Ask a person what she or he regrets most and you’ll probably learn more about them than you could from asking any other question. Many of us are defined, not by what we’ve done, but what we wish we’d done, or not done.
If the response to this question is mostly regrets about things that are outside their control — like not being born rich or beautiful or in another century, you’re probably talking to someone who makes excuses. If they’re mostly regrets about things not done, you’re probably talking to someone with low self-esteem, someone who doesn’t like themselves very much. If they’re mostly regrets about not working harder, you’re probably talking to someone who isn’t very honest with themselves!
Regrets about things not done and about things done are really two sides of the same coin. You only have so much time in your life, and so many choices, and to the extent you choose to do something you also choose not to do something else. My initial list of ‘What I Regret Most’ was almost entirely things I hadn’t done, and then I realized I could re-word each of them into a regret about what I did instead.
The extent to which self-esteem plays into our regrets is fascinating, but also, as the graphic above shows, a little paradoxical. It is almost as if nature furnished us with a self-regulatory ego, to keep us from getting either too full of ourselves or too down on ourselves.
In listing your regrets, you need to follow one ground-rule. You can only list things you had (or now have) some control over. You may regret not winning the lottery, or that some celebrity you never met didn’t fall in love with you, or that Bill Gates or Bill Clinton didn’t pick you as his successor (or in my case, that I am shy, insensitive and a slow learner), but this is the stuff of daydreams, not regrets. If you confuse the two you will be a very unhappy person. There must be something you can do now that will make up for past wasted time or ignorance or foolishness, and rectify or alleviate or at least mitigate your regret. If it simply might have been, it’s not a regret, it’s a fiction.
In the interests of self-disclosure, of helping my readers to know a little bit more about me, as a self-prompt at this critical juncture in my life, and as a thought-provoker for updating my About the Author bio that you’ll find in the right sidebar, I thought I’d make a list of the ten things in my life I regret most. Here, in rough order of how much I regret these things, is the list:
Things happen the way they do for a reason, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation why I did, or failed to do, the things that I now regret doing or not doing. There is no going back, and grieving about the past is futile and self-destructive. I became a wage-slave (regret #1) instead of creating a natural enterprise with others (regret #8) because, at the time, I didn’t know better. As a result of that I was too tired and disheartened to take good care of myself (regret #3), or to spend time in nature (regret #4), and therefore got upset easily (regret #6) and indulged in meaningless escapism (regret #5). I didn’t make more friends and lovers (regret #2) because I was shy and insensitive, and learned social graces slowly. I ate meat (regret #7) because I didn’t know better, and I wore clothes all the time (regret #9) because, until recently, I didn’t have the privacy to do anything else. Also until recently, I had failed at everything I tried to do that involved manual dexterity, so I had given up trying to learn self-sufficiency skills (regret #10).
What I need to do, to strike each of these regrets off my list so that, when I die, I can honestly say I did everything I wanted and hoped to do, and had no regrets, is pretty self-evident, once you know why I regret them now. Taking stock of your regrets now, understanding why you regret them, and then resolving to do the obvious things that can put them behind you, can be a useful process. In fact, once you’re aware of the regrets that were/are in your control, and understand why you regret them, you seem to sub-consciously start to make the changes needed to alleviate them.
Alas, it takes a great deal of self-knowledge both to take stock of your regrets and to understand what underlies them. Most of us live such complicated and busy lives that we have neither the self-awareness nor the time to do so. We go through life knowing we’re not really happy but not really knowing why.
Just to be provocative, I’ve also put together a list of three things I don’t regret not doing, because I’m sure they would appear on many people’s Regrets List:
What would your Regrets List look like? Remember the ground-rule: Only include things that you had (or now have) at least some control over, things that there is something you could do now to rectify, alleviate or mitigate that regret. Do you understand why you regret them? And if so, have you already subconsciously started to change your life to put them behind you?
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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