When You Say, “I Wish…”

mental wellbeing

Many of us would barely make it through the first hour of a day without saying or thinking these two words, “I wish…”.  People say it all the time, now isn’t that the truth?

Of course, what I am not referring to, is when we ‘make a wish’, like when we blow candles out on a birthday cake, or when we flip a coin into a wishing well.   But what I am talking about, is all the other times in everyday life, when you say, “I wish…”.

The next time you hear someone uttering the words, “I wish…” be really listening.  Notice what comes next.  Nearly always, out will roll a story of ‘regret’.     “I wish I hadn’t forgotten my keys”.  “I wish I hadn’t been speeding”.  “I wish I had gone to University”.  “I wish I had bought the house by the sea”.  “I wish I had taken that job”.  “I wish I had helped my mother more”.  “I wish I hadn’t wasted my life”. “I wish I had been a better father”.  Our “I wish…” lists, are endless.

Here’s why it matters.  Regret colours our thinking negatively, or tinges our emotional state with feelings of sadness, remorse or disappointment.  The unhealthy part is self-blame.  We ponder an outcome different to the way life played out.  And, despite what’s in the past, we keep carrying this burden of blame like an unquenchable flame.

Regret is tied to choices, perceived opportunities, and responses of action or inaction.  Lingering internal voices flowing from regret can haunt us and hold us in harsh judgement about past mistakes, misfortune and misadventure.  Our minds may run wild imagining what might have been if only we had chosen a different path.  Feeding off regret can keep us from the freedom to live more contentedly and positively.

There are some people who learn to channel regret in a healthier way.  They look at it through a different lens.  What they see is the chance to glean special insight from their setbacks and sorrow.  Their situations, including all the curveballs experienced, are seen from another perspective.  This gives them an upside.  They use their newfound insight positively, by making life choices that lead to more favourable outcomes.

Regrets are the ashes of yesterday, and because we don’t know what tomorrow holds, only now counts.  To break free from the cycle of regret, there is a remedy.  Like anything worthwhile it takes commitment and effort.  But if you’re ready and willing to draw a line in the sand, to leave the past in the past, and prepared to accept that the present is now what matters most, then it is possible to move forward. 

The way it works, is to turn “I wish…” into “I did…”.  This is simply a shift of focus.  Switching focus is a choice.  You hold the power to make that choice.  So, here’s what to do.  From now on, right up until you reach your finish line, accumulate the biggest list of “I did…” actions that you possibly can.   Instead of “I WISH…   thinking”, fix your attention on creating “I DID…   moments”.  As you invest yourself in building the biggest “I did…” list you possibly can, you’ll be on your way to enjoying a more satisfying, fulfilled and purposeful life. 

ROHAN WATSON is a member of the Australian Counselling Association and a general member of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience.  He holds qualifications in Psychology, Counselling and Education from Monash University and USQ.  As a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Mental Health Researcher, Rohan is dedicated to helping unlock the potential in people to live life happily and more purposefully. Rohan provides specialist counselling and wellbeing coaching services to people from all walks and seasons of life by phone, video or face-to-face.  He has facilitated and delivered mental health programs across rural and remote Australia and provides professional psychotherapy services to employees at all levels nationally through EAP based services.  Rohan has a special interest in the online delivery of mental wellness programs and his current research for a Master’s thesis is focusing on early intervention mental wellbeing in SMEs. Learn more here.