Regret. Just the word can make us feel squeamish.
I don’t want to have regrets, but I do.
I wish I didn’t have any, but the reason regrets are regrets is because there is nothing we can do to change them.
Or is there?
What if we could act retrospectively, after the regrettable, to diminish regret’s power and change our future for the better? And what if we could take away regret’s potential before the regrettable even happens?
Finish this sentence, “I regret ____________________________.”
I know it’s uncomfortable. Maybe some have stopped reading.
Since you kept reading, I want to show you how regret doesn’t need to stay negative.
Perhaps it’s since being diagnosed with a terminal illness that I have become more aware of my regrets. Everyone tells you, “don’t have any regrets” – the pressure is keen to be able to say you have none. It makes us sound more courageous and confident, secure in every decision we have ever made.
But is it attainable?
I am beginning to realise that if I never had a regret: I never would have changed, I never would have grown, and I never would have admitted fault.
In fact, I think there are only two ways to live without regrets, and they are: 1) ignorant to our regrets, or 2) aware of our regrets. One is pride, the other, humility.
Pride will not allow you to admit failure. Whereas, regret is a powerful change agent.
Regret can redirect our lives in the right direction.
If you live without having any regrets, then you have missed the opportunity to courageously learn and change for the better.
I remember when I was a young boy, I stole a lead pencil from the local Woolworths store. I needed a 2HB pencil and for some reason, I thought the only way to have it was to steal it. When I went home that night with my prize, I could hardly sleep. I was so ashamed that I had stolen the pencil.
I regretted it.
Regret for what I had done made me sneak the pencil back into the store the next morning. Even now, I can clearly see myself returning the pencil to its shelf.
I knew I wasn’t a thief by nature, but I had stolen.
My regret caused me to make a change.
Shame would have kept calling me a thief. But acknowledging regret caused me to respond and that decision may have even changed the direction of my life.
Remember, shame will try to define you, but acknowledging your mistakes can REdefine you.
Regret motivates us towards change. And, importantly, it doesn’t always have to be our personal regret to motivate change in us.
I have learned so much from other people who have admitted their regrets.
I remember talking to a man with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) who had lost the ability to eat and swallow. He told me about how he had refused to have a PEG put in his stomach (a PEG is a tube passed into a persons stomach to provide a means of feeding when oral intake is not adequate). Later, he came to a place when he wanted to get one but it was too late. He had missed his window of opportunity and the anaesthetist would no longer allow the operation. He told me he regretted not getting it when he was well enough. Maybe it could have helped him lived longer. I have learned from his regret and if the time ever comes for me to get a PEG, I will.
His regret will change my tomorrow.
Another friend was sharing at a leadership conference about how he regretted the way he treated staff as a young boss and how he used that regret to change his style of leadership and therefore the type of leader he wanted to became. His vulnerability made me a better leader.
It teaches me that being vulnerable about our regrets can bring change in others so they don’t have the same regret.
Whose tomorrow could you change by your regret?
I believe there is no regret that can’t be turned into a life changing experience.
There is no regret, too small or too large, that can’t be turned around.
Speaking of the small, I remember getting a credit card interest charge of over $100. I regretted missing the payment due date and not paying it in full. Since then, I have never paid interest on my credit card. I pay on time and don’t allow the card to go above what I can afford to pay off at the end of the month. Regret changed the way I did my banking and made me get knowledge about how the interest is calculated on credit cards.
I can say, I have no regret about being charged that interest as it has saved me being charged again.
If you learn from your regrets, then they are truly no longer regrets. You take away their power.
What regrets can you learn from, and in doing so disempower, today?
Let me encourage you that the more you learn from your regrets, the less regrets you’ll have.
So here’s to no regrets,