If I were going to do a David Letterman style "Top Ten List" of things counselors hear most, "I wish I hadn't done that" (or "said that") would be right up there.
Of course, the items on Letterman's lists are supposed to be funny. I'm afraid my list wouldn't offer much to laugh about.
That's especially true when it comes to "I wish I hadn't done that" (or "said that"). For most -- probably all -- of us, there are a whole lot of words and deeds in our past that, in retrospect, we wish we could go back and unsay or undo.
Sure, we may smile ruefully at the memories of these past missteps, but they'll never really be all that funny.
I don't know about you, but I can get pretty depressed if I sit around for too long browsing through my own catalog of "Things I Wish I'd Never Said or Done." It's a big book -- Sears size (when there was a Sears catalog) -- and somehow it seems to grow a bit bigger each year. It gets kind of heavy to haul around some times.
There is, however, at least one value in taking this catalog out of the pile every so often and leafing through it. I am reminded of some things that can help me not to mess things up so much in the here and now.
For example, I am reminded that it's a good idea to take my own emotional inventory before I say or do anything that is likely to have long-term consequences. I can be very good at convincing myself that I am being completely rational when, in fact, I'm being driven by feelings I haven't gotten in touch with (or maybe don't want to get in touch with).
Though it may seem to others like I'm operating in "slow motion" at times, I'm usually better off if I resist the urge to immediately respond or react to a situation.
It's also a good idea to ask myself how important the matter in question really is. I mean, how big a deal is this going to be in 24 hours -- or sometimes even 24 minutes? And I try to put things in perspective. Hey, if this was one of the last chances I had to be with this person, is this what I'd really want to say or do?
Another thing I try to remember is that no matter how convinced I am that I'm right or justified in my opinion, the world is seldom painted in black and white.
Actually, most of my life seems to be lived out in shades of gray, with my view of things colored by my own personality and experience.
There certainly are a few things I am rock solid sure of, but even then my truth may not be the truth of the people I encounter. I'm usually better off if I take a few moments to ask myself just how clear my own view is, and I certainly want to at least respect the perspectives of those around me.
Finally, I try to practice patience. Habitually being patient often protects me from unnecessarily or destructively charging into a situation. I've seldom regretted such patience; if it's worth saying or doing this minute then it's usually worth saying or doing five minutes -- or even five hours -- from now.
Believe me, I still regularly add to my collection of "Things I Wish I'd Never Said or Done."
I probably always will. I do know if I take my emotional inventory, put things in perspective, be humble in my convictions, and practice patience I will have a lot fewer regrets to carry around.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."