“I wish I had spent more time enjoying myself when I was in my 20s,” a woman in her mid-40s said during a therapy session. “My life is so miserable now, looking back, I think I shouldn’t have been married so early, I should have studied music like I wanted to, and now I can’t get that time back.” Tears welled up in her eyes before she steeled herself. “Well, let me try to make the best of what I have now.”
I often see people struggling with regret, an insidious emotion that saps vitality and makes the present a more regrettable situation. By thinking about what might have been, you are disconnected from the unfolding present.
Regret binds you to the past, and to a life that exists only as a construct of your mind, instead of looking at the present. Of course, the human condition is rife with opportunities for regret: the shares you sold for a pittance a few months before their value shot up; the boyfriend/girlfriend you broke up with, who now seems wonderfully perfect compared to your spouse, and so on. In that sense, every choice you make or every opportunity you don’t take could cause you regret in the future.
By indulging in regret (because that’s what it often becomes — an indulgence), you are depriving yourself of a chance to live. Regret is a drug that feeds on itself — tomorrow, you might regret that you wasted the past in regret. Every moment that you spend in regret is a moment that’s only half lived.
To stop regret, know that you will act to the best of your abilities and awareness, with full cognisance that, ultimately, only you can make a decision for yourself. Understand that even inaction is a decision. And, finally, do not overestimate the amount of free will you have.
Act boldly, and then let go of the action. When you act decisively, with full acceptance of your own power of choice, and then surrender the outcome to fate, all the energy locked up in the past will course back to the present. And then you’ll know that there’s nothing to regret and everything to celebrate.