Sunday, July 29, 2012

Learning from regret

Recently I read a quotation that encouraged us to live without regret. It implied that regretting past mistakes was unprofitable and only served to depress us and make life less enjoyable. 

I confess to harboring many regrets about my life. 

All but one of them I can and do usually sublimate in my daily life. I intellectually understand that I can't go back and correct past mistakes, but emotionally the desire to do so is ever-present. Regretting past behaviors or words can be emotionally crippling. It's important to me to examine my regrets in an attempt to learn from them and adapt my future actions based on what I learn, but not allow my regrets to damage me emotionally. I make every effort to deal with them intellectually rather than emotionally. 

This week I was reflecting on some of the events in my life I especially regret and came to a realization I'd missed before.

Most of the events in my life I regret, either the commission of or the outcome of, relate to decisions I made about the course of my life. I've made several lousy decisions about my future. Had I chosen to travel a different path my life would have taken a completely different route, and possibly a more pleasing and beneficial one. The realization I came to is that I tend to prefer little or no change to my external world when things are going well, or at least well enough, because I live more in my head than I do in the reality around me. I don't want to be bothered by adapting to changes in my external life if I can avoid them. When I do make changes in my external reality I tend to give those changes too little thought, I don't spend enough time to consider the effects of those changes on my life. I don't take my external reality seriously enough.

If I ignored my regrets I wouldn't have had this revelation, I would continue to make the same mistakes in the future. With this understanding I can give more consideration to my future. I now appreciate the need to spend more time and thought on what effects my decisions will have on my external life, and in turn have on my happiness and peace of mind. I can avoid more regrets down the road. 

No doubt we need to keep a handle on our regrets so that they don't cause us to freeze in our tracks, unable to make any decision at all lest we do something we may later regret. But it's beneficial to our self-knowledge to examine dispassionately our past actions, especially those we later came to regret. We need to learn from them in order to assure that the decisions we make in the future are more sound and thought-out. We can only avoid committing actions in the future we'll later regret if we know what we've regretted doing in the past and why we made those decisions.

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