What do these have in common?
“I’m so dumb, I can’t believe I stayed with him so long.”
“I could have gotten that promotion, I don’t know why I didn’t do what was necessary to get it.”
“We shouldn’t have played that song, the crowd didn’t like it.”
“We could have won that game, if I had just shot instead of passed!”
“I never should have written her that letter.”
“Why did we hire those scumbags? Everyone warned us against them and we just didn’t listen.”
These are all example of time traveling. Everyday we time travel, and it’s bad for our health and our happiness. Learning to identify it helps us stop doing it.
What is time travel?
Time Traveling is when you apply your current thinking onto your past self. You judge your self in the past for making decisions, causing unnecessary guilt and pain. Why is it unnecessary? You couldn’t have possibly made any other decision. You made the best one you could at the time. This is unquestionable—although you may not remember why you thought it was the right decision at the time, its impossible to make a decision that didn’t seem to have the best payoff in the moment you made it, or else you wouldn’t have made that decision. More simply: You didn’t know what you know now, so stop pretending like you made a mistake. You didn’t.
If you went back in time and made the decision over again, with only the amount of information you had then, you’d make the exact same choice. Duh, that’s what you did. So don’t go back in time and pretend like you had more information, crucifying yourself for something you had no control over.
What to Do Instead
Every moment is a new opportunity to choose again. Instead of going back in the past and blaming yourself for a mistake you didn’t make, because you couldn’t have done anything else in those past circumstances, you learn from what happened and plan for the future. You apply your new knowledge onto situations which might be similar—that are going on currently or might happen. You can practice, building habits of “better” decisions by imagining yourself in a related choice, but making the one you know now will bring you greater peace, and be more aligned with what you want.
Remember that you could never make these so-called “better” decisions if you hadn’t learned from your so-called “mistakes” in the past. They are an integral piece of who you are. There’s no need to regret what was, because it will never be again.
As human beings, we’re constantly time traveling. It might have been a really useful skill when we needed guilt to motivate us to do good things. But almost anyone reading this article has evolved beyond that, and can choose to do good actions for the sake of themselves, not just to avoid self-punishment.
I challenge you to rise above time travel. You might start seeing it in friends, and then notice it in yourself. You might be surprised at how often it happens, and how much better your life can be without it.