How To Overcome The Pain Of Regret

Published on: September 25, 2016

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Find Your Motivation

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” — Jim Rohn 

Regret arises when we live a life less than what we are capable of. It signifies going against the tide of our inner wisdom, which is essential to our personal growth. Regret serves as a reminder that our actions are not purposeful and a clearer intent is required. We must connect with a deeper motivation if we wish to live without regrets. Is this something you’ve experienced before? Do you still hold on to regret from the past? The key is not to hide behind excuses when life does not turn out as we hoped, since we are likely to become a victim instead of a victor.

A popular saying is that life is unfair and events happen beyond our understanding. Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of life because we may not have access to certain information. The father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud who once said: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” He affirmed that there is no hidden meaning to events and things appear as they are. It is we that add meaning to events to make sense of the world. This does not mean life is unfair; rather, we are unaware of the significance of those events when they occur.

Purposeful Action

That’s why we should be purposeful in our actions, instead of acting from a place of fear. When we take inspired action, everything unfolds according to a greater plan. The pieces of the puzzle come together as they should, and not a moment sooner. Are you comfortable with this idea or does it bring up feelings of hopelessness? I assure you; it is anything but. The secret to living without regret is to act intentionally with what is of importance to us. If we are dictated by what popular culture considers important, we are not honouring our deepest wisdom, but following the masses. This is likely to result in regret and uninspired action.

Many of life’s problems result from following others, hoping they hold the key to our happiness. This seldom works because these same people lead lives of quiet desperation, as the American essayist Henry David Thoreau once proclaimed. One need only look to celebrities where fame is considered a measure of happiness. Because they are adorned by millions, doesn’t mean their life is devoid of problems. They pay a price for their fame that includes unfulfilled lives, substance abuse, and psychological pain when trying to uphold a particular image.

To live without regret, we ought to pursue what we value most and fill our life with joy, irrespective of what others believe. This does not mean our actions should affect other people, though we must be careful not to be dictated by what they consider important. People will disapprove of how we live our life because it does not conform to their opinions. It may jeopardise their self-esteem, since they have not taken action to follow their goals or dreams. This should not dissuade us from following our bliss, as Joseph Campbell reminds us. Similarly, people are afraid to try new things for fear of failure. When did failure embed itself in our psyche and stop us in our tracks? Failure is merely feedback, alerting us to something that requires additional steps for completion. It should not affect our self-worth unless we allow it to.

A Compelling Why?

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend to and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” — Henry David Thoreau

Regret rears its ugly head when our actions are not aligned with our WHY. This is our underlying motivation clothed in a deeper purpose. Otherwise, we are likely to plod along and throw caution to the wind, hoping our efforts succeed. If it doesn’t, we experience regret and a blow to our self-esteem, since we have not tied it with our intrinsic values. Living in the present moment offers the opportunity to reconnect with what is important now. This is because we are constantly at the mercy of our thoughts, recalling the past or expecting the future to arrive as we hope for. Yet, we feel regret because the past does not match the mental image we expect.

Being present is not smooth sailing because life has a way of pulling us into the future. Our friends, family or co-workers make plans for tomorrow or next week. Our diary may be packed full of events months in advance. It becomes natural to live this way, so our thoughts become fixed on being anywhere but now. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo labels these people future-orientated. Those who live in the now experience a deep rapture and joy because they lose their connection to the past and future. They are attentive to the present moment, the source of their being. Therefore, we must carve out time to reconnect with ourselves and avoid getting caught up in the chaos of everyday life.

Life advances at a fast pace and it’s easy to lose sight of our inner needs until a major crisis appears. By then, it’s too late because the foundations that once held our life together have collapsed, taking our sense of purpose with it. To reconnect with our inner wisdom, we ought to tune in to the voice within us. This may be as play, movement or any form of creative expression. The child within wants to be heard. If we dismiss it because things out there distract us, we miss exploring what is vital to our joy and happiness. With this in mind, consider a situation in your life where regret is evident. How might you change your relationship to the event or situation? Perhaps you could look at it through the lens of forgiveness or see it as an opportunity for personal growth? We must look unfavourably on regret and live an intentional life because when we are aligned with something greater, there is no room for regret. Instead, purposeful action commandeers the helm to lead us toward a life replete with fulfilment and bliss.

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