. The bumper got displaced and the fog-light hung out precariously, a couple of wires saving it from falling off.

As I drove back home, many thoughts ran through my mind, all of them starting with “If only…”; “If only the biker had been careful”, “if only I had noticed the biker getting close to the car”, “if only I had taken care of the errand at a different time of the day”, and so on…

I reached home feeling sad, none of the ‘if only’ statements lifting my mood.

Incidentally, later that day I read an article that a colleague had shared – 5 ways of sabotaging yourself. I say incidentally because the first point the author talked about in the article was ‘Give up dwelling on “If only”’.

We are all too often caught up in a time warp, where we wish we could go back in time and change things. “These thoughts can follow us around for decades, and the problem with them is that they don’t lead to action,” the author says.

Similar thoughts are echoed in Dr. Spencer Johnson’s classic ‘Who moved my cheese’, where the characters Hem and Haw keep fretting about what couldn’t have been helped – the cheese running out.

The one thing I now consciously do that keeps me from falling into the trap, which is in line with what Andrea Bonior recommends in her article as well, is – whenever I catch myself saying ‘if only…’, I remind myself to ‘Not focus on what is done, but on what I can do now’.

I had a chance to apply it yesterday morning when I was participating in a 10k run. Around the 6k mark, huffing and puffing, I began to think ‘if only I had prepared better over the last couple of weeks’. Even before the thought was complete, I reminded myself to ‘focus on the present’, and what I can do now to complete the run. I decided to slow my pace, but keep running. This helped me catch my breath, increase my pace in the next round, and complete the run in a not-so-bad 73 minutes.

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