If only …

If only … the harm ‘if only’ can do

Look of despair - comes from that "if only" feeling

‘If only …’ just leads you into a downward spiral of negativity, blame, and despair.

If only … two harmless little words … harmless enough in isolation, but put them together and you have one of the saddest phrases in any language. It’s the phrase we use when we didn’t achieve what we intended to achieve. It’s what we say when things just don’t turn out right, because we screwed up somewhere along the way. It’s the thought that comes to mind when we didn’t quite stick to something long enough to see the success that might have been lurking just around the corner.

Unless you’re a very, very unusual person, you’ve had these experiences. You’ve had those moments when you realised you’ve let yourself down. There have been times when you’ve quit when the going got tough. You walked away from a job half done. You gave up on your dreams.

And that’s when you found yourself muttering, “If only …”

Why does this happen?

The problem with ‘if only’ is that it doesn’t lead anywhere positive. It leads us into navel gazing and melancholy. It makes us feel sorry for ourselves and encourages us to seek out others to share the blame with. It’s basically negative and pointless. If only things had gone my way, if only things had been different, if only I’d had the opportunity to … [feel free to add your own excuses here] …

If only - when you think that, it's already too late

“If only” never really leads anywhere …

Why on earth do we let ourselves get in this situation? Don’t we ever learn? Is it so hard to see something through to the end, really? Is it so very hard to maintain any decent level of self belief? And if it’s true that we keep doing this, is there a way to finally stop it, to put an end to this repetitive cycle of under achieving and self blaming, once and for all? In short, can it be fixed?

Well, like with almost everything else worthwhile, there is an answer, but it isn’t necessarily a simple one. It’s not a quick fix, and you won’t get to the end of this page and suddenly have a eureka moment where you realise, with blinding clarity, that the answer’s been staring you in the face all along, and it’s so, so easy. No, it’s not easy. No, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to. But I’ve screwed up often enough, and to such a staggering extent, at times, that I feel I do have some of the answers, at least (so, hey, maybe it wasn’t a complete waste of time anyway). And no, the answer to this one isn’t very simple, or very easy (two quite different things), but at least there’s hope.

We can change things, and we can become less prone to making mistakes … mistakes that might result in years and years of regrets, if we just keep a few things in mind.

What we can do about it

First, we’re only human. We make mistakes. All of us. Get over it. In fact, making mistakes is the way we learn. As little kids we learned to walk and talk and interact with the world in halting, faltering steps, some of them tinged with failure (sometimes physically painful failure), some of them, happily, successful. And, as kids, we totally accepted that that was the way of the world. We didn’t expect to experience success at every step along the way. We didn’t get too upset if we fell down. Oh, sure, we cried. Then we just got up again. We got up and we tried again, and we didn’t care who was watching. And we just didn’t really think about it too much at all really, and we soon learned not to cry every time things went wrong.

Too bad that, as grown ups we do think about it too much! We agonise over every mistake and missed opportunity, and keep coming back to it like a pup to its vomit. We blame ourselves. We search for the faults in our character, or our performance, that caused us to foul up and, since we look so assiduously and tirelessly, we find them. And we look for reasons to blame the rest of the world too. And, surprise surprise, we find those as well!

We let our self esteem suffer

Another thing we do is we weaken. We’re like a steel cable under extreme pressure … first one steel wire gives up the ghost and snaps, rendering the cable a tiny, tiny bit weaker, then, if we’re put under pressure again, sooner or later, another wire twangs, and so on. Each time, we weaken just a little tiny bit more. Our self confidence suffers with each hurt, and if it goes on unchecked, we end up with such low self esteem that we daren’t leave the house and can’t look anyone in the eye anymore. We know, deep down, that self confidence is important, yet most of the time we act like it’s just something that happens to us, and we’re powerless to intervene. So yes, self confidence is very, very important in trying times, and we should really take care that it doesn’t weaken with each hit.

