Until we have accepted the fact that there is nothing we can do to change the past, our feelings of regret, remorse and bitterness will prevent us from designing abetter future with the opportunity that is before us today. Rohn
For most of us, the word “regret” has negative, and often painful, connotations. But in his recent book, The Power of Regret, Daniel Pink suggests that we see this term in a different light.
A useful term for any of us to consider, in relation to the concept of regret, is “reframing.” This term implies our ability to consider a given situation from a different angle, in an alternate light. The event we are describing doesn’t change; only the way that we view it. And potentially gain from it.
Let me engage in a departure from the norm by giving a personal example. For many years, I have come to recognize that the two best things that have ever happened to me in my life were:
- Meeting (and marrying) my wife.
- Losing my job as a high school teacher.
Most readers can probably understand why a happily married man of 52 years would look upon his spouse in a favorable light. But what about the second “highlight:” the loss of a job?
To be sure, there were a panoply of negative emotions at the time of my impending job loss. The pink slips piled up over the years as I clung to my low seniority dilemma. Aside from fear and heightened anxiety, there were regrets by the bushel. Why did I go into education? Why didn’t I move to another state where teaching jobs were more plentiful? Why did the school district’s parents cease to generate the requisite number of children to protect my employment? As the regrets piled up, my thoughts became increasingly desperate and irrational.
I wish that I could say that I had the courage to seek other employment when my job situation became increasingly dim. At the time, I was too fearful to “jump out of the plane”, trusting that the parachute would land me on safer ground. I had to be pushed out, but that shove was the scary vehicle that took me to a more satisfying and secure landing spot. Once pushed, I returned to school. I finished the doctorate that I had started but had procrastinated completing. In turn, that task completion created other opportunities for me professionally. (I would also note that “best thing #1” in my life – my wife – was a great help in that regard. It was a positive, bonding, experience for us which I will always appreciate.)
Going back to Pink’s book about regret, the author made a fascinating point about the nature of our regrets. While we all have a laundry list of regrettable decisions and choices, those bad choices are outweighed, in the ‘regret” category, by actions that we failed to take. Risks that we were too fearful to undertake plague us more than our ill-advised actions.
So where do we go from here? The process, moving forward, involves three simple steps. First, look into the past, not with regret, but as a source for rueful instruction. Past errors provide a major “clue” for prudent future planning. Second, evaluate the present life circumstances rationally and objectively, rather than through the lens of fear and anxiety. And finally, re-frame your past regrets as you move forward in your life. The lessons those regretful actions have taught us are “tools” that we can employ for future progress and success.
Homework: Consider past regretful choices. Ask yourself: What did I learn from those actions? And last, shift from paralyzing regret to positive, productive choices and outcomes.
Never egret anything that has happened n your life. It cannot be changed, undone o forgotten. So, take it as a lesson learned and move on.