All of us have something we wish we would have done differently. Regret, just like any other emotion, is part of the experience of being human, but it is an emotion that is often misunderstood. We tend to shy away from reflecting on our regrets with objectivity, as they can be very uncomfortable to look at. I occasionally think back on a situation and wince at the thought of my behaviour, and other times I regret some things I didn’t do or say. Can you relate?
According to author and social science expert Daniel Pink, regret is our most common negative emotion. However, if we learn to harness the power of regret, it can drive us to identify our values, to make better decisions. By openly disclosing our regrets, we can also connect better with others.
Looking back at my experiences, I can see a pattern in my behaviour (or lack of it) and what was followed by regret. Here they are:
This involves not telling someone how I feel about them or a situation–not speaking up for myself, not setting boundaries and ending up doing things that I really didn’t feel comfortable doing. However, I’ve also not told someone I loved them, or not told them often enough.
Not spending enough time with my loved ones, or not being completely present when spending time with them.
Being distracted is the silent killer of any moment. We end up being there physically, but not mentally and not with our hearts and in those moments–time just slips away. As humans, we are limitless in so many ways, but our time here on earth is limited. The only thing you can do about that is to choose how you spend it. So next time you regret scrolling mindlessly on social media, stay with that uncomfortable sensation and pay attention to its message. What did you miss out on as a result?
Not having the courage to do things that I fear.
We tend to believe our fears, and we tend to justify them by coming up with good reasons why we shouldn’t be doing things that we fear. Many people look at my life and assume that I am so courageous. Yes, I travel alone, I try extreme sports, I eat anything (at least once). I also set up my own business even after failing two other businesses previously, and I drive in any country! But, I have my own fears that stop me from experiencing other joys in life. For example, I would never go on any dating app and I have all the excuses why they are awful and bad for us, but deep down, I am just very afraid of rejection.
Caring too much about other people’s opinions and living my life based on others’ expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some people I listen to, as I know that they love me and want the best for me. However, as I grow older I realise how much time I wasted on moulding myself in order to meet somebody else’s expectations. This also means not listening to the overly critical inner voice that I developed growing up. Whose voice is it that tells you not to apply to that job because you’d never get it? Whose voice is it that tells you that you are not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or talented enough?
I would like to invite you to join me on this reflection and write down a few things that you have regretted in your life. Is there a pattern you can see? What values show up in this pattern?
Looking at my list, I can see that I value freedom, courage, integrity, vulnerability/connection, and mindfulness. These are pretty much the values I started consciously creating my life around three years ago.
And just one more thought. In my opinion, there is one thing most of us never regret: trying. At least once. After all, you’ll never know if you don’t try, and you might just surprise yourself.