Sorry, no regrets...

Regret is a feeling all of us have experienced in life. However, rising above it and reaching for something higher can work wonders to our lives

Comprehending regret is the primary factor in rising above regrets and making amends of the wrong choices we’ve made.

Summer vacation was around the corner and I was looking for avenues to keep my kids engaged for some part of the day in acquiring a skill or learning something new. Just then the club where we were members announced a swimming camp. Instantly, I enrolled my children. As I was signing up, the coach mentioned that a camp for adults too was being conducted, and urged me to join. I gently declined the offer thinking that I was too old to learn new tricks.

Today, several years later, I regret the decision I made when I was only in my 30s, and not too old perhaps in trying to learn a skill as swimming. And this is only one of the inconsequential regrets of my life. For, I have taken far stupider decisions and pursued many wrong choices in life, all of which had caused me much regret. Yet, I am not alone when it comes to regrets and brooding over wrong decisions.

We have all been through that horrible feeling sometime or the other in our lives. It is, in fact, one of those experiences of life that bring all men — from the learned to the illiterate, the wise to the naïve, and the old to the young — on an even plane. The sense of regret we all have felt towards a wrong decision made, thoughtless words uttered, and the many impulsive, faulty actions of ours in our daily lives at work and home are real for all. We hanker for a life without having to go through these regrets that invade our peace of mind, fill us with guilt, stunt our enthusiasm, challenge our self-worth, and worst of all, rob us of our zest for life as we wallow in shame and self-pity.

Even so, running away from our regrets and pretending that everything is fine is no way to deal with regrets if we are to reap any benefits from them. Instead, when we rise above our regrets to evaluate our shortcomings that led to wrong choices and to learn from those regretful choices, we can get better at making the right decisions in life. A quick understanding of how we can achieve this can be encapsulated into a simple and workable four-step formula:

Comprehending regrets

Comprehending regret is the primary factor in rising above regrets and making amends of the wrong choices we’ve made. Immaturity, ignorance, and often times even arrogance come in the way of feeling regret. Regret — which is defined as a feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, or disappointment — is the emotion experienced by a normal thinking person when the outcome of a choice made as a result of ignorance, poor judgement or mistaken information proves to be detrimental to one’s well-being and happiness.

To cite a simple illustration, take the case of a person who is tardy for a job interview. Because he has not obtained prior information on the heavy traffic in his route to the venue, his regret at not getting his facts right on how long the commute to the venue of the interview would take would leave him feeling regretful. To extend the illustration to the next level, had he been turned down at being interviewed because of his tardiness, his regret would have been more intense as he had missed the chance of being interviewed altogether. Thus the degree of regrets varies depending on the outcomes of our choices. When an outcome hurts us more, the regret is obviously greater. Whatever be the intensity of the regret felt, regrets are unpleasant and heartbreaking experiences of life, which we all want to run away from.

This explains the impulsiveness with which we react when we are overwhelmed by regrets. We instantly desire to undo the choice we made, alienating ourselves from that part of us that made the wrong move. “What was I thinking?” we quiz ourselves. Frustrated, angry and unforgiving, we want to kick ourselves! Even so, if we stop to think and understand what is causing our regrets then we need not succumb to the flight-or-fight reaction. Truly understanding the reason behind our regrets makes it easy to deal with them and to accept and forgive our foolish choices.

Learning from regrets

“Regrets help illuminate mistakes we have made and allow us to learn from them,” says study co-author Mike Morrison, a graduate student in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Regrets cover many areas of our lives and range from profound to petty ones. They could be related to our education, career, financial position, lifestyle, family or friends. According to research, the topmost regret that is common to all is the regret centring education and study. Not having gone that extra mile in finishing university or acquiring an extra degree or special training weighs heavily on all those who have fallen short as far as their education goes.

Regrets pertaining to finance, career, lifestyle, family and social circle, oscillate from deep to superficial ones. Yet, the one common factor in any kind of regret is the hidden lessons contained in them. Once understood, lessons can be learnt and a wrong act can be undone or re-done better the next time. It is from regrets that significant life lessons unfold and the wisdom required to make the right choices are learnt. The sting of regret can motivate and help us learn to make the required changes for the better.

Going beyond regrets

A person with no regrets has perhaps not really lived life. He has merely existed without having ventured into anything new, challenging or stimulating for the mind and soul. For, almost anyone who moves from his comfort zone in the pursuit of a worthy purpose or a lofty goal in life is met with some or the other obstacles or failures.

Regretting a decision at such times is the obvious reaction. Yet, unless we rise above our regrets and overcome our remorsefulness at decisions gone awry, we are at a dead end in life. If the goals and dreams we nurture in life need to be realised, we ought to feel the pain. Equipped with the lessons that we can learn from failures, regrets can be transformed into fresh insights to foster better decisions in the future.

Focusing on future

While it is alright to have regrets in life, focusing on them is not alright, warn counsellors. When regrets take the centre stage of our attention, it creates a roadblock to future progress. Looking back and lamenting over mistakes and misfortunes are a way of living in the past tense which blots the future tense of our lives.

When we wish we had done things in a different way, we are revisiting and dwelling in a place that has no room for the future. Instead, when we accept the faulty move and begin to make amends, we are inching forward.

In any event, it is better to have tried something and regretted at its failure than to live with regrets of not having tried anything at all. “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending,” writes celebrated author C S Lewis. Regrets need not rob us of our sleep and peace of mind if we can rise above them and reach for something higher.

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