The Best Way to Waste Your Life

In February of 2006, I probably listened to Anthony Hamilton’s “Can’t Let Go” more than a thousand times. That was the month my fiance and I split.

I knew it was the right decision, but that didn’t stop my heart from breaking in two every time that song came on. For some reason, I couldn’t stop replaying our entire relationship in my mind. It was a mental movie on repeat with two actors who love each other, but just can’t figure out how to make it work. I kept thinking: we were supposed to have our honeymoon in Bora Bora.

For the next year, I swore off any “serious” dating. I told myself I needed time to mourn, but mostly all I did was go to work, come home, cook one of his favorite meals to eat for dinner, then drink wine until I fell asleep in my clothes.

Then one day, I suddenly remembered something really important.

It was something I’d read in Control Theory: A New Explanation of How We Control Our Lives, a fascinating book about human behavior by a psychiatrist named William Glasser. Glasser’s premise in Control Theory (and his subsequent book Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom) was that we can’t change anyone else’s behavior; we can only change our own. We can’t always control the external circumstances in our lives, but we can control our reaction to them and choose responses that help us move forward instead of backwards.

What I realized during that time was that I could choose to change my painful “mental pictures” (I’m paraphrasing Glasser heavily here) so I could create a happier reality. Instead of thinking about the wedding I was supposed to have, I could choose to think about all the possibilities for a life without him. In this way, I could develop a new set of mental pictures to look forward to.

So, I decided to challenge myself to create new experiences. I stopped listening to Anthony Hamilton and started filling my life with activities that actually made me happy. I began doing things that I enjoyed, but ironically hadn’t done much of when I was with my fiance. I made new friends. I began discovering different kinds of music. I started going to more events and concerts around town. I got more serious about building up my career and professional accomplishments.

In short, I stopped living my life in the shadow of an old love and embraced the opportunities that were facing me in the present. Eight years later, what I know for sure is that the best way to waste your life is to stay stuck in the past.

It’s to keep replaying the same expired pictures over and over in your mind. It’s moaning about what used to be and obsessing about why you no longer have it. It’s focusing on how you used to have a good man but somehow messed it up. It’s complaining about how you used to have a great job until you got laid off. It’s dwelling on how you used to live in a nice big house until your finances got shaky.

If you’ve been stuck in a cycle of unhappiness, it may be time for you to choose to live another story. Not the story of the life you were supposed to have, but the life that is available to you right now. Choose to move forward instead of looking backwards.

Let go of what was so that you can enjoy what is and what will be.

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