I am writing this from a cottage in a remote location as a result of doing something I have always wanted to do. For years I have had a romanticised notion of packing up and getting away from everything to take a holiday on my own, and for years I have denied myself. Convinced that people would think I was strange, my friends would be offended, my parents would worry about me being alone, I would get bored, I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere (I don’t drive), it would be expensive and dangerous. I finally plucked up the courage to use some holiday days (unnecessary as I resigned since then) and go. A bit of research found somewhere that ticked the boxes and even some of my friends thought the idea sounded fantastic (though some thought I was a little odd!). Today is day three and as I look at the beautifully cloudy and green country landscape, with the cosy lamps on and the Aga murmuring behind me, my only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner. How often do we finally take the plunge with a dream only to discover it wasn’t as difficult as we first thought, and wish we had done it sooner?
Regret can be painful, but it is a useful indicator of dreams we wish to pursue. Failing to learn from your current regrets may see you continue to notch up missed opportunities and become consumed with the idea of what might have been if only…
We learn from regret by recognising the situations where we wished we had acted differently, and preparing ourselves (ploughing – I’ll come to this a little later) to act differently in the future. We can spend hours regretting something we have or haven’t done, and though we are recognising the situation, often we’re not actually learning from it, we’re not focused on moving forward, we’re stuck, immobilised by regret.
The Bonus Feature “Alternative Ending” – currently not available in the DVD of life.
My dad has an interesting perspective on regret, which almost always leads to getting knocked over by a truck. He can turn any regret into an “alternative ending” which, although undoes your regretful action…well… watch for yourself:
ME: “If only I hadn’t thrown away that receipt I could have swapped these shoes for a better pair…”(great sadness and bad feeling in the stomach)
MY DAD: “Ahh yes, but let’s say that you still had the receipt, you went back to the shop and swapped your shoes, but in your excitement at the new shoes, you run out from the shop, into the road and get hit by a truck…and then die.”
I have heard my dad say this many time and though the logic is simple, it is a great exercise in perspective and helps you stop thinking too much about some of the “what ifs” in the world. Looking at what could have happened is useless if we’re hoping it will happen through time travel, but if we’re assessing it based on how we can act differently in the future (saving the receipt till I’m sure I like the shoes – always helpful if you’re flat footed but get seduced by heels every time you’re in a shop…) then it is an essential part of growing.
Growing, ploughing? Has the countryside gone to your head?
Perhaps, but stay with me on this one…
Regret often indicates a desire for something we were unable to achieve: asking someone for a date, speaking your mind in an argument, not completing that essay in time or treating someone badly for example. The 20:20 vision of hindsight oversimplifies the situation and it is easy to either beat yourself up about where you went wrong, or dismiss that there was anything you could have done to change the outcome: “They would probably have said no…I’m just not confident enough…I had too much on at the time…he shouldn’t have provoked me.”
Does this sound familiar? Neither of the above is enabling us to learn from our past and grow…and that brings us back to ploughing.
To grow crops you have to prepare the land. You can’t just throw seed down on a nice looking field of grass and hope you turn it into Barley. Have you ever seen a ploughed field? It looks muddy, messy and clumsy – the best foundation for change into something new. And that is what’s needed to change our actions over our current regrets. I’ve got many things I wished I had done that I hope to pursue and giving up my job is probably the muddiest and clumsiest thing I could do! But change doesn’t always have to be so drastic I don’t think. Sometimes bitesize changes can be just as, if not more helpful in undoing our habits which generate the same results.
Bitesize change – the fear vaccination
To go after something we regret not doing, most people have to get over the fear that has prevented them from getting it in the past. Fear of seeming selfish, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. These fears can seem terrifying enough and to start the change we have to open ourselves up to small doses of the uncomfortable feelings of being embarrassed, rejected and failing. Pretty much like a vaccination. A small change repeated again and again can soon form a better habit, until we’re no longer worried about being embarrassed because it’s happened so often you realise you can survive it. Such “bite size” exercises can help vaccinate you against your fears so that current regrets are opportunities to learn and not just excuses to drink vodka and listen to country music…
Some Bitesize change exercises could be inviting someone out for a drink (and not minding if they say no), asking a question in a meeting about something you don’t understand, giving someone a compliment and meaning it. Anything which inches you outside of what you’re comfortable doing means the next step shouldn’t be so big…and so on and so on.
My biggest fear is failure, but rather than the Bitesize approach I’m taking a leap into the unknown. I suppose we just need to watch this space and see what happens to me!
Zen Master, Doug Harrison…some say they’re never seen in the same room together…
That Guy says
Was reminded of the following by your Dad’s take on regret…
A boy is given a horse on his 14th birthday. Everyone in the village says, “Oh how wonderful.” But a Zen master who lives in the village says, “we shall see.”
The boy falls off the horse and breaks his foot. Everyone in the village says, “Oh how awful.” The Zen master says, “We shall see.”
The village is thrown into war and all the young men have to go to war. But, because of the broken foot, the boy stays behind. Everyone says, “Oh, how wonderful.”
The Zen master says, “We shall see.”