Bob Denny: I regret that


Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

I sure wish I hadn’t done that!

Have you ever said that? In my human growth and development psychology class at Florida Gateway College, I assigned a group exercise in which students studied their own teenage years, and examined their successes, failures, and regrets.

How did they do it? Working in groups, they discussed their experiences and considered things they could have done different, if they had the chance. In doing the exercise, they worked on generating better choices they could have made. These better choices could be used to help them with future choices they will face.

If we can learn from our mistakes, we may be better able to deal with future problems, emergencies and crises, and make the best of the challenges we’ll face. We can learn to see problems as challenges, and as opportunities, in which we can learn and grow and use to build better lives for ourselves. Working together, the class came up with really good ideas.

As we grew up, we learned experiences from life that helped us to survive youth, and become mature adults. We also probably picked up some emotional scars, from some traumatic events. But what we became is partly a result of choices we made about meeting those challenges, and what we decided to do. You have the power to take charge of your life, and make it into the life you want. Even by dreaming of a better life you start the ball rolling, and makes you want to build towards an even better life.

Psychologists have several approaches to explain how we learn, grow, and develop into mature adults. How can we use psychology to help us make important choices in life?

Psychological behaviorists say it’s not what happens to us in life, but what we do about it. The way we act causes the way we feel. There’s actually been research that if we are asked to smile during an interview or experiment, we actually report being happier when asked about it after the study is done. And, when we smile others are likely to be more supportive and to feel better about us. Change the way you act, and you change your life.

Humanistic psychologists take another helpful approach. Let’s take an acorn as an example. If the acorn falls on rocky or poor soil, and doesn’t get its needs met for water and support, it will be stunted and weak. It may never succeed at all. It may die and never become the great oak tree it could be. Like the acorn, if we don’t get our needs met, if we’re not supported and nurtured and given opportunity in our lives, if we aren’t able to overcome life’s hurdles, we’ll never reach our full potential and be the great people we could become. We need to nurture ourselves, by seeking opportunities to learn and grow, and develop our potential talents and knowledge. As the acorn can become a magnificent huge oak tree, we can build happy successful lives for ourselves, and make the most of what we’ve got to work with.

Finally, there’s a newer school of thought called “narrative therapy.” Take the time and the thought to see your life as a story, with a meaning, a purpose and a plot, then you can have a chance to rewrite your own story, and to make it the story you want it to be.

It’s your life; the most precious thing you’ve got. Don’t waste it judging yourself harshly, or living with unnecessary regrets. You can decide to change the way you think about the past, and to make your life now and in the future the best it can be. Make your life the best life you can with what you’ve got to work with.

Bob Denny teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College, and has been a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. Share your ideas and comments at Bob.Denny8@gmail.com.

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