Contemplating the subject of regret can be viewed from two overriding perspectives; whether you regret the things you do and say, or whether you regret the things you don’t do and say. I don’t know which is the right perspective – and it might depend on the subject matter – but I do think it’s the things we don’t do and say that stick in our brains and tend to haunt us over time. Let’s look briefly at each side:
On the things you do say and do, if it’s something simple, you usually find out right away if you’re going to regret it: eating too large a dinner, being the only one dressed casual walking into a business meeting, being rude to someone who didn’t deserve your bad treatment. Other times, it takes a while to know if a course of action leads to regret: selling a stock out of emotion that later goes on to double, making a rash business decision that turns out badly, and continuing to pay for the gym membership even though you don’t go for months at a time. It’s the same with words. When you say the wrong thing, you often immediately feel regret. Who hasn’t said something that they haven’t wished to take right back? How many times have you declared a position on something without having all the facts and then wished you would have waited to speak so assuredly? Regrets about the actions we do take usually hit us at varying points in time. But, if we paying attention, we can learn from the mistakes we make so that we can make better decisions in the future.
On the things we that we don’t say and do, it’s a lot tougher. Days and weeks often seem long, but years can go by so quickly. So fast, in fact, that we can sometimes find that we missed our chances to do or say things that could have meaningfully impacted our lives. Either we’re too scared, or too tired, or too timid, or too busy living the live we have – not the one we want. And we can realize that sometimes it’s too late to say or do certain things. Although we might have made a million great choices along the way, in reflective moments, we sometimes ponder what might have been if we would have done or said some of things we didn’t do or say. What if you had studied harder at school and gone to a better college? What didn’t you say to a great friend or loved one before it was too late? Where would you be if you had the guts to take a chance and reinvent your life in another state? How would things have turned out if you pursued your love of music or art or some other passion that you gave up too early in life – or didn’t pick back up?
If we ask these kinds of questions of ourselves more often, the answers can lead to us take action; to become more active, more focused, more committed, more zestful in our approach to the endless possibilities that each day presents. It can allow up to find our dreams and achieve our goals. It can lead us to have better relationships and be more fulfilled. In your business, the root of your advice often lies in helping people take emotion out of their decisions, because doing so usually leads to less regrets. Fortunately, in life, the emotions brought out through such contemplation can drive us to take action or say things will change our lives for the better and free of us having so many regrets down the road.
“You’re like the thief that is isn’t the least bit sorry that he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry that he’s going to jail.” – Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind as Rhett responds to Scarlett’s thoughts on the things she regrets in life.
“There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should be. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that.” – Red to the parole board in Shawshank Redemption right before they finally approve his parole.
“I immediately regret this decision.” – Ron Burgundy in Anchor Man (after jumping into the grizzly bear pit.)