Everyone has regrets.
Even though it’s popular to “live with no regrets,” it’s not always healthy to think only of a happy future. Without reflecting, you may be missing out on insights that help shape your life in new and beneficial ways.
I’ve been fascinated by the book, The Power Of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink.
The author discusses four types of regret. Your regrets probably fall into one or more of these categories:
- Foundations Regrets cut deep. They are things we have done or not done. We wish we could have done things differently, such as building the habits of hard work and intentional study; developing a more effective mindset around money earlier in life; and the like. Lesson – Start now. Doing the hard work (like the ant), think ahead, and keep moving forward.
- Boldness Regrets (the largest category) have us wondering what growth or success we missed by not taking risks. Lesson – Begin taking more risks: Start the business. Take that trip. Speak up. Learn to play the instrument. Make it happen.
- Moral Regrets (the smallest category) include cheating and lying. Lesson – Always do the right thing.
- Connection Regrets include failed or strained relationships, situations that have become undone or awkward. Lesson – Place the call, make the visit, say what you feel, and push past the awkwardness to reach out.
How can thinking about regrets be life-giving at all? How can they move us forward? Here are three ways:
Regret Can Improve Decisions
I was recently negotiating with someone regarding a particular amount of money. I threw out the amount I was thinking and the voice on the other end of the phone immediately responded with, “I’ll accept that.” Regret set in almost immediately. While I was thankful that the amount was accepted, I wondered if I should have started with a different amount since the other person accepted so easily.
Here’s where the idea of “if only” or “at least” come in. Instead of thinking, “If only I had started the negotiation lower I may have spent less,” we often avoid the regret by thinking, “At least I didn’t start higher.” Making the situation better keeps us from getting down in the dumps.
Instead of avoiding regret, we can take the opportunity to learn from those decisions that cause regret and change the next time around. If we regret getting into an argument over something simple, we can decide to respond differently next time. When we regret making a large impulsive purchase, we can decide to think about large purchases overnight to avoid giving into pressure the next time.
Recognized regrets can help us make better decisions in the future.
Regret Can Boost Performance
Regret can help a person do better and achieve more in the future.
A good example of this might be the high school student who doesn’t study for the quiz, thinking it will be simple. After failing, the student kicks herself for not reviewing her notes beforehand. She knows she could have done much better. When the next week rolls around, her regret motivates her to study her notes and prepare for the quiz.
Regret Can Deepen Meaning
It’s not hard to look back at certain points of our lives and wonder, “What were we thinking?” Whether we made poor choices about our education track, how we used our time, with whom we spent time, or habits we picked up or dropped, we can look back and see something to regret.
At the same time, we can see how those moments led us to where we are today. Regrets can deepen the meaning in our lives when we think things like: “Going on that trip let to my meeting so and so, or landing this job.” “Attending that school led to meeting my spouse.” “Moving to this city when I was in grade school led to playing music, which I now do every day.”
As believers, we know that the shame and guilt that often accompany regrets are covered by the blood and grace of Christ. We also know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Our regrets can become part of our witness and testimony. We should praise the Lord for the way he uses them to grow us and help others through our testimony.
I found this book to be eye-opening and encouraging. You can pick up a copy here.