21 Mar Are you Happy Now? Embrace Regrets
The Trend: To avoid regrets at all cost
Why is ‘regret’ such a scary word? There are supposedly helpful and quite healthy tips trying to convince you not to ever have regrets such as ‘Never regret what once made you happy’. Like with worries you are aiming at keeping the fair ones in order to learn something, act or do better. ‘Never’ is an extreme word and reflects ‘all or nothing’ thinking that does not help processing any decision or action. The next category in line with avoiding regrets is quite more dangerous as this one intends to eliminate regrets completely regardless circumstances, people involved or damage caused to yourself or others: ‘Don’t regret anything’. However this is not a well thought careful statement. Decisions and actions have at times serious consequences and require self-examination before the same type of situation presents itself. Besides, you would normally regret really hurting someone unless you are a psychopath or a sociopath! Furthermore and maybe worst, there are countless of extreme quotes threatening that you will have regrets unless you jump into the unknown, new or unpredictable despite reasonable doubt (kind of like diving into a pool without checking if there is enough water): ‘Fear is temporary and regret is forever’. For the record, fear is not always irrational but also a defense mechanism that can actually protect you against reckless decisions and actions at crucial or vulnerable times in your life. Understanding regrets instead of suppressing or avoiding them all together can lead to a more reasonable guilt-free purposeful life.
The Reality: Regrets are automatic thoughts
A regret in the first place is not a choice, self-punishment, or the enemy of achievement or a happy life. Just like any other automatic thought that pops up unwelcome into your head, a regret comes up in the form of a strenuous thought usually as a ‘should have’ statement. This thought brings along quite an exhausting also uninvited feeling of shame, guilt or anger, typically expressed in self-critical unforgiving assertions: ‘I should have listened, I was such an idiot to trust him…I should have taken that job, I screw up big time…I could have done better when I had so many opportunities to prove myself, I am good for nothing…I should have said yes, I missed a great thing…I should have gone, I ruined a wonderful relationship…I should have jumped into it and today I wouldn’t be alone, I am such a coward…I could have done more for her, I am not a good person…’. Are you familiar with any of these thoughts and feelings or statement and assertions? A regret is not a choice as it shows up unexpectedly. However you can challenge, observe, rationalize, screen and/or drop or choose the way you process the regret.
The Facts: Information is limited and imperfect
How perfect can your decisions realistically be? How much control do you have over any given situation and/or others? In a world of limited and imperfect information you can only hope to make the best or optimal decision given the information you see, have or read at the time in a particular situation. It is pretty easy to make a choice when the alternatives are on the table and the information is all there for you to examine and weight as in the case of a vacation destination or trip. By default, the bigger and more risky the decision you have to make like buying a home or taking this job instead of the other, the less available and more imperfect information is. Moreover, the larger the time horizon the more uncertainty; and the greater the commitment required on your part like getting married or moving away, the harder to have all the information at hand. The complexity of the matter, timeframe or timeline, your experience and strengths in the area, timing and the people involved, all determine how easy and perfect or risky and imperfect a decision is; and naturally or normally the likelihood of regrets. Understanding your lack of total control over a limited incomplete information scenario might be a better way to accept regrets as opportunity cost in the makeup of the decision itself, and simply embrace regrets as part of your complex happy existence.