What do you do with regret?
I don’t know for certain, but I have a lot of it: regret over opportunities not taken, hobbies not invested in, and relationships lost.
Mindfulness encourages us to acknowledge the emotion, observe it, and allow space for it. But, as a worker-bee personality, I want to do something with the emotion—it doesn’t feel like enough to just watch it and let it be. The ruminations and feelings of disappointment beg me to provide them with some resolution.
Why didn’t I try to mend more relationships instead of letting a rift get in the way? At the time, the issues felt so big. In hindsight, disagreements are linked to the natural ebb and flow integral to all relationships; part of the fabric of relationships to rip, to tear, to be mended, and to come back to life in a new way.
Why did I quit all those hobbies? I am a woman of many interests. And, if I had stuck with them, I would be a modern-day yogini, a guitarist, a skateboarder, a marathon runner, a baker, a basketball player, a poet—amongst a myriad of other things. I have picked up and put down so many callings.
This isn’t about beating myself up. (Okay, maybe it is—a little.) Regret is difficult to put down once you pick it up; that’s a large part of the reason I am determined to find some meaning in this backpack full of regrets that has been weighing me down.
Don’t be like the old version of me; be like the new me. And here’s how:
1. It will never be the right time.
It will never feel like the right time to have a challenging conversation or to pick up the workload involved in a new project or hobby. Life is busy, tricky, and it pulls us in so many directions. And, if we don’t get a grip on time management, time can start to manage us rather than the other way around.
Paulo Coelho has said, “One day or day one. You decide.” Let today be day one.
2. Take the small wins in order to win big.
I meditate for two minutes a day. At the start, this goal felt ridiculous to me.
What can I possibly achieve by meditating for two minutes a day?
But you know what? After months of meditating (even for just two minutes), I feel the positive impact it’s had on my ability to focus and to be present throughout the rest of my day.
The old me would have come up with a plan to meditate for 20 minutes a day for five days a week and then done absolutely nothing. Let go of all-or-nothing, perfectionistic thinking, and go for the smallest possible win that will produce results.
3. Time will pass either way.
As I approach mid-life, it feels like my circle of options is getting smaller and smaller. How good can I possibly get at yoga if I’m just starting a serious practice close to 40? But, if I’m lucky, my 40s, 50s, and 60s will come either way.
So, I can be a 50-year-old who does some yoga, or I can be a 50-year-old who does not. The time will pass either way. Stop thinking it’s too late and you’re too old. In fact, you’re as young as you’ll ever be again.
4. Anticipate challenges.
We get the message from romance movies and love songs that relationships should be easy and natural. For me, the most meaningful relationships in my life have been both complicated and sticky—the ones where I’ve had to work through challenging conversations, commit to doing better, and stepping up to the plate.
As a result, the folks on the other end of that dialogue are people I call my best friends, the ones who have been through the wringer with me but have continued to show up anyway.
Consider the circumstances that most elicit regret: showing up and failing or opting for the Irish exit. Know that challenges will arise in relationships or when learning something novel. Resolve to keep showing up even when the going gets tough.
Regret feels crappy (at least, it has for me). But the experience doesn’t have to be for naught. My old self has taught me so many lessons on what not to do that my current-day self is ready to rock and roll.