Sunday, December 11, 2016


The Boissevain Coat of Arms
The Boissevain coat of arms includes the motto – Ni regret du passé ni peur de l'avenir.  "No regret for the past, no fear of the future."  The motto is in French because the family originated in France and migrated to Holland.

My grandmother, born Olga Boissevain, was extremely proud of her family. I was prompted to remember her family motto when during my end-of-year cleanup of our apartment I came across a book called Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda by Dr. Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf (New York: HarperPerennial, 1990).

It struck a bell. The subtitle is: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities. The thesis is that people can be prisoners of their regrets and that their focus should be on the future. The past is over, we start from where we are.

Economists call this "path dependence". Economies and people develop from where they are, not where we would prefer them to have started. It's like the person giving directions to your hotel who says: "You really shouldn't be starting from here."

Two sections of Chapter One lay out the general advice:
  • "Why" Is Not Important
  •  What Next, Not Why.
Lucy is in a box of her own
The authors make clear that following their advice is not so easy as it might seem. You can't "just forget" something that you have decided was unfair or a mistake in your life. They suggest that you "change your mood" rather than try to "forget" something. The more we try to forget something, the more we may remember it. Don't try to substitute a vacuum for a negative thought. Instead, substitute a positive thought or at least something that will crowd out the negative thought.
One handy technique ... for interrupting the constant repetition of an unwanted thought is call thought-stopping. It means consciously replacing one set of thoughts with another. ... For example: The next time you find yourself saying, "If only..." start counting by thirteens. ... "[T]hirteen, twenty-six... and thirteen more is thirty-nine, and thirteen more is ..." ... You will find that it is not only difficult to count by thirteen, but it is practically impossible to do that and think about anything else at the same time. (p. 107)
The rest of the book is about goal-setting and the terrible "shoulds", the common disablers. There are chapters on:
  • The urge to get even
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Lost loves and wrong lovers
  • Procrastination
  • Them – resisting pressure from others
I found that it all deepened my understanding of the family motto.

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