The Path Not Travelled
Regret, self-blame, ruminating, and replaying a past event, all have something in common. They all try to use mental energy to change what’s unchangeable – the past.
Most of us have had the experience of having our thoughts return again and again to some past stressful event, and we think “if I just review this one more time”, or “I need to think about this a little more” and we think we will come to understand what really happened, and that by doing so, it will get better. But we also learn that generally doesn’t happen, that in fact doing so makes it worse.
Any thought we focus on too much for an extended period of time will take on a life of its own. Those thoughts we ruminate upon will come back to our minds and haunt us.
In my hypnotherapy practice, I’ve met many people who could not stop their minds from overthinking and ruminating. I didn’t need to tell my clients how negative, tiring, useless or even harmful constant rumination can be. They already knew that. And they would often suffer from side-effects such as anxiety and depression. They came to my office because they wanted to learn how to stop ruminating.
That often means, when a person contacts me, they have already tried many other things. Fighting with the thoughts, affirmations for self-reassurance, CBT, meditation, other addictive behaviours such as drinking or shopping, and found them either ineffective or more destructive.
Through regression, a person can revisit that past moment more objectively and neutrally with their present awareness. The present self thus can have an opportunity to see that the past self was doing the best they could, knowing what they knew, and thus forgiveness can occur, and the emotional charge can be let go.
As a hypnotherapist, I also tell stories to illustrate how the mind, unexamined, is quite dysfunctional. One of the stories I often tell is that of a devoted monk on his day off. He gets up early and prepares to spend his entire free day in the Meditation Hall for meditation and study. On his way there, he comes across his friend, another monk, who looks quite excited and is hurrying on his way in another direction.
“Where are you going?” The monk asks his friend, curious where he was going.
“I’m going to the town, to meet some women, have some drinks, and have great fun.” The friend answers. Then he asks back, ‘Where are you going this early morning?
“Oh, I’m heading for the Meditation Hall. I want to do more study and meditation.” The monk answers. “Have a good day then!”
“You too.” The two monks part their ways.
The rest of the day, the first monk is very disturbed, no matter how much he is trying to meditate and study, his mind is busy thinking of his friend who is having a great time drinking and hanging out with women. With that picture in his mind, he finds his own day very boring.
And unknown to him, his friend’s mind is also very disturbed for the rest of his day. No matter how much he tries to convince himself that he is having a good time, in the back of his mind, he keeps thinking of his friend who has such devotion and dedication, as a monk should be. A guilty feeling accompanies his “great fun” day.
Both monks wish they were doing the opposite.
Connecting with stories like this, sometimes in hypnosis, I let my client’s subconscious mind, which has access to different timelines, take us to a probable past, where they have chosen what they think they “should have” or “could have” chosen, so they can give themselves a close look what could happen. More often than not, to their surprise, they find themselves ending up in regret in another way, much like the two monks.
Is the path we haven’t traveled better or worse? It’s a decision we make in our minds. As physical beings, we can only choose one path at a time. Therefore, it’s always wise to decide the path I have chosen, or I will choose, is the best one.
On another side of the same coin, is overthinking about the future. Even though one can argue, unlike the past, the future is changeable, overthinking can actually stop us from changing it, as we become too afraid of taking any action. We weigh the pros and cons of a decision over and over to the point that we become afraid of making any decision, which of course is the worst decision. Overthinking actually impairs problem-solving abilities, because overthinkers are under the false belief that they are working on a problem when in fact, they are creating a problem. Overthinking is normally caused by the need to perform perfectly.
The relaxation response is always good to practice in order to learn how to stop ruminating and how to stop overthinking. Happiness is not attached to what we choose. Happiness itself is just another choice.