Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Living with regret

Maybe it's because I've reached a certain age. Maybe it's because I have a tendency to live in my own head a lot. Maybe it's because I like nothing better than to analyze the behaviors and motivations of myself and others. Maybe it's because I tend to have deep, philosophical conversations with my friends. Whatever the case, recently, the topic of living with regret came up in my life over and over.

When something like that happens, an idea or topic keeps showing up in my life, I can't help but stop to ponder what the universe might be trying to teach me. Generally, I think that major life lessons come to us in different forms until we actually learn the lesson at hand. (Hello ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, etc.) Maybe this means that there's a lesson for me to learn about living with regret; that's why I thought I'd spend some time blogging about it today. My writing on this is rather stream-of-consciousness, so please forgive any rambling or errors. I'm not really focused on those things for this post; I just want to get my thoughts down in the moment.

Do you have regret? How much regret do you have? Is your regret more for things that you did do or for things that you didn't do? Do you regret the choices you made because of how they affected your or how they affected others? What do your answers to these questions reveal about the kind of person you are and the kind of person you want to be? What purpose does regret have for you? In what ways might regret be either paralyzing or motivating?  Yes, it's true; these are the kinds of questions I ponder. Is it any wonder that I sometimes have trouble relaxing or sleeping? Is it any wonder that my head hurts? Unfortunately, I'm only partially joking here.

Like most people, I think, I do possess a fair amount of regret. If I weren't careful, in fact, my regret might easily lead me to a deep, dark, abyss of depression. So what happens is that I don't allow myself to think about the regret I feel very often.  Maybe that's not the healthiest approach on the planet, but I do tend to think that it is in the interest of my self-preservation.

When I do break down those barriers and consider the regret I have in my life, it mostly centers on things I didn't do. Chances I didn't take out of fear. Relationships I should have ended sooner and didn't. Relationships I should have avoided altogether. Family ties I should not have severed. Forgiveness that I did not grant, both to myself and to others.  Risks that would have altered the course of my life. Times I should have stood up for myself and didn't. Times I should have stood up for others or for my beliefs and didn't. Words I said in haste and words I failed to say at all. Instances where I didn't have faith in my intellect. Events where I should have behaved differently. Mistakes I'd like to do-over. There are so many things I could regret if I spent the time necessary to enumerate them.

But that wouldn't be good for me. Living in the past doesn't work for my psyche, my emotional stability. Interestingly enough, living in the future doesn't really work for me either. I am someone who is at my most healthy mentally when I focus on living in the moment. There are many days when I ask myself questions like: were others uplifted by interacting with me today? did I do any good today? did I stay true to myself? am I proud of what I said or did? was I kind? how could I be better and treat others better? what should I do differently tomorrow? should I forgive someone, even if it's just myself?  how can I be better tomorrow?

I know that this all sounds very altruistic, but this kind of mental self-evaluation is the best way I can manage the accumulation of regret in my life. If I'm only looking at one day at a time, then I have the potential to do better tomorrow and even to right the wrongs I committed today. That's powerful stuff. That's growth. That's really the only way I can live with regret, little bites at a time instead of a long look back at all the mistakes I've made in the last 43 years. I'm so far from perfect that it's shocking, but I am working to be better. I hope that counts for something in the long run.

How about you? How do you deal with the regret you've experienced in your life? Tell me I'm not the only one?


  1. How do I handle regret? I talk it out with Dr. Lowder!

  2. I've learned to not beat myself up about it, figure out a way out of the issue (if applicable), and move on. And remember to never make the same mistake again.

  3. I over-analyze things and allow them to brew in my head for entirely too long but unless it's something that just happened (within the last couple months), I generally don't feel any type of regret. In fact, I would say I haven't even thought of that word in years. If I had to examine my regrets, I would say I only have two real regrets over the course of my life: I regret working in my last job for so long, I should have done that for a shorter season and been brave enough to do what I'm doing now. I also regret not taking better care of myself physically. If I had addressed being healthy/losing weight in my 30's, I would be there now. Age has a way of shining a light on the things we need to change. Thankfully everything we experience contributes to who we are today and I wouldn't change who I am today and I doubt you would either. I am stronger because of it all. I know more than ever who I should be connected to, I know who truly loves me and I know that change doesn't have to be the end of the world. I applaud you for always growing and examining. None of us have arrived. When we think we have, that's when we absolutely have not! I want to continue to grow until the day I die!

  4. I know the Catholic Church gets a lot of grief for many things but I find Reconciliation to be a wonderful regret buster. Something that can suck joy almost as much as regret is the fear of regret. I teach high school juniors in a Confirmation class at my church. It's a tough year. Gearing up for big decisions. So many choices. Sometimes they get paralyzed or traumatized even at the fear of making the wrong choices. I try to help them believe God can take any choice we make, even the really awful ones, and turn it to good if we just keep trying. Keep seeking. Keep moving forward. It's such a blessing to work with them.

  5. Someone shared this in a recent Simple Scarpper chat -http://zenhabits.net/not-doing/. Thought it was helpful.

  6. I think regret can serve a purpose if it drives you to make better choices in the present. So, if I regret not spending more time with a loved one who has passed, I can make the choice to not be so stinking lazy and drive across town to say goodbye to my parents who are leaving for a short trip. (Just hypothetically, of course -- lol) If I regret spending too much of my adult life not taking the best care of myself with good healthy food choices and exercise, then I can use that to motivate myself to make some changes. If I regret that I didn't continue to write after college, I can revisit that passion and decide whether it is still important to me now. I also think that you can look at thinks that could be called regrets and turn them around -- if I'd done X, I never would have met Y, etc.