Hindsight is too late and prediction is not very accurate – such is life. During my life (and I assume most everyone’s) there are times when I would just like to go back in time and do things differently. I have not seen obvious dangers; I have not seen clear advantages; I have misjudged people; I have been thoughtless; I have not lived up to my values and so on. We all know the feeling of regret, chagrin, disappointment in ourselves or even, more seriously, shame or guilt. We rue the day. This does not happen that often for me (and I hope for you), but it does happen.
Once events happen there are only limited things that can be done to correct mistakes. Once these are done, then what? Learning from those regretful events is the thing that most successfully relieves the guilt. After learning, I am after all, not the same person and will not make the same error, at least in the same way. I am an improved version of myself and can feel good about that.
The method I use, I call mind maintenance. It goes like this:
recognize that something has happened that I don’t want to happen again and figure out exactly what it is about the event that must be avoided,
go though the things that happened leading up to what needs to be avoided and figure out exactly how to recognize what is coming and when is the last/clearest/easiest point where I could have done something different and escaped ‘the inevitable’,
figure out how I would have to change my general views in order to make this change in behavior a natural thing rather than an isolated ‘strict rule’ by dealing with my assumptions, prejudices, ignorances, and so on.
Today this sounds a bit like do-it-yourself life skills consulting or do-it-yourself cognitive therapy, but when I developed it for myself (in the ’50s before either was around), I thought of it as just being very honest with myself and using my intelligent to do mind maintenance.
I do not feel that I have ‘Free Will’ in the capital letter sense. But I certainly do not feel helpless or unable to make decisions or without any control over how I live my life. In fact, the helplessness is often found in people who do believe in capital letter ‘Free Will’.
So when I hear someone say something like, “I can’t help it, the anger just bubbles up in me when I see x”, I am disturbed. This is usually someone who believes they have Free Will. Because they did not consciously decide to be angry, they don’t feel any responsibility for the anger and they don’t see any way to avoid anger bubbling up – unless something is conscious, they do not feel any control. Good maintenance would be to examine whether they want to be angry when they see x and whether their attitude to x is what they want. They can either take responsibility for their anger and approve of it, or they can get rid of it because it is inappropriate. Furthermore, this does not have to be all done with conscious awareness, as the best revelations often come when asleep. Some conscious awareness is needed in order to remember and learn, but not in order to think about a way out of a problem and make decisions.
It is a fact, that whether they believe they are responsible or not, everyone else is judging them by their actions. Everyone else believes that their anger indicates how they think about x. If having people judge them by their anger is not what they want, then it is time to learn how to do a bit of mind maintenance.