Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

vanquishing lost dreams and regret

Louise E. Boone, emeritus professor of business at the University of South Alabama was quoted to say “The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have and should have”. Motivational speaker and life coach Anthony Robbins says “If you live by Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda you are shoulding all over yourself”.

All of us have a mental list of Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda’s – even you. These three words comprise regret. Regret is a negative emotional reaction to personal past acts or behaviors. Regret is often expressed by the term “sorry.” Regret can often bring up a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt, after one acts or doesn’t act in a manner and later wishes not to have done so. Regret can show up from an act that has been committed, but also, importantly, regret of inaction. Many people find themselves wishing that they had done something in a past situation. Regret is something none of us should live with.

Here are a few tips on identifying the regrets or Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda’s in your life and taking steps to vanquish them.

Take a piece of quality paper. Divide it into three columns. The first column should read Shoulda, the second Coulda, and the third Woulda.

Let’s begin with the shoulda column and write, “I really should have…” Imagine you have less than six month to live. Let the phrase “I really should have…” settle in. Think about it, for days if need be. This is a work in progress. Once it has gestated begin your writing. “I really should have been nicer to Bill”, “I really should have gone back to school”, “I really should have laughed more”. You get the idea.

Now move to the coulda column and write, “I could have…” Imagine again you have less than six month to live. Let the phrase “I could have…” settle in. “I could have been musical if…”, “I could have gone to…” You get the idea. Keep writing until there is nothing left. Remember this is a work in progress so, you can come back to in anytime.

Lastly move to the woulda column and write, “I would have if…” Let this sink in. Some examples could be “I would have gone back to school but…” I would have traveled more but…” I am sure you have a few of these in your head by now.

Here comes the easy part. Now that you have the basic architecture of your regrets laid out, it is time to dismantle them. At the bottom of your three column page start your bucket list. If you are not familiar with a bucket list; it is a list of things you want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket”. Everything in your columns should make it on your list, after all you did envision you only had six month to live, right? Now is the time to vanquish these shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. Start erecting your action plan to get rid of the pesky regrets. For instance; “I really should have gone back to school, so I am enrolling in classes next week and will get my degree in the next two years.” Or, I could have been a better father, so I am will listen to my children more and take an interest in their lives today.” Or, I would have traveled to Greece but, I had a family instead. But, now that my children have grown, I will enjoy a Greek holiday in the next two years.” Some of your shoulda, coulda, woulda list may not be able to be accomplished. People move and circumstances change. These situations will need to be let go of by making an agreement with yourself that you recognize these regrets as unresolved and you agree to not get into these situations again and then forgive.

In the end we only regret the things we didn’t do. You don’t need a near-death experience to decide to live your life to the fullest.

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