Regret is a profoundly uncomfortable emotion and one that we will all have to wrestle with at some point in our lives. We can experience as regret the consequences of what we did or didn’t do – often only apparent years, or decades later, like not taking the OE at 19, or quitting when in hindsight we wish we had pushed through. We can also feel regret immediately – classic house buyer’s remorse, or that super expensive pair of shoes we talked ourselves into last week that we didn’t really need (okay that was me).
When people come for life coaching, it is usually at some sort of pivotal time in life, something status quo disrupting is occurring…maybe the last teen is about to fly the empty nest; or the marriage has just exploded; a promotion is feeling totally overwhelming; a new business is being launched and so on. It’s a time where regret can come to the surface, and channelling that forwards in a healthy way is so important. Regret is a signal that a choice made needs reflection, and is part the human experience rather than something to be feared.
These are the 6 regrets that seem to surface the most at these times of pivot, and these are great lessons for any time. The good news is that by reviewing these, now we don’t need a health crisis to take stock, we can do it any time we choose.
- I wish hadn’t worried so much about being so “nice” and I’d spoken up Caring too much what other people might think of me and so driving some of my life choices to make them happy rather than me.
- I wish I hadn’t put so much of myself into work. Out of whack balance of time, attention or energy into the workplace and an under investment in family / health / personal growth / finances / social / community.
- “I wish I hadn’t always prioritised their needs at the expense of my own”. It can be fine if those people or that situation sticks around for life, but if they don’t, or you don’t, then there can be a big gap to fill in finances/ opportunity / location / etc.
- I wish I hadn’t prioritised people I shouldn’t have. In retrospect seeing that a significant unequal emotional investment was being made, or an investment that was not in line with true values or in a direction that was unworthy and could have been far better directed elsewhere.
- I wish I hadn’t let things go on for longer so much than they should have – job, home, relationships, social commitments and so on. People know deep down what the right choice was and wish they had made it sooner. I see this especially when someone has made the leap and left – massive relief coupled with regret it wasn’t earlier.
- I wish I’d taken better care of my body and looked after my physical needs more consistently. Self-care gets so regularly bumped down the priority list when in fact it’s the foundation for being able to show up with effectiveness for the rest of life and our responsibilities.
Regret is always based on the assumption that we shouldacouldawoulda made a different choice at a given point in time. That there was an alternate path to take, and… we just didn’t take it. It’s easy to look back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and thing we should have gone a different way. The thing is – we can only do the best we can with what we know AT THE TIME. So the person we are NOW with the life experience and information we learnt the hard way; we might make a better call – but we can only ever proceed from who we are, what we know and where we are at the time.
So – how to use regret with purpose, rather than wallow? Well firstly, know that a little reflection is a good thing: what we don’t regret or reflect in we are destined to repeat. Viewing regret as a vehicle for learning and growth is a great start.
Secondly, sometimes our regretful choices have adversely impacted others – so if you can make reparation then do. Make amends. Apologise. It might not be possible but if it is, then this is part of the know better do better piece.
And finally – if it’s a choice that you regret not making, and it’s still on the table, possibly in a slightly altered format, then take it! Cruise rather than Kontiki Europe and enjoy every moment. If it’s available, push past the regret and choose in favour of what you always wanted.
And if you can’t – then get fully behind the choice you HAVE made. Endlessly re-litigating a choice that is in the rear-view mirror is pointless, regret or no. If it’s irreversible you might as well get behind it. Regretting your option when there is no other option other than to press on sends your energy backwards to a choice you can’t change – rather than forwards to the ones that you still can.
So – regret, although uncomfortable can be a profoundly helpful emotion! It has a purpose! Don’t dwell on it, use it. Regret. Reflect. Reparation. Release. Reposition.
We are all going to have a few. It’s what we do with them that counts.