The past can be a problematic albatross to carry around. We'll forget where we left our keys 20 minutes ago, but ask us to remember an embarrassing moment from our childhood and it will come to mind like a flash. For some reason, we seem incredibly predisposed toward reminiscing over troubling events. We replay and replay them in our minds until we can't focus on anything else but feeling mortified and wondering if we made the right decision.
Simply trying not to think about the problem doesn't necessarily help, either. Studies suggest that simply trying to ignore a thought process doesn't work; in fact, it can lead to thinking more about the very thing we're trying to forget. This builds and builds, until we're so worried about the past that we can't live in the present like we're meant to, and the stress of things that aren't relevant anymore is still tearing us apart.
What's needed is a system -- a way of approaching the problem piece by piece and addressing each part until we can settle it logically.
Step One - Interrupt the Thoughts
As we've discussed before, good habits can be built on other good habits. They reinforce one another, each one making the others stronger and more resilient. To that end, if you find yourself endlessly replaying your bad conversations, interrupt the cycle with the STOP method we've discussed before.
Say "Stop" aloud: This verbal affirmation serves as a trigger for the habit and a reminder to yourself.
Take a Breath and a Breather: Give yourself a few seconds to practice your deep breathing habit and get your body's physical responses under control, then take five minutes to unwind and explicitly focus on something uplifting and soothing.
Own Your Outcome: Remember to list several of the goals you've set for yourself, as well as the next step you're going to take to make them yours.
Praise Yourself: Go over what you've accomplished thus far, including the most recent steps you've taken toward your goals.
Again, this will reinforce the strength of the STOP method overall, allowing you to integrate it more fully into your habit-building process. After thirty days of practice, it will seem like second nature.
Step Two - Analyze the Thoughts
Remember that thinking things through logically helps defeat illogical worries and unnecessary stresses. If we can contextualize the problems we're dealing with, they can't do as much damage and never seem quite as worrying as they did before we thought them through.
Once you've used the STOP method, take a moment to go over your thoughts thus far, piece by piece.
First, ask yourself why the event happened the way it did. Look at the whole matter fairly and objectively. What reasons could the other parties have had for reacting like they did? What are some good reasons they might have had, and what are some bad ones? Why did you react the way you did? What were your reasons, good or bad?
Be fair in your assessment, both to yourself and the other party. There's nothing to be gained from inaccurate, angry criticism. To make this an approachable habit that's easy to integrate, break it into small steps. First, think about the problem as a whole, then list one good and bad reason for your actions and the other parties' actions. Three easy steps make this a habit that's simple to adopt.
Step Three - Make a Wish
Now that you've gotten the problem into context, consider ways to use it as a learning experience. Given the benefit of time, distance and perspective, what do you wish you had done instead?
Worrying about and regretting the choice you made is a good sign that you might have made the wrong choice, so take some time to consider it. Was there something you might have said that would have made more sense? Would a calmer reaction have made the situation better? Write down several wishes you have for how the situation might have gone instead.
Also, consider another option. If one of your wishes can be fulfilled now, do so! Even late, good actions are a great way to make amends.
Step Four - Resolve to do Better
With the scope of the problem firmly in mind, and with your wishes stated for how it might have gone instead, it's time to take the next step. Very specifically, write down your biggest regrets about the situation. Confront your worries realistically, be they about the situation itself, about how you handled it or about what's come about as a result of the encounter. Then make a decision about each one.
If your problem was your tone, dedicate yourself to exercising control of your voice the next time you have an argument. If your regret lies in not listening, resolve to be more attentive to what others have to say every time you speak to someone. Then tear the paper up and set it aside. If the worries try to push themselves back into your head, say "that was then, this is now," and find a way to act on one of your affirmative resolutions.