What are regrets? A regret is a present conscious assessment of a past experience that causes sadness, uneasiness and pain. A regret is a thought that says, “I wish that had never happened.” All regrets have their roots in the past, but they are fed by present thoughts. One writer describes regrets as “insights that come a day too late.” Without exception, we all experience regret. Regrets have ruined people. When you trace destructive behavior back to its cause, you will often find regret. As Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Regrets can control people’s thoughts and actions, making them very predictable. They are a powerful influence in our lives.
The real question is not whether or not you will have to deal with regrets. The real question is, what should you do with them?
Dealing with regrets has been one of my biggest struggles in life. I have a lot of them, and I deal with them daily. I would have to go back many years to find a time when I did not deal with them daily. If I don’t deal with them in a proactive way, they will bring me down. Here are seven principles that have helped me. These are principles I use daily to combat regrets in my life.
One, accept them. They are here to stay. Regrets are a part of life. If you are to live without regrets, then you must live perfectly. Since that is not a possibility, it’s time to swallow the pill. You are not alone. Regrets are a part of everyone’s lives, yours included. We can spend way too much time fighting the existence of regrets with denial, when instead we should accept their existence and fight their effect in our lives. Accept them and save your arsenal for a battle you can win.
Two, your regrets are not exceptional. With more than six billion people in the world today all dealing with regrets, I doubt your specific regrets are that unique. One of the things that strengthens my regrets is thinking that they are unusual. When I begin to make myself out as The Matrix’s Neo of regrets, I am usually overwhelmed. Somewhere, at some time, someone else has had similar regrets—and has conquered them. Regrets are strong enough already. Let’s not make them stronger by making them exceptional in our minds.
Three, learn from them. Ask yourself the question, what can I learn from this regret? Take the opportunity to learn important lessons for the present and future. Kanye West delivers a profound line in the song “Touch the Sky:” “I’m trying to right my wrongs, But it’s funny, them same wrongs help me write this song.” He is applying the principle. He’s learned from his regrets.
Four, avoid making any new and unnecessary regrets. You know what makes the regrets you have even worse? More regrets! You will read these words more than once in this book: try not to make a bad situation worse. It has been my experience that most of the regrets I had ten years ago have been replaced with new ones. I think to myself, what if I hadn’t collected the newer ones? I have a renewed motivation to avoid adding to my regrets. Of course, this is not always possible: we only have control over ourselves. People can bring unwanted experiences into our lives that can become regrets. But the focus is on you and what is in your control.
Five, don’t let them rule you. You have to choose to have to be the master of your thought. You have the ability to do it. If you have ever suppressed anything—and most of us have—you have the ability to choose your thoughts. Remember, regrets get their strength from present thinking about the past. Starve them out by choosing to think about something positive. I once heard that horses will keep eating as long as you let them. Regrets are like that. They will keep gnawing at you if you let them.
Six, if there is a remedy, use it. Some regrets have remedies. If your regret is a big fight with your wife, fix it! If your regret can be fixed, by all means do it. If you were given the choice to carry a fifty-pound bag of cement or a twenty-five-pound bag, most of you would choose the lighter bag. If you can lighten the load of a regret, do so. Often this involves going back in humility and asking for forgiveness for something you did.
Seven, make the rest of your life count. A couple of days ago my wife said to me, “The best way to counter regrets is by replacing them with a life that counts.” She reminded me of the final scene in Saving Private Ryan, where the guy said, “Make it count.” I was encouraged and resolved to make more out of my future than I had out of my past. None of us can change what has happened, but all of us have something to say about what will happen. When regrets come, let them move you to renew your commitment to a better future.