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Regret

July 27, 2013

Live life without regrets.

Don’t do something you’ll regret later.

Don’t dwell on what you regret about life.

All of these are common attitudes toward regret, that shame we feel at something we did (or didn’t do) at some point in the past. We’ve all got regret and I find myself traveling with it pretty closely most days. I regret having failed at writing that book I traveled for, researched, and started writing. I regret not focusing more intently on my music production ten years ago because if I had kept with it, I think I could have gained some level of notice and success. I regret getting complacent careerwise and as a result feeling stuck, unable to do what I’d really like to do. I regret at letting fear and anxiety get the best of me and prevent me from trying new things.

I thought about it a bit recently and I’m not entirely convinced there’s anything terribly wrong with regret. I think people consider regret a way to beat oneself up, to be self-critical and negative about choices we’ve made. But here’s the thing: regret is just another thought. It can be acknowledged without being assigned a negative (or positive) value. I found that when I started to look at my regret not as something I should try and avoid, but rather something to analyze and learn from, something interesting emerged. I found that most of my regrets were based on decisions I’d made that reflected what I thought someone else would advise me to do and not what I really felt good doing.

For instance, I regret not finishing that book because the subject matter I was writing about was something that was truly important to me. Instead, I let my fear of not writing the absolute perfect book mentally sabotage me.

My regret about not making music is a regret in making the decision to do things I thought I should do (freelance in order to bring more money in, clean house even if no one was coming over the next day, making a big dinner rather than settling one night for a quick microwave dinner).

I regret being complacent about my career because of fear of failure, going broke, and losing everything. Good old fatalistic thinking at work.

Regret is what happens when we make a decision based on anxiety or fear rather than what the current moment actually calls for.

Thinking back even further, I recall a number of times where I was kind of a dick to someone. Those times have stuck with me for years and years, even if they were just a simple choosing of one person over another in high school. I deeply regret acting out of the fear of not fitting in or picking the “wrong” friends even if it was only one or two times where that particular anxiety took control of me.

When realized properly, the regret we feel about past decisions can help shape our current and future decisions. Note that this doesn’t mean being ruled by our regret or making a decision only because we worry we’ll regret it later. Rather, let’s realize our past patterns, the types of actions or decisions we’ve regretted, and figure out why we don’t change those patterns now.

I’d love to hear about your past regret, the fear you acted on that caused it, and whether you’ve been able to change your behavior as a result.

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