I’ve never been one to live in the past. The past is the past. It has already happened, and no matter how much we may wish certain things were different there isn’t a damned thing we can do to change it.
Because of that, my focus has always been now. Today. The past is fixed, and tomorrow may never come. So all I can ever do is focus on being the best person I can be in the present.
With that, I don’t really understand regret.
When you hear people talk about regret, often you will see sayings like:
I don’t regret the things I have done, I regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance
Looked at this way, regret is based on the past, and based on the choices we didn’t make. Regret is based on beliefs about what could have been.
So with this sentiment, the idea is always be willing to take chances; and don’t pass up opportunities when they are presented to you. Which makes sense.
Things is, what could have been is usually a false memory; because it’s speculation. We don’t actually know what could have been, and our beliefs are based on dreams, not reality.
There is also a different form of regret.
And in this form of regret, you will often see sayings like:
You never know what you have until it’s gone.
I guess this form of regret is also about what could have been, however it’s different. Because it’s not a chance you didn’t take, instead it’s something you had, and lost because you didn’t appreciate it.
So on one hand, people say regret is about not trying a new opportunity when it’s presented to you. On the other hand, regret is about losing something because you didn’t appreciate it.
Which is it? Is it both?
The common thread in both scenarios is CHOICE.
Life is full of choices, but regret only comes into play when we are looking at the “big ones”, the ones that have long term impact.
When faced with a choice, you can only ever pick one option. So there is always the potential that you will wonder about the road not taken. And if the choice you HAVE taken doesn’t turn out quite the way you expected, this leaves you open to regret.
So how do we avoid regret? I think there are three main ways:
- Live according to your core values
- Accept that life is never perfect, and ANYTHING can improve with effort
- Fully embrace the choices to DO make
When faced with a choice, your core values should always be your guide. Lying, cheating and stealing sometimes seems like the fast, or easy road to get what you want. But that is always a short term gain, at the cost of your integrity. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but in the long run it is the least likely to lead to regrets.
Regret is something that arises most commonly when a choice hasn’t turned out the way you expected it to. It’s important to remember that life is never perfect, there is always room for growth. And growth comes from effort.
For some reason people often buy into the fallacy that relationships shouldn’t require effort. And if they do, it means something is wrong. Relationships are no different than anything else in this respect. If you want a relationship to be rewarding, it requires consistent effort over time. And although problems may never go away completely, all problems can be improved through communication and a willingness to work on them by both people.
Lastly, when you make a choice you need to fully embrace it and commit to it. Again, this is related to effort. When you commit to something, you are embracing the choice you DID make, and letting go of the one you didn’t. If you can’t let go of the other option, you will never be able to fully embrace your choice; and this leaves you open to regret.
Regret is wasted energy. But if you live your life according to your core values, embrace your choices and accept that ALL situations can be improved with effort, then there is really no reason to live with regret.
Instead of being stuck in the past, and stuck in “what could have been” you will always be moving forward, and making your life the best it can be each and every day.
2 thoughts on “A Life Without Regret”
I’d like to compare regret to people wanting to win the lottery. Some people who want to win the lottery have the mindset that this will solve all their money problems. “If only I had a million dollars, all my problems would be solved” is usually how they phrase it. Yet, they take no action to change how they are currently spending their money to help alleviate their monetary issues. It’s a crutch used to justify their current behaviour and to dismiss having to actually change.
I see people with regret in the same light as people wanting to win the lottery. The regret is an excuse to not change your current behaviour and to justify all the problems that you have. It shifts the blame to a younger you so that the current you doesn’t need to feel guilty, justifies you not changing, and exonerating you from all responsibility for your actions.
As a person who had to deal with a high amount of regret in life, the only way to move forward is to let go. Wallowing in regret made me think I was helpless to change as I couldn’t go back in time to correct my perceived mistake. I needed to accept who I was, where I was in life, and then move on.
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Well, if you take the “easy road” in life then I guess you are open to having a lot of regrets. If you live life according to your core values and embrace your choices, then I don’t think there’s much to regret.
As you said, regret is an excuse to not change your current behaviour – but at the same time, I don’t think it’s ever too late to do “the right thing”. Sometimes doing the right thing can give you closure, and allow you to move forward.