On How to Not Give Yourself Future Regrets

What do you regret?

Have you ever told others “I have no regrets. I would do everything the same if I had it to do all over again?” If so, you answer the question the way lots of people do. But you’re not answering the question honestly.

Nobody—and I mean nobody—gets through life without words better left unsaid, without sometimes choosing a dead-end path rather than a constructive one, without having seriously faulty judgement, without occasionally making terrible choices, without sometimes being insensitive or heartless, and without regretting their choice of romantic partners, career path, education, parenting, frittering away too much time and misuse of substances, to name a few.

Indeed, regretting something we said or did—or didn’t say and didn’t do—is one of the ways we motivate ourselves to not make the same mistakes again, and to hold ourselves accountable for our words, our behaviors, our judgments and our wrongdoing. It’s one of the ways we use to correct course or decide to make changes in our lives, and it’s the primary way to hold ourselves responsible so we don’t repeat the past.

With that in mind, here are some of the topics that people have the most regrets about, along with suggestions on how you might keep future regrets on these topics to a minimum:

  • Love, Marriage and Relationships: Do everything you can to assist your romantic relationship in staying connected. Take an active interest in the other person. Learn to communicate effectively, with an absence of anger, reactivity or defensiveness. Learn and practice good listening skills, not needing to be “right” (that makes the other person “wrong”), having compassion and empathy, offering genuine friendship and picking your battles wisely. In a conflict, there has to be give and take.
  • Accomplishment: Challenge yourself to do what’s hard, not easy. Accomplishing something that is hard to do gives us a strong sense of satisfaction and a greater feeling of self-esteem. To feel accomplishment, you have to feel like you’ve earned your success.
  • Work or career: The most important question is whether you enjoy what you do. Regardless of what you do for a living, find some aspect of it that you take pride in and is personally fulfilling. If you spend your days making bread, step back and admire the smell, the taste and how well the loaves turn out. If you’re looking for a different career, instead of asking yourself what will make you happy, ask instead what will offer you more fulfillment.
  • Presence and engagement: Have the courage to truly show up—in love, at work and with your children. Being truly present for another person is the essence of staying connected and being in a relationship that works.
  • Lean toward risk: The fear of making a mistake or of being wrong stops many people from taking a risk. The old adage is nevertheless true: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
  • Self-transcendence: Being able to see beyond this moment and beyond my current feelings. Having a big-picture, longer range perspective that is not dependent on my present emotions. When you do this one thing, you will lessen the time you spend living in high drama, reactivity, anxiety, fear and anger.
  • Parenting: Spend more time with your kids, and share in their activities and in their interests. Your kids (regardless of their age, but it’s much more important when they’re young) are greatly influenced by your warmth toward them, your friendliness, your encouragement, your approval, your respect and your love. They have to feel loved and approved of, not just told it.
  • Aging: Always be open to learning and growing, no matter how old you are. If you stop doing this, you will feel older. Also, avoid isolating yourself by maintaining and fostering social and familial connections. Look for ways to stay active and engaged.

One other thing you can do: Every night, as you lay your head down on your pillow and right before you sleep, ask yourself what happened today that you are grateful for or proud of. It’s a way to keep your mind on the positive things, because focusing on the negative is a bad habit that does not bring you peace of mind or contentment.

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