Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


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How to avoid regrets – Or, “Hey – your last post said they were fine!”

If you looked at my last post, you may think that there is a contradiction between the title of that post and this one. πŸ™‚

It’s just that in writing that one, I had a few other thoughts that take regret in a bit of a different direction. So, I guess this post is kind of a partner post (if that’s a thing) to the last one. πŸ™‚

As you may recall, the previous post talked about regret in the context of things that have happened in the past.

This post talks about avoiding the regret in the first place.

Really, it’s quite simple: Don’t do anything you will wish you didn’t do and do everything you will wish you had.

Ta daaaaaaaaaaa!! That’s solved.

“Then,” you might ask, “why are there still more words on this page, Lucy???”

Well, naturally, nothing is ever really that simple, is it? I mean, in a way it really does come down to that, but there’s a bit more involved.

When I was 18, I was at university and having a lot of fun. There was a party one night (well, lots of nights, actually… πŸ™‚ ) and I had to work. I really wanted to go out with my friends so I called work and quit. Obviously, at that point in my life, I thought I’d regret missing that party more than I’d regret quitting that job.

Now, I can’t even conceive of doing such a thing!

What I would regret now is considerably different than what I would have regretted then.

That said, there are some general suggestions we can follow that can help us avoid some potential down-the-road moments of “I wish I had….”

In fact, if you ask Mr. Google for advice on how to prevent future regret, you’ll get a LOT of advice. There are all kinds of lists, with 5, 10 or even 15 tips in them.

Here are just a few of them, if you’d like to check them out:

There are things common to most of the lists I’ve read, such as spending time with loved ones or not living the life other people expect us to live. But there is some variety in there, too – something for everyone, I would say.

None of it is rocket science (unless, perhaps you might regret one day not having learned rocket science πŸ˜‰ ), but they are still good reminders.

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we forget to do the things that are important to us and need those reminders every now and then.

In some time management stuff I read years ago, I learned something that has stuck with me to this day: We put our time into what is important to us.

I didn’t (and don’t) intend this to be a time-management post, but I think it is relevant to touch on it a tiny bit. It can be a useful exercise to sit and look at what we spend our time doing and compare that list to a list of the things that are important to us.

I would suggest that the things we say are important to us and that we don’t spend our time on are probably the things we will regret.

By bringing those lists into alignment with each other we can in that way create our own customized list of ways to prevent our personal regrets down the road.

We probably can’t completely avoid “I wish I had…” statements, but doing that one thing can help us avoid some of the biggest regrets that we might otherwise have had.


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I have regrets – and I’m glad

I used to buy into the whole “regrets are bad” thing. It sounds good and it makes sense: Regret is a bad feeling, so not having regrets would be a good thing, right?

When I sat and really thought about it, though, asking myself if I have regrets, I realized that I do – many, in fact. Most are small – things like wishing I hadn’t said something to someone or said it in a particular way. But there are a few big, life-impacting decisions, too. And I genuinely regret them.

At first I felt badly about that. It seemed like I was doing something wrong, given the pervasiveness of the “no regrets” movement.

For example, when I just Googled “live without regret”, the following three items were the top results:

  • How to Live Your Life Without Regret
  • 40 Ways to Live Life Without Regrets
  • How to Start Living Life Without Regret Right Now

There are also a kajillion memes and quotes about it, in case you are interested.

So, I tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t regret those things. “Regret is bad” seemed to be everywhere and so many people I knew were adherents. Many people, in fact, talked about it as thought it were a badge of honour. “I regret nothing I’ve ever done!”

But I couldn’t quite convince myself to really get on board.

Maybe it’s a matter of semantics. For me, regret is about wishing I hadn’t done something (or in some cases, wishing I had). A couple of definitions I found online says pretty much the same thing:

  • Merriam-Webster: to be very sorry for
  • Cambridge Dictionary : a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better

From what I’ve read and heard, though, regret seems to have been equated with dwelling on things. If that’s where you’re coming from, then I agree: We shouldn’t dwell on things to a negative degree.

For me, though, regret and dwelling on things are totally separate items.

The things I regret, I regret for very specific reasons: they either hurt other people or myself.

As such, I’m glad I regret them because the regret reminds me why I don’t want to repeat those actions (or inactions).

I still wish that in those moments I had made other choices and I’m glad I feel that way. They weren’t OK choices to make. Honestly, to me, I should regret them.

Yes, I learned lessons from them, but me having an opportunity to learn a lesson isn’t a valid reason to excuse those decisions – decisions that caused hurt and pain.

Learning the lesson, rather, is the way to turn a bad thing into a not-so-bad thing. It still doesn’t turn it into a “good” thing (to me), but it kind of makes the best out of a bad situation.

The important thing is that I don’t dwell on those things. I don’t use them to torture* myself or to paralyze myself from moving forward. And I have forgiven myself for them.

I could be wrong, but (going by the “I wish I hadn’t done that” definition) I don’t think it’s truly possible to have absolutely no regrets about anything ever.

Setting an expectation of “no regret” seems, then, to be setting ourselves up for failure. (If you are one to beat yourself up about poor choices, you probably don’t need another “failure” to add to your list. πŸ˜‰ )

I think it’s just another one of those things where the pendulum seems to swing entirely to one direction or another.

Generally, we land, I think, somewhere in the middle.

We recognize we shouldn’t have done something, we learn from it, we take that learning with us and move on, with the regret in the perspective in which it was perhaps intended:

“Hey – that wasn’t so fun. Let’s not do that again, K?”

Want to learn more?

In finishing up this post, I thought I’d go back to the ol’ Google machine and see just how off-base I am with this whole “embrace your regrets” thing, and found an interesting article in the Huffington Post. It contains some comments from BrenΓ© Brown, if you are interested.


*There are times, yes, when my anxiety is on overdrive and my brain decides to replay every poor decision I’ve ever made (from decades ago even) and every unkind thing I’ve ever said. It even throws in several moments that weren’t poor decisions or unkind moments – it twists normal, everyday interactions and interprets them negatively. But that’s not about regret. That’s about brain chemistry. When I’m not in the throes of anxiety, I know the difference. But that can be a whole series of posts in and of itself. πŸ™‚


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