If you have ever said those words (or thought them), you probably imagined an alternate timeline when you were able to correct a mistake or make a different decision about something that led to your current situation.
Leaving aside the current reality that time is very much a linear experience in one direction, it is appealing to think we could be living a better life if only we made different choices.
I’ve certainly thought about it. Each time I considered the hypothetical possibility that I could go back in time and change something, I arrived at the same conclusion: I would probably lose the wonderful things I have in my life too.
If I gave a different answer then a relationship would have ended sooner and I wouldn’t have made that [insert adjective here] decision later. Then I could have avoided [insert consequences here] and I would be so much better off now!
Sure, if I had 3 wishes and a genie to grant them I’d probably make a couple changes here and there (I’ve thought about this too!). I doubt they would be as dramatic as you may think.
I’ve come to understand that all my past mistakes also involved a series of decisions that led me to this life with a wonderful wife and children and an opportunity to have the experiences I have today.
More recently, I also realised that this idea that we could make different choices to affect our future lives isn’t just a phenomenon of the past. It is very much part of our present too.
One of the reasons why we all love Calvin and Hobbes. Living life to the fullest in every moment! pic.twitter.com/63tBPOchId
— Calvin and Hobbes (@Calvinn_Hobbes) October 20, 2016
This isn’t quite a “Road Not Taken” realisation. Instead what I realised is that each decision we make could one day become that decision we will wish we could have made differently.
It is easy to wish we could be transported back in time to correct a wrong at some perceived pivotal point in our lives. It is also easy to imagine that, by correcting that wrong and making a different decision, we would place our future selves in a far better position. It’s easy because we know we can’t go back in time.
Unfortunately, that desire to change something we can’t influence also keeps us tied to the past and prevents us from moving forward with the life we have now.
What we can influence, though, is the next decision we make. What if we project ourselves forward a few years and consider what impact a decision may have on our lives? Perhaps we could glimpse a likely future and make a better decision now and save ourselves that future angst.
We all make mistakes. I make mistakes daily. Some are minor, others not so much. Learning from those mistakes is an important step towards greater self-awareness and not repeating them.
I think it is also possible to make better decisions and smaller mistakes with a little imagination and foresight. In the process, perhaps we’ll also find ourselves wondering: “If I could just go back in time and do that differently …” a little less often in the future.
Featured image credit: Pixabay