Another common mistake we make is to allow our focus to wander. Where we were once totally tuned in to our goal, there comes a point where, if we’re not very careful, we let our gaze drift away from the target. It’s easy then to lose focus. The moment that happens, we’re in danger of losing altogether. Once you lose focus, you lose momentum, and when that happens, it’s the easist thing in the world to grind slowly to a halt. And you know how that feels …

So having a clearly defined goal is important. And make that a clearly defined written goal. The very act of writing a goal down on paper forces us to consider it in detail and decide on the precise wording. Just doing that defines the goal the way it needs to be defined … with great precision. And once you have that clearly defined goal, that written goal, you have to keep it in mind. So repeat it to yourself often, till it becomes clearly and definitively instilled in your mind. That’s perhaps the most dependable way to keep yourself goal-oriented.

Don’t give up … ever!

You know what else we do? We accept that this is just the way things are (but not in a good way, like we did as kids). Now we tend to accept our failures as the status quo, almost ignoring our successes. This is it, we think … this is the way it is … I try something, it doesn’t go well, after a while I lose interest, I give up … that’s it … another failure … no surprise there then. And with each failure, or shattered dream, we get closer to the point of assuming that not only will we inevitably fail each and every time, but we start to assume that we are failures too.

So what can we do to fix this? Well, for a start, we can start seeing ourselves as worthy individuals, and stop this insane acceptance of failure as the norm. Accept instead that you are basically a decent, worthwhile person, with ‘success’ stamped right through you like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. If you find it difficult to accept that, use daily affirmations. Repeat certain carefully worded phrases, time and again, till they get through to your subconscious. Make it a habit to spend a minute or two ‘working’ on your daily affirmations. I put quotes round ‘working’ because it isn’t work at all really. Instead, just think of it as committing a couple of minutes a day to to a very worthwhile task.

And if you can think of the end result of your labours, and see (and feel) the benefits of it all, those few minutes can be very pleasant indeed. You’re actually transporting yourself to the future and enjoying the pay-off before it happens in ‘real life’. When you do this, you’re automatically firing up your enthusiasm and more or less guaranteeing your success.

Getting things done

You could use the following affirmations, or some affirmations along the same lines, although you should ideally come up with some of your own. The fact that you’re personalising them will make them that much more powerful and effective.

  • I keep on keeping on. When the pressure’s on, that’s when I get stuck in!
  • I don’t give up easily. I stand fast and stand tall. I am not a quitter.
  • So, I make mistakes. So what! I carry on and get things done. I thrive on pressure!
  • I feel good about myself. I feel proud of myself. I’m a winner. It might take me a while to get where I’m going, but I don’t quit. I never give up!
  • I don’t expect things to turn out perfectly every time, and right on cue. Things take time. I can wait.
  • I’m a winner. Even if it takes time, I get there in the end. And that’s because I’m a winner! I just don’t give up … ever!

We need to bolster our confidence at every opportunity, not chip away at it at the slightest sign of failure. Oh, and there’s that word again … failure. We really need to stop thinking in terms of failure. The more we think in terms of failing at various things, the more likely we are to start thinking of ourselves as failures.

Instead, replace the word with something less objectionable. Instead of thinking you failed at something, why not just think you didn’t quite make it? Instead of thinking you failed to make the grade, why not just think how close you came, and how you just missed out. Just putting a positive spin on your thoughts, and your words, can do your self esteem no end of good.

Substitute something more positive for ‘if only’

Two little words, each one harmless and almost meaningless alone, but together and side by side they can be powerful and transforming. No, not ‘if only ..” I’m talking about two other little words, words that this time can be positive and powerful and enabling. And you can use them the moment you start to think ‘if only …” These two can change the game entirely, and put you in a position of power instead of weakness.

Instead of lingering over thoughts of ‘if only …’, why not instantly replace the thought with ‘next time …’! ‘Next time’ is filled with positivity and pregnant with thoughts of new opportunities. It urges us to turn our gaze to the future, instead of lingering morosely in the past.

Next time I’ll approach the situation differently. Next time I’ll believe in myself, and in the project I’m involved in. Next time I’ll keep the faith. Next time I’ll keep going, no matter what the odds. Next time I’ll keep my eyes on the prize. Next time I’ll keep smiling! Next time I’ll remember that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Next time … Next time …

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