Ah, regret. We all have it, maybe not right now, but at some time. I’ve had it, haven’t you? Sometimes we have big regrets. A lost love that we didn’t try hard enough to keep, a business opportunity we let slip through our hands, a job interview we didn’t prepare enough for. Sometimes regrets are small. Large or small, regret can stick with us, and for some of us, it festers like a wound. So, what can we do about regret?
Well, first it’s important to know that the emotion of regret which can be associated with guilt, loss, anxiety, anger, and other feelings, serves as a guide to action. Hmmm, you might say, a guide to action? Yep, part of the function of regret is to guide future behavior.
Let me give you an example. When I learned QiGong from my first teacher, he also wanted to teach me Tai Chi. At the time, being much younger and less mature, though some might argue about the maturity, I was more interested in harder styles of martial arts, which I pursued. I did not see the value of Tai Chi for fighting, which was what I was interested in at the time. Several years after my teacher died, I found out that he had been a sought after instructor in China before he had to flee the country. When he came to America, his son was completely uninterested in learning anything “Chinese”, and as far as I know, I was his only student. So, I regretted losing the opportunity to learn what he taught, as he was so good at teaching that he had been widely sought after in his homeland. I also believe that we owe an obligation to those who teach us, and he gave freely of his time and knowledge, so a part of me feels that I let him down. So what do I do with that regret? Well, honestly, for a long time, like many people, I didn’t do much with it, other than practice what I had learned. But over time I made a decision to teach and pass on what I had learned, which recently I decided to do more broadly and also decided, that as a way to honor his memory that I would learn Tai Chi. So, I’m taking a Tai Chi class. It’s fun and the people are nice.
So, here are three choices you can make with regret and the impact each can have:
- Do nothing – it could get better with time or it could get worse
- Do something to numb the feelings temporarily like drink, eat, sleep etc – works in the short term, but not in the long term.
- Identify an action that will help you to either feel less regret or that helps you to live more in accord with what you value – if you live your life according to your goals and values, then regrets are like leaves in a stream. They might come around again, but then they disappear.
Is there something in your life that this might help you with?