We’re often told “Don’t have any regrets”. Is that really possible? I personally think that is the most stupid advice you can give someone. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t have a regret or two.
Isn’t it more about managing our regrets than stuffing them inside with a denial that can surely only hurt us? Regrets can guide us to future actions that will lead us to more assertive responses, better decision making or fewer worries about an unexpected outcome. Some regrets can repeat themselves until we finally ‘learn the lesson’ to to speak.
Some of my biggest regrets relate to not speaking up or being more assertive in conversations when people were trying to get me to back down. In my attempt to be sure I was open to feedback and not defensive, I’ve sat through conversations with family, a toxic manager or two or friends, nodding my head in agreement rather than challenging their flawed conclusions or assumptions. When I replay some of those conversations, with the inner urge to set the record straight, I now manage my regret rather than allowing it to take up space in my thoughts and mind.
Then there are the smaller regrets like allowing a young gardener to talk us out of our original plan- to a design thaturned out to be as impractical as we thought it would be. We now need to get someone to undo the young gardener’s work and implement our original plan. My latest regret is allowing myself to be talked out of the German made brand of dishwasher we had relied on for years, to purchase a Swedish model-touted as superior. We thought the advice was objective. We later learned the salesman was a rep for the Swedish company. The new appliance causes me stress every time I unload it because I find at least 8 items that have to be re-washed. It was supposed to reduce the work. Instead it adds to it, and is a constant reminder of a decision I regret and will have to live with for a number of years. We can only hope for a good outcome when we finish the negotiations around repairs. Sometimes it is the smaller things that lead to the regrets that cause most angst. (I do realise this is a very shallow first world problem and that there are many people in the world who have no water, no power and very primitive tools to wash dishes.)
So how can we manage our regrets? Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful:
- Don’t beat yourself up because you have a regret. I think the people who say “Oh, I have no regrets in life.” are either deluding themselves or have just learned to manage the regrets.
- If it is a decision or a choice, remind yourself that you made the best decision at the time based on your experience and the information presented to you.
- If it is a situation where you wished you had spoken up or at least said something different, instead of berating yourself, spend a few minutes reflecting on what you learned from that situation and what you need to think, do or practice to make the next time have a different outcome.
- Think back to the good decisions you’ve made, the times you have been appropriately assertive and the times you have answered on-the-spot questions with composure and competence. What made those situations possible? What can you learn from that to take into future situations?
- And finally, remember it is a process, it may take a few more situations of regret to fully master the art of better decisions, more assertive communication or brilliant responses to on the spot questions.
And after all, doesn’t a regret mean at least you tried, you took action and you grew? Isn’t that better than living in the boring cocoon of safe responses and no risks-kind of no pain, no gain, don’t you think?