I’m sitting looking out of the window at my garden. Outside, it’s grey and blustery, but warm. Here in England it almost feels like Spring. Daffodil spears are pushing valiantly through the cold soil. Winter seems to have passed us by. But it’s still only early February, it could go either way….winter may still come roaring back.
The New Year too arrived with its promises of a new life, a chance for us to do things differently in 2016.
We resurrect resolutions, hopes and expectations…and maybe even some concrete plans, for the year ahead. Some of these, we’ll make inroads to achieving.
Others will remain in the ‘Back Room of Good Intention’.
Some will be abandoned after a few weeks (usually the ones to do with diet and exercise regimes!) By this stage into the year, I guess you’ll all know which category your resolutions fall into.
But there’s another side to the New Year, one that can cause us a measure of disquiet. It’s the flip side of resolutions and expectation…
…It’s the spectre of ‘what ifs’.
The symbol for January is after all, Janus, the Roman two-faced God, who faced forwards, but also faced backwards.
New Year can also be a time when we reflect on the year that’s just gone, and there, alongside all the good (and not so good) times, we might light upon ‘The Great Imponderables’ –
Those decisions we didn’t take,
The route we didn’t go down,
The opportunity we let go by,
The relationship we didn’t follow up on….
And there it is, hanging in the air…
What would have happened if …? Did I make the right decision?
Sometimes, that unanswerable question can throw us into a morass of self-doubt, recrimination and regret. Particularly if life currently isn’t a bed of roses, that imagined alternative future can seem like a lost chance, a better life thrown away…and of course we blame ourselves. Who else is there to blame!
This is not a happy place to be.
You might be thinking – What has all this to do with introverts finding our courage and our voices?
Well, potentially, a great deal!
You see, as introverts, we tend naturally to think long and hard about our decisions. We research the options, we listen to our intuition, our value systems, we weigh up the pros and cons. We may even tabulate them! We don’t easily share this process. It’s internal.
You might think that this makes us better, clearer decision makers. Well, sadly not necessarily. We may amass a huge arsenal of information to guide our decision…but it doesn’t always lead to a decision!
The introvert leaning is towards analysis, over-thinking and often perfectionism and its companion procrastination.
Not easy bed-fellows to decision making!
We are also by nature cautious and risk-averse.
Making decisions – important, life-changing ones – can be agonising. We want to get it right, but how will we really know what the right decision is when the options are not between good and bad, but better and best, or two seemingly ‘equal’ pathways? We can be racked with self-doubt and recrimination.
We might be further paralysed by ‘black and white thinking’, leading us to believe that if there is a right path to take, then the alternative choice must be wrong and lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences! The result of this kind of polarised thinking is that we can find ourselves unable to make any kind of decision because the stakes are just too high. We go round and round in circles. We become frozen by indecision.
Anyone thinking of Hamlet here? More to the point, anyone recognise themselves here too?
These tendencies we have as quiet people prove a potent cocktail, one that makes decision making difficult and extremely stressful. Often, we decide NOT to make a decision.
We forget that avoiding making a decision is (sorry to remind you!) making a decision! You just decided to pass on it, to keep things as they are…..that’s still a decision. And it’s a common introvert decision…..because we value security and safety, we often decide to stay with the status quo.
Some years ago, I found myself inexplicably listening to that siren voice of regret.
I say inexplicably because it focused on a decision I had taken MANY years before. It was a decision not to take an opportunity that was offered to me. It was a sparkling and rare prize that was totally unexpected and unsought. I felt honoured, but oddly not tempted to take it up. For years, I never thought about it again, then a change in career caused regret and doubt to raise their ugly heads.
Regret is not a comfortable feeling, but when it revolves around a decision you made years ago (and didn’t doubt at the time), it’s a pointless exercise too!
We can’t go back and change things.
Regret only erodes our belief in ourselves and our ability to make good choices in the future.
It causes us to live in the past, and miss the blessings (and opportunities) of the moment.
It steals our confidence. It takes away our clear, confident voice.
That’s not to say that we can’t learn from past decisions. Undoubtedly we can, but we need to forgive ourselves, let go of tormenting ourselves, turn our backs on believing that our future has been set in stone by past mistakes in order for us to be open to learn anything in the process.
Holding onto regret ties us to the past, holds us back and can prevent us from taking personal responsibility for our shining futures.
I don’t believe nowadays in giving regret any rent-space in my life. I am officially serving him his Eviction Notice! As of now. And so should you.
So, I’m sharing with you my own personal ‘Eviction Notice’.
You do not have to live with regret as a lodger in your life for one second more! Get rid of regret and you free yourself up to begin to enjoy what life has for you up ahead, without the fear of taking a wrong path. You can confidently explore and discover who you were really created to be, and begin to find and use your unique voice and message.
So remind yourself of these things:
* That a decision made by the person I once was, cannot be questioned by the ‘me I now am’. We rarely consciously make decisions that will harm us, so the ‘past me’ did the best she could with the tools and information she had at the time. The ‘present me’ cannot judge her. I will choose to stop blaming myself.
* That life is not usually made up of good or bad decisions. The decisions we make and the reasons behind our choosing one option over another (to take up this career or that one, to choose this relationship over another) are complex. Regret tries to tell us that we have ‘missed out’. That the path we did not take was filled with sunshine and rainbows and fulfilment. That the reason our lives are NOT filled with all these goodies is precisely because we ‘took the wrong path’ ….but we are the executors of our own happiness and opportunities, whatever path we take. The path itself is not filled with sunshine, we carry that with us on the journey. It’s up to us.
* Beside my desk is a bookmark given to me years ago. It reminds me that He who created the universe knows the hairs on my head and sees every path that I take. He is not thrown by my ‘wrong turns’. They do not keep Him up at night as they do me. To Him, they are ‘small fry’. He can turn things to good again, just as the potter re-shaping spoiled clay.
And finally, a lesson from my satnav!
* I love it that when I take a wrong turn, or miss a turning, that my satnav doesn’t shout at me, or tell me that I’m stupid, but calmly instructs me to ‘turn around where possible’. Sometimes of course, it isn’t possible, and then she obligingly finds an alternative road, and we get there in the end. Often by the scenic route.
And sometimes life is like that. That we end up at our destination in the end, despite our wrong turns, led home by a different route. One we didn’t plan, and it maybe took a little longer, but we enjoyed the scenery and were brought home safely in the end.
So don’t allow regret to sabotage your peace and happiness this year. Serve him his eviction notice and then change the locks!
And take this old, but still powerful verse from Minnie Louise Haskins with you instead into the New Year –
‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown”
And he replied,
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way”
‘Til next time …