F-E-A-R has two meanings:
Forget Everything and Run
or Face Everything and Rise.
The choice is yours.
— Zig Ziglar
Regret comes from making a decision without being completely present in thinking it through, acting on autopilot, copying someone else’s action or recommendation, or making a decision out of fear. Regret comes from being reactive, instead of proactive.
Remember my #1 rule in life: “No Regrets!” Thinking through every decision before acting. What will be the impact of your decision? How will it affect you later? “If I have unprotected sex and get pregnant, will he stay around, or will I raise my child by myself?” “If I buy this expensive car and unexpectedly lose my job, can I return it to pay my living expenses?” These are the kinds of conversations we can have with ourselves before we act on any consequential choice.
Expecting a specific outcome from which we have no ability to control is a sure path to giving away our power. Read that again to make sure you understand it. Expecting a specific outcome from which we have no ability to control is a sure path to giving away our power.
A friend recently expressed regrets over the way his adult children had turned out. “I sure screwed them up!” He believes that their actions and decisions are his fault. He couldn’t be further from the truth. Once children reach the age of accountability—the age when they know the meaning of the words they use and how to use them—their decisions, as well as their outcomes are totally, and only, their own. My friend is operating from an expectation that they show up in the way he thinks they should show up. They didn’t, and he feels as if he’s failed. His misunderstanding of personal alignment and personal choice is what causes him to feel this way. He has given his power away to a belief that exists only as a story in his mind.
Regret happens when we conflict with our self-identity. Regret comes from the misconception that our mistakes are in direct connection with our self-identity. When you make a choice that you later regret and ask, “Why didn’t I make a better choice?” you do so, because your choice conflicts with your idea of what a good choice looks like. Nine times out of ten, you couldn’t have known what the right choice would look like, in which case there’s no way to resolve your regret. The choice can’t be changed. Your conflict is with your self-identity. So, the problem spins around in your mind without resolution.
In his article, “Why We Have Regret” (Zenhabits.net), Leo Babauta explains how to let go of regret.
“In examining why we have regret, and why it’s so hard to let go, we can see a couple of root causes that we can address:
- We compare past choices to an ideal.
- We have an ideal identity that conflicts with the idea of the bad choice.”
These root causes both revolve around ideals. Ideals are not reality. They are fantasies of how we’d like reality to look. In this case, these ideals are causing us anguish or regret. The practice for us then becomes letting go of false ideals and embracing reality. The choice we made in the past is done. We can’t change it. In fact, there is good in the choice, if we choose to see it. Being able to make choices is a gift, as is learning from our experiences. We can be satisfied with our choices and choose to see them as good enough, instead of having a goal to make perfect choices. Some choices will be great; some won’t be. Or, we can let go of our current reality and start to shift into the ideal we hold ourselves to.
The truth is that we are not always as good as we wish we were. In fact, our sense of self encompasses a wide range, from ideal, to not good, or somewhere in between. We make mistakes. We make good choices. We are selfish. We are considerate. We are deceitful. We are honest. We are all of it. When we consider the reality of our range of self-aspects, making a choice we later regret isn’t necessarily in conflict with other aspects of our self-identity. It’s in association with them. Knowing this, we can embrace the entire range of choices we make and embrace the entire range of aspects of ourselves.
So, what can we do when we find ourselves obsessing over past choices?
We can recognize that we’ve fallen into the pattern of thinking so much about the past that we’re living in it, and switch to looking at the past only as a reference point for what we want to do differently in the future.
We can realize that we’ve idolized or compared ourselves to an ideal that isn’t our current reality, redirect our focus back onto ourselves, and ask ourselves whether we want to shift closer to our ideal, or shift our expectation and comparison.
Pause to write.
Write at least one regret you have. After each regret, ask yourself:
Why do I regret this?
Was it an impulsive decision?
Was I expecting a result I was not able to make happen?
Did I allow fear to control the results?
Do I wish I’d done something differently?
Write what comes to your mind.
This is a daily practice, and the more we practice it, the more we can find satisfaction in the choices we’ve made and the actions we’ve taken. The more we practice, the more we can focus in each present moment on the choices we’re in the process of making and the actions we’re in the process of taking. Never compare your past or present choices, decisions, and actions with those of anyone else. Realize that you had to make a choice, and that you are making the best choice you are capable of in that moment. I might have made a different choice, but it would be based on my knowledge, perspective, beliefs, and reality at the time I made it. My choice is unique for me. My time and place of making my choice are unique to me. Your choice, time, and place are unique to you. You might make a different choice at a different time in your life and awareness.
I Love to run, but if I’m looking backward while I’m running, I will trip and fall, because I won’t see where I’m going. It’s okay to see what’s coming up behind me. I just don’t want to focus there. Regrets are a part of being human, but by understanding the cause of our choice and shifting our perspective, we can find more satisfaction and compassion in our current and past choices. The icing on the cake is that in doing this, we can better focus on the now and create happy present moments. That is a choice we never regret.
Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward
is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than our current situation.