Life is seldom predictable, and when we look back at decisions we made, we are often overly harsh on ourselves about our choices. Hindsight is always 20/20, but… our judgment of whether the decision was a waste, a good investment, or resources well spent is anything but objective.
I believe that living with regret is one of the most harmful and unproductive ways to spend our days. It is like “crying over spilled milk” (where no amount of assessment will clean up the mess or prevent it from happening the next time). Another analogy is that we living with regret is like driving by looking in the rear view mirror. Both limit our ability to live actively (and happily) in the present.
Regret is a state of mind based on a (negative) judgment of our past decisions. If we judge that we wasted resources instead of investing them or spending them well, we stay stuck in the past wanting to change where we are today. (But we have no guarantee that a different decision would have played out any better!)
I believe that if we were kinder to ourselves and could quiet our inner critic, we could change our outlook and move past regret. Would it not be easier to live positively in the present?
Moving past Regret
I find that a 3 step process works to move past (and reframe) regret:
- Replay the decision objectively: Given the limits on our time, energy, love and money, no one wants to waste it on bad choices. In this step, I consider the “me” who I was at the time and am compassionate knowing that I made the best decision I could, given the information available at the time. I realize that my responsibility ends with my behavior (and not that of others) and this helps me to be kinder when I consider the decision.
- Realize that I am only one person party in a connected world. When I consider how a decision played out in my life, I remind my inner critic that other people and circumstances were involved to affect the outcome. Whether the decision involved love (another person was involved), finances (market factors and economic considerations), time (a constant outside my control), relationships, a move (factors outside my control), job (others involved), or a variety of other things, the outcome was only partly determined by me.
- Judge the outcome with kindness and integrity. don Miguel Ruiz outlines the first agreement (from his book The Four Agreements) as: Always live with integrity; which means that we must treat ourselves in the same way that we would treat a best friend. When it comes to judging our choices, we need to consider what we would tell a best friend in the same situation.
Let me give you an example of how these 3 steps can work. Consider that you lost your house due to foreclosure or are danger of doing so and feel the regret of “wasting your money”.
- Consider your decision to buy the house in the first place. Real estate was historically considered a safe choice and an investment. Regardless of the price you paid, you likely weighed a number of factors before your purchase, and made the best decision you could. Remember your state of happiness (and probably some trepidation) and optimism when you finalized the deal.
- Realize that the market and circumstances are variable. Even if you considered the risks, your involvement in the current crisis was likely minimal. The real estate downturn, the economy, and your current employment status affect you, but they were not your doing. Give yourself a break.
- Judge the outcome with kindness and integrity. If you were talking to a best friend, you’d tell him/her that the decision was the best one at the time and life never unfolds as planned. You would remind them of the good things that came with owning a house (even temporarily), and how the decision manifested things (like new friends, tax deductions, stability, etc.). Undoubtedly, you would encourage your friend to look at the past objectively, and to be optimistic about the future. Live with integrity and do this when you talk to yourself.
Reframing your past with the 3 steps allows us to move past regret and view our decisions properly as investments and resources well spent. Certainly, we will still view some events as a waste (of time, energy, money, or heartbeats), but the more we can minimize these, the better our present and our future can be.
What do you think – would this work for you?
Have a positive week!