‘Counterfactual thinking’ is the human tendency to ponder what if… or if only…
For example, someone might think to herself ‘If only I’d made a speech at my sister’s 21st, she would know exactly how awesome I think she is.’
Or, ‘What if I’d had the foresight to go to Toastmasters every week for a year leading up to Potahter’s 21st birthday and I suddenly loved the spotlight so much that I not only did a speech, but also an interpretative dance to demonstrate how much fun we’ve had together over the years?’
‘What if this dance artfully and eloquently conveyed to the thoroughly engrossed audience how we used to dress in identical clothes when we were little, how Potahter would follow me round and how I loved it, how a man on a plane once asked her to laugh less loudly please and how it made me want to bash him?’ What a dance it would be.
According to psychologists, counterfactual thinking can lead to regret and regret can go a few different ways. It can niggle away at you like a stone in your shoe, send you spiraling into depression or be an uplifting force that pushes you to learn and grow.
The Internet has some tips on how to embrace regret and move forward. (Tangentially, the Internet also has tips on how to make your dog smell better, how to dress in gamine style, how to build an LED camcorder and how to hide that you’re on a diet.) The key points for overcoming regret are: ask for forgiveness and make amends, grieve, examine what you have learned and make a plan for the future.
To get the ball rolling, I have something to ask. Will you, Potahter, forgive me for not making a speech at your 21st?
I know that on the scale of things people do to one another it’s no biggie but I really do feel bad. There are so many things I could have said. I had six years to experience the world before you came along so I know for certain my life is better with you by my side.
Please get back to me soon and let me know what you think. I’m keen to move on to the next stage (grieving and examining what I have learned) and after that I’ll make a plan for my future.
First thoughts are it’ll involve 17 years of Toastmasters so I’ll be ready to speak at your 40th. If that doesn’t work, I’ll just get really drunk.