Sometimes guilt or regret over something in the past can be hard to banish from our thoughts and feelings, even with great “experience re-framing” tools such as I shared with you in Dr. Simington’s article last week.
When you don’t release your sense of regret and forgive yourself – either because you don’t try the tools at all, or because you don’t devote the time and attention to the process that will really bear fruit – it could mean there is something about holding on to that particular regret that you think is actively helping you now.
What on earth could we think hanging on to regret over a past situation actually accomplishes for us? Well, we may think it’s keeping us safe – a very powerful, very primal motivation for most people.
For example, if you regret not asking for a raise when you thought you had an opening six months ago, you may have come up with very plausible explanations for why you “chickened out,” such as:
- “I don’t feel like I’ve really earned it,” or
- “I think she was hinting that she’s been disappointed in my performance,” or
- “I heard a rumor that the company isn’t doing so well right now, so I don’t want to rock the boat,” or
- “If I seem too greedy or concerned about money they might think I’m disloyal, or even fire me,” or
- “With the intense competition out there, if I become too expensive they may find a reason to let me go”
In other words, you’re afraid of hearing something negative about yourself, or suffering some retribution, in response to making the request. You may also be afraid, if they simply say “No,” of feeling rejected – another very strong fear for many people.
By not making the request, you are keeping yourself absolutely safe from that outcome. When you use Dr. Simington’s 4-step process and get to Step #2, that safety may seem like the only positive outcome of not asking for the raise – which is nowhere near the outcome you could have had from actually getting a raise! (Hence the regret, right?)
The problem arises when you stop there, and don’t challenge your own assumptions. You run the risk of continuing to re-convince yourself of the righteousness of your decision, in an endless loop of self-justification that prevents you from letting it go and moving forward.
In short, you allow your relative “comfort” in staying safe, rather than confront your fears, to keep you stuck. And stuck in regret can feel like a very familiar, very safe but demoralizing place to live!
The truth is, you can stay just as safe (or whatever you discover is the powerful motivation driving your stubbornly persistent regret) while simply exploring whether any of your explanations are actually true and valid reasons for letting that regret continue to run your life going forward. For example, you can discreetly find out if the company really is in financial stress, and modify your expectations – and the way you make your request – accordingly. And there are ways of asking for feedback from bosses that even the most timid of us can be comfortable enough with to try.
That’s where Step #3 can really help! Recognizing your fear, and the power it holds over you, is extraordinarily valuable information. You can start to see with compassion your previously unexplored willingness to believe things that may be nothing more than wild, baseless speculation on your part. It can actually be amusing as well as startling when you see just how willing you’ve been to let your fear make your decisions for you!
When you allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings and the self-imposed restrictions that come from harboring regret, realize that’s just where you are right now. Know that it’s perfectly ok to feel and be that way. No judgment – there’s nothing wrong with you! Just having acknowledged all that means you are now poised to consider new and different choices that never would have occurred to you before.
It’s very important to go through this examination and reflection process, because it loosens you up from your locked position. It helps you realize there are avenues for making progress while still honoring your desire to take only the risks that you feel ready to tackle. This is the key to continuing your forward movement. Remember, every step counts!
Sometimes taking that first small step is like the opening of a door that leads to unimaginable successes later.