Many of the most important decisions in life aren’t easy to make. Even when we know what we need to do, even when we understand what the right thing is, we usually fret and worry through it. What-iffing every outcome. When the outcome is something that also causes a feeling of loss or grief, or it is something that displeases others, we tend to beat ourselves up thinking somehow we could have done things differently.
You can get stuck in this place and drive yourself crazy with the fantasy of what might have been, or you can live well with what is and grow into the choices you’ve made.
Here are some ways to do it.
1. Get a reality check. We spend so much time wishing things were different that it keeps us from living with what is. When you cannot accept how things are you will remain stuck in the pain of how things aren’t. For example, wishing that you hadn’t been diagnosed with the illness doesn’t make the illness go away, but it might keep you from doing what you need to do to heal. Wishing you hadn’t married a jerk, doesn’t make him any less of a jerk. But, accepting what is, the reality of the situation, gives you good honest factual information to deal with the circumstances. In other words, we have all wished we had a million dollars, but that wish doesn’t show up in the bank account. When I know the amount of money I do actually have to work with, I can decide how to manage it well.
And remember this: Feeling sad about something isn’t the same as wishing you’d done it differently. You can feel the rawness of the emotion and move through it, without getting stuck in what might have been.
2. Sit with the emotions. My friend Tonya is grieving her decision to give away her dog. The dog frequently ran away and Tonya was stressed by constantly chasing after the animal — with her two young sons in tow. She worried that one day she would find the dog lying by the side of the road after being hit by a car. After years of trying different things, Tonya decided to do it differently. She and her family found the dog a new home. Even though Tonya knew that the decision was the right one, it wasn’t an easy one to make. The only way to deal with it, she decided, was to sit with the emotion of it all.
For Tonya, that meant wrestling with her feelings of failure and guilt, and allowing herself to also experience the positive feelings of relief and peace that she also felt. By being honest about her emotions, she also felt herself opening up more to her family and friends.
The experience she says, has “softened and slowed me and that feels good but scary.”
It’s also helped her to become more present to what is and to connect more deeply with others by recognizing that everyone has their own pain and challenge to contend with.
“Finally,” she says, “It is about being okay with my choice despite my inner drive to make it work. And, letting go of that “never give up” mentality. No one likes to feel like she has failed. It’s impossible to not feel that when making a hard decision. But, ‘giving up,’ relinquishing, whatever….sometimes is okay and even better.”
3. Seek support. You don’t have to go through it alone. Commiserate with friends, reach out. Ask for help. Find people to share your experience with and listen to theirs. All of us have met with tough choices, and we’ve survived them. You’ll find some support and hidden wisdom by sharing your experience with people you trust. Don’t feel like opening to friends? Find a support group and share your story.
4. Reframe the situation. As long as you’re focused on the agony of the decision you made, or how differently you wished things were, you will be stuck in the pain of it. Instead, shift your mindset. Acknowledge the challenge, but also seek out the possibility for the new situation. Though Tonya was sad and stressed about giving up her dog, she was also able to recognize the other reality, which is without chasing and worrying about the dog, she has more energy and attention to give her family. Every situation holds many truths, look for those that are helpful, expansive and contain the gift and you can move through the change. This will allow you to find meaning in the experience and learn to trust yourself so that next time you are faced with a tough choice, you’ll know that no matter what, you’ll get through it gracefully.