‘Never regret – if it is good it is wonderful. If it is bad it is an experience’
How does one reach the fullest life? There are 3 parts to the being – the past, the present and the future. You may unconsciously wrestle over which one is important to you.
The past wants to be remembered as important. Popping up in your mind. The significance of the past is self-assessed. From an objective point of view – it is totally useless, why care about it? What good can that bring? It can become overwhelming. The most important part of your existence must be what has got you to this point. Or is it?
Should it be like this. The past is everything we have ever done. It is essentially us. We are not the same person as who we were, we are only who we are now. We can only control what is now, but we can often transfix ourselves on regrets. Good old regrets. What a barrel of laughs they are.
The regrets of anyone’s life can weight them down, dragging behind as they try to get on with life. Pick your metaphor. It is possible that regret itself is the largest regret. Having so many regrets may end up being all you become. regrets of relationships failing, employments ending, and opportunities missed. All common major regrets and yet unchangeable.
You cannot rewrite your own history. You may present it differently to people, but we cannot change our inner dialogue. The inner us is who we answer to. Are we then forced to embrace ourselves and admit to all our faults? Is it difficult to accept ourselves without regret?
The process of dealing with our past versus dealing with this fleeting moment of our present is difficult to weigh. How can I not put more emphasis on the 99.99999% of my life that has occurred vs the now? Time maybe should not be an important factor when it comes to significance.
Assigning importance of an event based on length does not sit easily. The 25 years in a job does not outweigh the significance of the first time you laid eyes on your child or survived a car crash unharmed. Or does it?
It is said ‘Don’t focus on the past’ but without the past we are nothing. The past is what makes us who we are, no? In moments are we consumed by who we are or consumed by what is happening?
If the present is most important – should it then be all we judge a person on? If we judge them at all – should it just be by their current behaviour? Currently a person presents a perfect demeaner of pleasantness. This person may have some abhorrent behaviour in their past or perhaps, Minority Report style, in their future. Should the potential for the abhorrent should dissuade us from the person?
The future is unknown, the past is vast, and the present is fleeting. Which is the most important? – you decide. Regrets best position is in the future, where it stiffens our resolve to never have regrets again if it the opportunity reappears. Go easy on past you, you may regret their actions, but they got you this far.
Regret has been defined as ‘a negative emotion predicated on an upward, self-focused, counterfactual (a belief contrary to the facts) inference’. Regret then is a common negative human condition, based on lies we tell ourselves about how great it could have been.
A study in published in the British Journal of Psychology found that ‘counterfactual thought occurs frequently among normal adults, with approximately half of each sample reporting that they would do something differently if they had their lives to live over’.
Many of us, it can be concluded, live with heavy regrets, and would change our paths given a do over of life. We would forgo all the relationships we have built and experiences we have had to change a decision we made. Regrets might not form like that in our mind, sometimes a simpler black and white model exists without the knock-on ramifications for our lives.
A further study suggested ‘regrets of inaction persist longer than regrets of action’ The case of not doing something is more of a regret than doing something and then regretting it. Lesson – do more, you will regret it less.
‘Feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances for corrective reaction are clearest’ according to another study. Blaming yourself for missed opportunities or mistakes has also be shown to be a component of regret. Self-blame could lead to a dislike of oneself. It is good to like yourself, no good can come of disliking yourself. Regrets are hard to manage and not easy to dismiss but it has been shown time and time again the more you do the less you regret.
Regret often fools us into believing everything would have worked out perfectly a different way, everything has worked out perfectly – you are here now. A different path may have been a far more treacherous or shortened the journey for you.
Challenge – park the regrets, write down three of them, then write down the good that came because of each. Each decision got you to here and now. Your regret might actually have been amazing for your life.
Why emphasis your pasts importance, it is done, focus on the now and the future?
Why not live without regret?
 Gilovich T, Medvec VH. The experience of regret: What, when, and why. Psychological Review. 1995;102:379–395.
 Landman, Janet, and Jean D. Manis. “What Might Have Been: Counterfactual Thought Concerning Personal Decisions.” British Journal of Psychology, vol. 83, no. 4, 1992, pp. 473–477., doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1992.tb02453.x.
 Gilovich T, Medvec VH, Chen S. Commission, omission, and dissonance reduction: Coping with the “Monty Hall” problem. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1995;21:182–190.
 Roese, Neal J., and Amy Summerville. “What We Regret Most… and Why.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 31, no. 9, 2005, pp. 1273–1285., doi:10.1177/0146167205274693.
 Connolly T, Zeelenberg M. Regret in decision making. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2002;11:212–216