Regrets are like deep, dark holes.
We should avoid them at all costs.
— Joseph Binning
Regret comes from being reactive instead of proactive. Regret comes from deciding without thinking it through, acting on autopilot, copying someone else’s action or recommendation, or deciding out of fear.
My #1 rule in life: “Live a Life with No Regrets!”
In order to life a life with no regrets, we must first think through every decision you make before acting. Ask yourself first, “What will be the impact of your decision”? “How will it affect me later”? “If I take this action, how will it affect the rest of my life?” “If I make this choice, how will it affect the rest of my life?” These are the kinds of conversations we must have with ourselves before we act on any consequential choice.
When we think before we act, we can have a stronger chance of controlling the outcome of the decision. When we act first and think second, we cannot control the outcome of our decisions and choices. Expecting a specific outcome of any decision from which we have no ability to control the outcome is a sure path to giving away our power. The power to live our lives on the terms we dictate based on the decision. Not the terms the decision will make on our lives.
Read that again to make sure you understand it. Expecting a specific outcome of any decision from which we have no ability to control the outcome is a sure path to giving away our power. The power to live our lives on the terms we dictate based on the decision. Not the terms the decision will make on our lives.
A friend recently expressed regrets over the way his adult children had turned out. “I sure screwed them up!” he said. He believes that their actions and decisions as adults now are his fault. He couldn’t be further from the truth. Once children reach the age of becoming accountable—the age when they know the meaning of the actions they choose and how to use them—their decisions, and their outcomes are totally, and only, their own.
My friend is operating from an expectation that his adult children show up in life in the way he thinks they should show up. They didn’t, and he feels as if he’s failed. His misunderstanding of choice causes him to feel this way. He has given his power away to a belief that exists only as a story in his mind. All of which is untrue.
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, or “who” we are as people. 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. You can’t change the choice. Your conflict is with your self-identity, not the choice. 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 two root causes that we can address:
- We compare past choices to an ideal.
- We have an ideal identity that conflicts with 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. Here, these ideals are causing us anguish or regret. The practice for us then becomes letting go of false ideals and embracing reality.
You cannot change past choices because they are in the past.
We can’t change it. In fact, there is good in the choice if we see it. Being able to make choices is a gift, as is learning from any experience. We should strive to make choices perfect for us as individuals so can see them as good enough, instead of having a goal to make perfect choices. Some choices will be great; some won’t be. This should be the new ideal reality we hold ourselves to.
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 obsess over past choices?
- We can recognize that we’ve fallen into the pattern of thinking so much about the past we’re living in it and switch to looking at the past only as a reference point for what we want to do differently.
- 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.
Here is an exercise to help you conquer your regrets:
Write at least one regret you have.
After each regret, ask yourself these questions, then write the answer:
Why do I regret this?
Was it an impulsive decision?
Was I expecting a result I could not make happen?
Was fear controlling the results?
Do I wish I’d done something differently?
Write what comes to your mind. Be honest with yourself.
This should be 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 making and the actions we’re 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 I would base it 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 than I might. That’s what makes it yours.
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 or what’s ahead. It’s okay to see what’s behind me momentarily to decide if it’s safe to cross the road or not. I just don’t want to focus there. Life is the same way. Don’t ignore the past, but don’t dwell on it either. You will miss what’s ahead.
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.