A thought came to me the other day as I sat watching a friend nurse her six week old baby. What would life be like if, at any time we wanted, we could press a button and restart? That’s it. Like a computer game that is clearly going nowhere, we could just go back to the beginning and start again. I started wondering first of all if I had this option how far back would I go. Then I also thought would I even do it if I could?
It’s all a fantasy
Perhaps this is a bit of hindsight fantasy at work. You know, we all say in hindsight we would have taken different actions. If I had known what I know now I would have made different decisions. Or maybe if we knew we could restart we would play full out, take more risks, go for the experiences we truly crave. Either way our current reality dishes up mistakes, regrets and experiences we wish could be reversed or undone.
Well following through on the do-over fantasy is easier said than done. There are a few times in my life when I have consciously tried the do-over. Not as consciously as pressing the restart button, but pretty close. At the time my decisions seemed purposeful, justified and forward thinking. Yet, in reality I was trying to live out my do-over fantasy.
(A little disclaimer: For the purpose of illustrating my point I will share some personal examples. Why? Well I feel I can legitimately be an authority on my life. For me to share another’s example in this post is borrowing without being able to allow a voice. So bear with me and be kind.)
One example, hard to admit but true, is when I purposely did not attend a final exam in my Organic Chemistry class at university. Being a high achiever, I could not face the fact that I was not doing well in the class. So somehow I got it in my stubborn, fear of failure, head that if I received a grade of “F” rather than a “D” it would look better. Looking back on this logic I clearly was waylaid by my avoidance-happy idealism. So, I repeated the subject, determined to do my best, only to discover that I didn’t. My grade I now do not recall. Maybe I got lucky and earned a “C”. Who knows?
But in looking back, what I didn’t realize was that my efforts to avoid doing the subject were a big message to me. At some level I did not want to go in this direction, study or career wise. It was about that time that I redirected my studies from the three year attempt at pre-medicine to something that really got me going - psychology. Once I switched focus I never looked back. For the time being my do-over fantasies were on hold.
Caught by others opinion
What the conscious failure choice shows me now is how I took the difficult path rather than the easy path. If I had listened more clearly to my self, paid attention to my own interests and desires earlier on, I perhaps would not have ended up in the situation in the first place. My intense fear of failure preyed so heavily on me that I was not myself. I was so distant from any sense of my self, I could not make neither logical nor intuitive decisions.
Further reflection, thrown in with some observation of others, shows a few more insights. I note that lack of awareness comes up when we blindly follow what ‘someone else says we should do’. We go down a path, do what the ‘expert’ says and then before we know it we are even farther from our own truth than before. Inside a gap opens wide, a cavern of doubt takes over and we are left straddling two entirely different worlds. What I mean is that if we only listen to what other people have to say and ignore our own inner voice we end up lost. When we listen to our own inner voice we can go forward confidently, EVEN if it means not knowing where.
Value based decisions lead the way
Let me share an example of the latter. At a few points in my career, both working in companies and outside of companies, I was asked to do work that challenged my values. Not wanting to disparage the people involved I simply can say that there are situations where I answered yes too quickly following the shadow of the ‘should’s’ in the back of my head, under pressure, only soon regretting my choice. What ensued in each repeat of this pattern was the inevitable inner turmoil. You know, the tension of doing what I knew inside was not right. The frustration of handing over my authority AND autonomy to the direction of another. Forsaking my intelligence, knowledge, experience and most of all intuitive knowing that what I was doing was not right.
So it came to be that in each of these situations my ignorance and avoidance resulted in me physically being ill, or at least suffering the effects of stress. I found myself creating worse situations for myself by expressing anger inappropriately or not finishing work to my normally high standard. It was not until I cleared the air that all came good.
At the same time there was a cost. Why? Because when I subdued my true self, no one had any idea what I really meant or stood for. Plus internally I continued to create situations I wished I could do-over. I fed the fantasy on a regular basis without anyone else knowing.
You see I got really good at fitting in, being the pretender and going along with the status quo long enough to get the job done. But over the years my ability to pretend started to evaporate. Internally I longed to be me, authentic real, do-over all the wrong choices.
Antidote to do-over fantasy?
So when what I really wanted to say or be came out it would be a surprise. Finally with no one other than me to rely on or defend my position I finally stated my position from the out set. A revelation. How liberating. I no longer had to wish I could do-over the situation. Instead when faced with a difficult value based, moral dilemma (well internally it was such to me) I was able to say and do the right thing by me.
Oh that sounds so selfish, but what I mean is that I stood up for my integrity. I let people know where I stood enough for me to be equal in the equation. You see my goals never were and never will be to be better than someone. My goal is to always be equal. This makes my perspective just as important as the other person’s.
The application of this perspective then becomes the challenge - especially when pitted against another. So it is in this context that I say to you when you start fantasizing about a life restart then it’s time to stop, check in and determine what you are avoiding and not acknowledging. It is time to look in the mirror and ask yourself who are you being – you or someone you think you should be?
Do you have a do-over fantasy gone wild?
Because we are often unaware of our do-over fantasy it is important to stop and reflect. The idea of checking in is a good way to start to build a sense of self-awareness and close the gap between your behavior and your true sense of self.
Given you and I aren’t sitting here chatting in person I will offer the next best thing…a few questions. Well sending you a coffee might be nice too.
I believe that we all have within us parts that want to restart and parts that help us stay true to ourselves. This may not be as simple as ego versus heart. However when we can distinguish between our fear and our authentic self then we are on the right track. The do-over fantasy takes energy from our ability to enjoy living life now and in the present.
Wanting to restart:
What are you embarrassed about that you wish you never did?
What stories from your past do you wish to remain untold?
What decisions can you recall where you gave in and followed the lead of another only to regret doing so later?
Not wanting to restart:
When have you moved past the restart?
What decisions can you recall where you stood your ground, spoke your truth?
Where have you stopped in your tracks in life and said now what?
Restart - yes or no:
If someone could wave a magic wand right now and tell you that you could restart your life again would you? If so why? What for?
Even if you had this magic wand what will you gain by shifting your focus away from the restart idea?
Reflection is one step towards letting go of the need to restart
Now lets assume you manage to get through reading these questions. Let’s even get more ambitious and hope that you reflected and expressed your thoughts and emotions around these questions. Either way just the act of stopping to reflect on these questions may have unlocked something in you.
How do you know? Well check in. What is happening now compared to earlier with regard to your emotions? Your physical body? Your thoughts? Or even that deep unexplainable aspect of yourself? At some level if you give yourself the moment to go to the places you are invited to by these questions you will discover your pattern. Then you can acknowledge it and begin to shift purposely.
Now what? Well it’s one thing to know the answers. It’s one thing to reflect. But it is a completely different thing to act on and create a change from these patterns. So start to take notice, journal, talk about your insights, play with some new ways of being and see what happens. Above all be gentle with yourself and start now rather than restart again.