The problem with regret

The problem with regret is that we feel it differently than we should. Take, for example, the all-too-common sentiment: “I wish I’d done that differently.” As with so many other things I talk about, it’s not the content that matters, but the form.

I wish

I would have done

that

differently.

Looks like a regret, right?

Not necessarily. What’s the timeline here? Are you regretting something you did yesterday? Then yes, you probably could have done better, but if it was really yesterday, you can probably still fix it–or at least improve it. Stop feeling regret and go apologize or ask for extra credit or start preparing your application for next year’s opportunity–whatever. Use the regret as impetus for today’s action. You know you can do better, so go do it.

Alternatively, are you regretting something that happened years ago–something you would change if you could go back and do it again? The problem is, this shouldn’t really feel like regret at all. Think about it. The only reason you would do it differently now is that you’ve become a different person than you were–precisely because you have felt, and learned from, these sorts of… regrets. To become the kind of person capable of having this sort of regret you had to go through so much, make so many mistakes, miss out on so many opportunities. Yes, all that. But you also had to experience so much that was good for you. You had to meet the people who made you who you are, live in the places that transformed you, think the thoughts and feel the feelings that have given you the ability to make different, better choices now.

I’m not saying your life wouldn’t have been easier if you could have acted differently at the time. I’m sure it would have. The things is though, evidently, you couldn’t have acted differently at the time, or at least, all those things that seem so easy to overcome now, looked much different then. So really, what I’m saying, is that when you feel this sort of regret, what you should be feeling is a sense of accomplishment. You are different now. Now, you are capable of making better choices. Be proud of that.

And if there is still something about your life now that you wish would have turned out differently, work to change it. Then you really won’t have to live with regret.

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