If it's good,
If it's bad,
We've all been to that sad and angry place known as regret. We don't like it there but, at some point everyone has been forced to take a trip there after s/he did or said something and then thought, "OMG, why did I do that??? What was I thinking???" We fret. We panic. We frantically try to think of a way to undo what's been done. If only there were a "delete" button or a "rewind" button, we think desperately. But, alas, there is not. You can never undo what's been done, no matter how badly you might want to. Recently I faced a situation like this. I did something and I instantly regretted it, but there was no going back. Like for me, the next day an email from Oprah popped up in my inbox with the title: "Six Steps To Regret-Proof Your Life". Perfect! I might not be able to go back and undo this mistake, but I could work on preventing it from happening again, which was certainly better than then frantic what-do-I-do-now? thoughts that were racing around in my head. I dove head first into the article with the cheerful hope that it would somehow help me move from regret to acceptance. In this post I'm going to fill you in on Martha Beck's article "Who's Sorry Now?: Six Steps to Regret-Proof Your Life" as well as add my own little insights on the topic (considering I've had some personal experience relating to the not-so-pleasant subject of regret!).
Martha Beck's Six Steps To Regret-Proof Your Life
- Get beyond denial. In this step, Beck argues that we need to get away from the "shouldn't haves," which are statements like "That shouldn't have happened" or "I shouldn't have done that." When using these statements, Beck claims that we are "in a struggle against reality," which I completely agree with. Things happen. "Shouldn't haves" don't change the facts. According to Beck, "if only" statements are just as bad (if not worse!). When we say things like, "If only I hadn't gotten married so young..." or "If only I could have gotten that job..." we're also avoiding reality. Sure, things might have been better "if only..." but they might have been worse. Either way, they aren't that way and we have to live in the moment, in our now. Beck says this (which I love!): "If you're prone to unproductive regret, please hear this: Everyone agrees with you. That thing you regret? It really, really, really shouldn't have happened. But. It. Did. If you enjoy being miserable, by all means, continue to rail against this fact. If you'd rather be happy, prune the "shouldn't haves" from your mental story, and move on."
- Separate regret's ingredients. According to Beck, regret is a mixture of being sad and being mad (two awful emotions if you ask me!) and there can be difficult levels of each depending on the situation. (Sometimes a lot of mad and little sad; sometimes just the opposite.) What Beck advises is to understand that both emotions are there in whatever quantity they've manifested themselves in. Beck argues that many people get stuck in either anger or sadness and deny the presence of the other emotion. Beck believes that it's best to consider both emotions and to deal with them separately. She suggests listing all of the things you're sad or angry about by using the following statements: "I'm sad that..." and "I'm angry at..." When you regret a situation, list all of the reasons you're sad and angry and then move on to the next step.
- Grieve what is lost. It's natural to be upset when you've lost something, whether it be a loved one, a job opportunity, or your dignity (yeah, I added that last one...). Beck advises taking time to grieve what it is that you've lost. It's okay to be sad and upset. Do whatever you must to deal with your sadness and your loss. Beck makes a great point about getting over regret and dealing with your sadness and I just have to share it with you here: "You're finished grieving when you see someone gaining what you regret losing and feel only joy for them—maybe even secret gratitude that circumstances forced you to enlarge your own capacity for joy." I don't know about you, but I have a hard time dealing when I see someone else getting what I thought I wanted. (Guess this means I have some work to do!). Beck realizes that sometimes parts of the sadness just won't go away and, according to her, this is regret's way of telling you to find part of whatever you lost (see the next step).
- Reclaim your dreams. While you probably can't get back whatever it is that you've lost, you can reclaim the essence of that thing. Beck offers some examples. If you're unhappy with your weight, love your healthy body. If you lost a winning lottery ticket, find ways to enjoy abundance. If you've spent too many years being celibate, enjoy passion. Basically, no matter what it is that you regret, you have the ability to claim some part of it -- the essence of whatever it is that you lost -- right now. Think about what you would have gotten from that thing that you lost and cultivate those experiences in your life through what you already have. Think you would've been happier if you hadn't made that mistake? Celebrate the happiness in your life. Think you would be more sane if you hadn't had five kids? Spend some time alone and think about all of the things you love about your family. Beck says that she can "brazenly promise that if you decide to reclaim the essence of anything you regret losing, you'll find it—often sooner than you think, in ways you would never have expected."
- Analyze your anger. While sadness may sometimes jump to the forefront when we're dealing with regret and loss, anger is just as important Beck says. According to her (and I agree!), anger is something that can steer us. It can guide us in the directions we need to go, but we have to listen to what our anger is telling us. About anger, Beck says: "Don't fear it, run from it, tranquilize it, try to kill it." Instead, deal with it. I don't know about you, but I am definitely an avoider when it comes to this department. Rather than deal with anger (both at myself and at others), I avoid it. I push it away and do my best to pretend it's not there. But, no surprise, it always comes back. Emotions don't disappear unless they are dealt with. If you don't deal with them (one of my main problems!), you just move them around and they will manifest them in a variety of different (and sometimes very inappropriate) ways. Beck suggests meeting with a friend or writing in a journal about your anger. She says, "There will be a lot of meaningless sound and fury, but there will also be information about exactly what needs to change in your present and future so that you'll stop suffering from old regrets and create new ones." This is so true and I will absolutely be embracing this advice (as hard as it might be for an emotion-avoider like myself!).
- Learn to lean loveward. This is my favorite step (and that's mostly because I love the word "loveward"). Beck writes: "When I saw A Chorus Line, I wondered if it's literally true that "I can't regret what I did for love." So I did a little thought experiment. I recalled all my significant regrets, and sure enough, I found that none of them followed a choice based purely on love. All were the consequence of fear-based decisions. In the cases where my motivations were a mix of love and fear, it was always the fear-based component that left me fretful and regretful." Reading that really made me think. What decisions have I made based on love? When I make a decision based on fear (which I do all too often), it is usually not the right decision. Next time I'm wondering if I will regret what I'm doing/saying, I plan to ask myself: "Am I making this decision based on love (for myself or others) or is this decision coming from a place of fear?" I suggest you ask yourself the same question and we will both have a lot fewer regrets!
In the email sent by Oprah, this quote was posted at the top. For whatever reason my eyes jumped right over it and into the heart of the email. This morning when I went to re-open the email, the quote was promiently staring at me in my in-box, in the small section where a sample of the email is displayed and I was completely obsessed with the truth in it. The quote, by John Burnside, author of The Glister, reads:
"Mistakes don't happen in a single moment..."
What could be truer than that? While I admit that there are times when a word or two slips out of your mouth that you want to take back, isn't it usually more complex than that. The big mistakes -- those that are usually most detrimental to our happiness -- typically are the reselt of many, many moments adding up (some of which are just moments of thought). Many mistakes, though we'd hate to admit it to ourselves, are premeditated. We know we're about to do the wrong thing, make the wrong choice, say something hurtful -- but we do it anyway. The important thing to remember is that we all make mistakes. Tiny ones. Small ones. Average ones. Big ones. Life-altering ones. We all make them -- it's part of life! -- and that's okay. All we can do is the best we can. We can read the ideas above and hope that, more often than not, we choose the better path, the path of least regret.
How do YOU deal with regret?
Have any good tips for dealing with those OMG moments?
What do you think of Beck's steps? Will they work for you?