Cutting Your Losses


"To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness."

Bertrand Russell


"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money, when you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin', when the dealin's done"

Kenny Rogers


There was a man who had many things. He had a wife, a big house, two cars, a boat and all the other stuff that well off Americans have. He and his things got along well for a while, except that he didn't really understand his wife very well. In fact, he didn't understand much about people or how to make a good life. In his lack of understanding, he made some mistakes. Some big mistakes. Before too long he had lost everything that he had thought made him somebody. He found himself living with his parents again. His parents were disappointed in him and they rarely missed an opportunity to share that information with him. The man felt trapped. He had no job, a prison record, no real friends. It seemed that all he had was an obsession with what he had lost. If you talked with him, you would soon notice how often he mentioned the $200,000 house, his cars, his boat, and you wouldn't even want to get him started talking about his wife. Each time you would focus on a solution to his immediate problems he would return to the incredible losses he had experienced. His circumstances were humble, but his persona was one of entitlement. He might have worked toward improving the present, but he chose attachment to the past instead. Having made that choice he had nothing to comfort him. He had only his despair.

This very sad man's life highlights the difficulty many of us have getting over our losses. Each time we make a choice in life we have the possibility of gains or losses. If we get stuck focussing on our losses we may miss the opportunity for gains. If we are stuck in the past we can't appreciate the present or plan well for the future.

It is very useful when facing a decision to think about losses and gains. If we choose a given option, what are our likely gains? What are our likely losses? Are the gains worth the losses? Are the potential losses outweighed by the potential gains?

Here are some things to ponder regarding your own approach to life's losses and gains.


Would you describe yourself as having been disappointed by life?

What are your biggest disappointments?

How have these shaped your life?

Did anything good come from the loss?

How much time or energy do you lend to the project of remembering the unfortunate aspects of the past?

Does this help?

Does remembering your losses get in the way of enjoying the present?

Does it interfere with planning for or looking forward to your future?

Something to try this week:

Notice when you are having thoughts or feelings of regret.

Remember that feelings of regret come from thoughts that go with them.

When you become aware of a regret or a thought about some loss, see if you can think of some gain or opportunity that might have come along with the loss.

Remind yourself that what is past is unchangeable, except in how we remember it.

Remind yourself that life is lived in the present. Take a breath and bring your thoughts to the present moment. What is happening in the now? Give thanks for the gift of awareness of the present.


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© 1997 Tom Barrett