At one point in my life I made the following statement,
“I choose to live without regrets. Each and every choice which I have made, or chose not to make, was the best decision that I could make at the time.”
Such a bold statement, isn’t it? Doesn’t it just ooze immense self confidence and self assurance?
It’s also a sham and pretty much an absolute lie.
I don’t really remember what stage I was at in my life when I uttered these words, all I know is that I was very naïve to think that I could live my life without feeling an ounce of regret over something I did, something I didn’t do, words which I have said, or even words which I didn’t say. To be honest, I am not even sure that I believed the words when I said them myself, but they sounded clever, brilliant, and I may have even impressed a few people momentarily. I may have tried to make the best decision I could make at the time and I could attempt to live without regrets with the best of intentions, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the way my life would end up.
Ideally, we may hope to live a life without regret. We may hope that each decision we have made throughout our lives has been well intentioned and will not one day lead to regret, but really that’s all it is – an idealistic hope. It is hard, maybe even impossible, to say that at least one decision we may make will not lead to some aspect of regret in the future. The truth is we all have life stories of regret in one form or another. We may have even started the New Year off making resolutions which we may end regretting not keeping (or we may possibly end up regretting the resolutions themselves). There are also those situations where we may not have made a choice at all, maybe a choice wasn’t even ours to make, but our lack of choice, our lack of decision or the opportunity to decide, may lead to intense regret. If only I had done something differently. If only I hadn’t said that. If only I had seen it coming. If only, if only, if only…
Regret can wreak havoc on our minds. It can inhibit and imprison us, crippling us with guilt and remorse. Regret can hold us back and keep us from doing what we might dare or dream to do because of what “may happen”, or because of what the past has dictated “will happen”. Regret can hold its own power over us, eating away at our conscience, and robbing us of sleep at night. Often times, we find ourselves holding it close, using it as a crutch, a justification to stay in our comfort zone and to not venture out. Regret can offer an element of comfort in our life. It can become easy to slip over us, like a second skin. It can offer a false sense of protection and a feigned veil of security. At least if I am regretting, I am doing something about a situation which I can no longer control.
While regret can creep into our heads and stay there like an unwelcome houseguest, if we choose to understand our regret and whether or not the regret really stems from anything in our control to begin with, it may also work to help us to examine ourselves and our behavior. Some choices are patterns in our lives which we repeat over and over expecting different results. Some decisions we have made may have hurt others and we may need their forgiveness to move on. Some choices were never ours to make and we need to give ourselves permission to admit that and to forgive ourselves. I may regret doing/not doing a million things, but how many of those things did I actually have control over? If I have given up on dreams, was it because I chose to or was the decision made for me? If I have lost friends or loved ones, was the loss anything which was ever in my control to begin with? If something terrible has happened to me, is it really so hard to believe that I did nothing to deserve it?
Regret may lead to making better choices in the future, helping to steer us in a better direction with our lives, possibly even breaking a pattern of behavior which we may find ourselves caught up in. Regretting our behavior or actions while being intoxicated may serve to remind us not to drink so much next Friday night. Regretting not paying our credit card bill and being declined making a purchase may remind us to be more responsible with our finances. Regret may encourage clarity of thought and aid in our decision making when we find ourselves in similar situations in the future.
How we handle regret is truly what’s most important. When those memories, those embarrassing, remorseful, I-just-want-to-forget-that-ever-happened moments creep back into our heads at the most inopportune times causing us to groan, cringe, or do whatever is necessary to try to shove the memory back into the furthest corner of our minds, how we deal with regret is what matters most. We need to learn from our mistakes and move forward making sure to keep the positive things in our lives our primary focus. If our regret isn’t about our mistakes but someone else’s actions on our lives, it may help to release the responsibility of that situation from ourselves. If we can understand that control over the situation or the decision was never in our hands, we may find peace.
We can’t let regret incapacitate us. Regret cannot cripple us. Regret should not win. If we look at life as a series of lessons, we need to keep moving forward as a willing student one step at a time. Regret does not need to be our constant companion like a shadow on a sunny day nor does it need to be our bedfellow, pinching and keeping us awake at night. If we confront regret, handle it with care, acknowledge it and then let it go, we can move towards a new day. Perhaps the regret can even turn into something positive, if we let it. We may even find peace and the strength to forgive ourselves and those who have hurt us.
I’ve come up with a new statement to replace my brash, naïve, and, as it turns out, not-so-clever statement of old,
“Life is about living, with joy and with regrets. We all make mistakes; things happen to us and, sometimes, because of us. What is most important is that we learn and grow from our experiences.”
We don’t have to spend our lives marked with regret. Each experience we have had has shaped us in some way. Every regret has made us who we are right now, has lead us in the direction we were meant to take, and will make each one of us a stronger person in the end.