Next time you’re disappointed in a decision you’ve made, rather than castigating yourself (which we all do) ask instead, How could it have been worse?

That small act of compassion could help you move on far more quickly.

It’s something I learned from my youngest when he was five and attending an international school in Jakarta. 

One night at dinner, he had a confession and a revelation to share. 

He and a couple of friends had been busted for spitting toilet paper on the ceiling in the boys’ bathroom. 

But instead of a dressing down, they had to answer some hard questions.  

Why did you choose to behave that way?

How could it have been worse?

What need were you trying to meet?

Who did you affect? 

What can you do to fix it?

The school’s approach to behaviour management was called Real Restitution and based on Dr William Glasser’s Choice Theory. It says we make choices, however misguided, because we are trying to meet normal human needs: for love and belonging, freedom, power, fun, or security. 

The students are taught that owning up to what you did is far better than denying and lying about it or having an angry outburst. By imagining how it could have been worse, the kids can let go of the shame and deal with the consequences.

It’s known in psychology as downward counterfactual thinking.

I think of it as letting myself off the hook so I can get on with the work.

It helps when I get stuck feeling bad because I haven’t written a blog post in weeks, or I’m late with my newsletter.

Feeling bad never motivates me. But considering this question does:

How could it have been worse?

I could plagiarise somebody else’s work and pass it off as my own.

I could resend something I sent only a short time ago.

I could give up writing altogether.

Sometimes we do overpromise (usually to ourselves) and then underdeliver.

But we probably had a very good reason – even if it was that we needed to take a rest instead. 

And as Rizzo sang in the 1980s musical ‘Grease’, There are worse things we could do.