The Old Man switched off the recorder and leaned back in his chair. “Six times in those recordings a phrase is used that’s full of two subtle two words. Did you spot it? No? Well, perhaps that’s because you used it three times yourself down in the restaurant a little while ago.” He picked up the box that had held the tape and tossed it over to me. “There they are, right on the label. The two saddest words in any language.”

I looked down……and there printed neatly in red ink were the words:………IF ONLY.

“You’d be amazed,” said the Old Man, “If you knew how many thousands of times I’ve sat in this chair and listened to woeful sentences beginning with those two words. “If only,” they say to me, “I had done it differently,” or not done it at all. If only I hadn’t… lost my temper, or said that cruel thing, or made that dishonest move, or that foolish lie. If only I had been wiser, or more unselfish, or more self-controlled.” They go on and on until I stop them. Sometimes I make them listen to the recordings you just heard. “If only,”…I say to them, you’d stop saying if only, we might begin to get somewhere!”

The Old Man stretched out his legs. “The trouble with if only,” he said, “is that it doesn’t change anything. It keeps the person facing the wrong way, backward, instead of forward. It wastes time. In the end, if you let it become a habit, it can become a real roadblock—an excuse for not trying anymore.

“Shift the focus,” said the Old Man promptly. “Change the key words and substitute a phrase that supplies lift instead of creating drag.”

“Do you have such a phrase to recommend?
“Certainly. Strike out the words “if only” and substitute the phrase Next time?

That’s right. I’ve seen it work minor miracles right here in this room. As long as a patient keeps saying if only to me, he’s in trouble. But when he looks me in the eye and says next time, I know he’s on his way to overcoming his problem. It means he has decided to apply the lessons he has learned from his experience, however grim or painful it may have been. It means he’s going to push aside the roadblock of regret, move forward, take action, resume living.

Try it yourself. You’ll see.”

Arthur Gordon, wonder, if only, next time, regret —

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