Conventional wisdom says that it’s unhealthy to hold on to regret, that it’s far better to just let things go. Don’t dwell on the past, just move into THE FUTURE.
I’m also somewhat of an expert on regret, so I think you can take it easy on that grain of salt when you listen to my opinion.
See, I think it’s a good thing to hold on to your regrets.
Without these regrets, you won’t know what it is you’re trying to avoid in life.
We’ve all heard about the magic of visualization and affirmations, psychological tricks to “program” your mind towards achieving a desired outcome.
But regret can help focus on what you don’t want to happen.
When plotting one’s course or embarking on a new endeavor, it’s useful to visualize your ideal desired outcome.
But the other side of the coin is just as useful: Visualizing the worst-case scenario. You can then work backwards to determine the steps that will take you there so you can avoid them when they arise.
But more than visualization is that feeling of regret, that twisting in your gut like a drill that keeps you up at night and makes you sweat with worry.
Remember that feeling. Hold it in and let it consume you. And then, when you let it out, don’t forget how it felt. And know you never want to feel it again.
If just the echo is this bad, how much worse will the real thing be?
If your desired ideal outcome is the carrot, then regret is the stick. And what a stick it is.
Of course, there are things you can’t control. I’m not talking about those things. Let those go.
But for things in your control, remembering last regret can keep you from re-making the same mistakes.
I have been in situations where I’ve been caught unprepared for sudden job loss. I had to scramble because I had no backup plan.
What I did–going back to school, networking, continuously sending resumes–was spurred on by that feeing of helplessness that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my family.
I’ve also had some pretty awful lapses in moral judgment, the kinds of things that make you, literally, wish you were dead and where you wouldn’t feel sad about it at all.
To never do this again, I just summon the way I felt after the fact. This is more preventative than all of the positive pithy proverbs in the world.
Carry around your past regrets, not as an anchor, but as a guide.
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