Every day you’re faced with thousands of choices. Most are small and inconsequential so they have no long term effect on your life. However, there are a few decisions you’ll have to face that can do some real damage.
Not only can the wrong decision cost you a huge opportunity, it can lead to a much longer emotional drain in regret. It would be great to not have to deal with such a negative emotion. So couldn’t you just find a way to avoid regret altogether?
Mistakes of the Past
Avoiding the causes of regret would be extremely difficult. All regrets really stem from something you feel sorry about that did or didn’t happen in the past. Narrow it down even further and you’ll find a decision you made. And that’s all regrets really are: bad decisions.
So if you want to live a life completely without regret, all you have to do is make good decisions all the time. Of course, that’s much easier to say than to actually put into practice. No one makes the correct decision on every choice all the time. If you can find someone who has always made the best decisions, they either have had things easy or been very lucky.
Making perfect choices on every decision is just wishful thinking. If you live long enough, you are eventually going to make a bad choice. It’s something you really can’t avoid. Regret is an unfortunate side-effect of life.
That’s not a bad thing though. Far from it. Just because something doesn’t go your way hardly spells the end of the world. You have to risk making mistakes in life to actually accomplish anything. You have to work hard to get anywhere in life. And as you‘re doing that, you’ll make mistakes. Personally speaking, I’d rather risk regretting a decision later in life than always playing things safely.
Accept Your Past
Fortunately, there is a powerful thing you can do to reduce the negative effect of regrets from your past. If you made a bad decision about something, just accept it as part of your past and as who you are. If something didn’t go according to plans, just accept what happened.
The pain associated with regret only happens if you can’t get over the negatives about it. It’s only when you accept your past and forgive yourself for everything that happened when pain will go away. You don’t have to like how things turned out, but acceptance will at least get you to stop thinking so negatively about it.
I’m not saying that it will necessarily be an easy process. I know that many people have a hard time getting over their past regrets. Some will never get over them. But the sooner you face them and make them a part of who you are, the better you’ll feel about them.
Not All Regrets Are Equal
Accepting your past can help with decisions you’ve already made. What about decisions you have to make now, in the present? Well, Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Over the years, I’ve come to agree more and more with what he’s said. And you can apply what he said in a way to reduce the amount of regrets you’ll have during your lifetime.
People regret not doing something a lot more than actually doing things. In fact, if you listen to what people say they regret most, you’ll notice that they usually list off things they didn’t do. So one way to reduce regrets later in life is to do as many things as you can now.
I’ve used this strategy successfully in my own life. Since I was in a Senior in high school I had a strong desire to explore my artistic side and paint with acrylic. The only trouble was that I didn’t think I had any painting talent. Finally a few years ago, I just decided to do it even if it was terrible.
So I went to an art store and bought some basic brushes, a canvas and some paint. Then I went to the library and took out a step-by-step painting book. Within a few days I had something that somewhat resembled the photo in the book. It wasn’t Rembrandt, but it was a good beginning. I later ditched the book and started painting on my own.
Similarly, I had a desire to become a teacher. I knew I would have to go back to grad school to get my license, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go. Both of these experiences taught me that it is important to do what you want to do.
The more things you want to do in your life that you accomplish, the more you’ll minimize the regrets later on.
Being able to recognize the things you want to do in life and actively pursuing your dreams will greatly reduce the amount of regrets you’ll experience later. In fact, one of my biggest reasons for making a bucket list and crossing off as many items on it is to make sure I don’t have any regrets when I get older.
So even though you can never completely eliminate regrets from happening, you can greatly minimize their effect. It’s basically like living without them. And I can live with that.
photo credit: Will Montague