From my mid-twenties I remember a fear of being on my deathbed and having regrets about things I didn’t do. That’s why I have learned not to see what I have done as failures. I have tried many things and some of them didn’t work out the way I had in mind, but I did them. At this moment I can be honest to say that I have no regrets so far. If it were to be the end now, I would have nothing to complain about.
” Life is long, if only you knew how to use it.”Seneca, dialogues, On the Shortness of life, 2
It is an important topic to discuss because we know that as people get older they show signs of regret. You might feel different about it, but for me having regrets is one of the worst feelings. That’s why I want to examine this here. What are regrets, where do they come from, and how can we avoid them?
Follow what’s right for you
When we read Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, we will hear them talking about making proper use of the time they have. To me, this sounds like they also aimed at avoiding having any regrets. They tell us to stay in the present moment and live in accordance with nature and fulfill our duty. If we do that, we shouldn’t have a reason to look back and feel bad about it.
Examining it this way, we can see that regrets have to do with time and action. The time that has taken away our opportunities. Like the river that washes away the moments before our eyes. We must seize them or at least live them with a present mind. We lose the opportunities to take action and to do what we are supposed to. This doesn’t mean that we always have to succeed, but we have to show the courage to try and follow what is right for us.
To know what actions to take depends on our nature. That requires us to find out who we are and then listen to ourselves. Many of the decisions that I have taken were made out of intuition. I knew it was the right thing to do. Although it wasn’t always the easiest, it was my choice. That being said, I have always been a jump first, figure it out later, kind of person. You might be different, but if you know who you are, you’ll find the proper action to take. Make sure you pay attention to your inner voice.
The next step is to take responsibility for yourself. Too many people follow a lifestyle they think is required of them. That they need to have a certain career or to have a family, kids, a house, and a car. External factors are taking over. We give up control and then look back on our lives full of regrets. Time passes us by when we try to chase other people’s dreams. If we have our own goals to follow we can focus on the process and forget about the results. Then there is no possibility of failure because the journey is what matters. The result is a mere pause on your way to greater things.
“There are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass.”Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves
Our purpose gives us direction
While you might feel that you have experienced disappointment, you need to shift your perspective. Besides, who decides what failure is? If the people around you give you the feeling that you have failed at an attempt to live your life, then this is not the crowd you need. You can fall on your face, but at least now you know what it is like to fall. Next time you’ll be able to catch yourself and keep going.
During our lives, we have time given to us and we need to make sure we use it. How long we have we can’t say, but what we do know is that we are here now. And making sure that we follow our nature gives us our proper course of action and adds meaning. We can’t find meaning in someone else, we need to look inward to find that. Our purpose is what gives us direction. Having a clear direction increases our motivation. This doesn’t need to be on a specific part of your life, but can be global for the kind of life you wish to lead. We know what our end station will be but our focus should be on the journey towards that moment. To be ready whenever it comes. This motivation gives us strength during difficult times and increases how consistent we can be.
There is no room for regret
Once we make a decision, and we pour our heart and soul into it, how can we fail? Epictetus shows us in his essay On Training, that we should not be focused on external goals. These are not under our control. We can train as hard as we can, but there are factors that might prevent us from achieving our goal. If we focus our goal on internal aspects and making the best out of the training, then we don’t need to worry about the result. Thus, the aim should be on those parts of our existence that we want to avoid. If you over-indulge in something, then you need to train yourself to stay away from it. If you fear something, then you should confront it. And as long as you do your best, there is no negative outcome because you are improving yourself.
This approach will help us grow as individuals and the hardships and obstacles will show us what work needs to be done. These are then the next challenges to overcome. What is important is how we have performed our duty and the effort we put into it. That’s where we can reflect on ourselves. There is no room for regret then because we can look back and see that we have done all we could and should have. How other people view our lives is out of our control and irrelevant.
From now on, it is you who is in control
Realize as well that they don’t know what is going on and we don’t know with what kind of eyes they are looking at our lives. They might be envious or they have their own problems and wish to feel better over our backs. This is not our problem and should not keep us from following our path. We have to choose to live our lives as we must. It is ours to take and make the best of. And when your hour strikes and it is time to give up existence here, you can look back at a life lived well. A life proudly signed off by you and ready to hand over.
A final remark is on the regrets you might now experience. Away with them! Have you not heard what I’ve said? Where are you now and what have those moments given to you? If you still regret them, then turn them into lessons. Make sure that next time when you have a decision to make, you keep those moments in mind. Because from now on, it is you who is in control.
If you want to read more about how failure and mistakes can’t define you, click here for a great article on that topic.
10 thoughts on “On Having Regrets”
This kind of positive reframing can help us move forward and free us from the slavery of overthinking. Thank you for sharing these insights from philosophy. It’s not easy to gather the courage to follow your path, especially when it’s a new one, but I also find comfort in thinking that perhaps there are others who can benefit from a new trail. Great post, much needed in our culture of immediate results 👌
Thank you, Vanessa. Overthinking is definitely something that keeps us in its grip. Turning a corner and going on a new path, or what seems new to you, but might just be the path you’re supposed to be on, takes many difficult decisions. But the results will have a great and positive impact on your life. At least for me it does.
I’ve actually been trying to help someone who’s paralyzed by future regret over a decision they need to make. However, because this is a relationship decision, it’s a lot more complex than the other types of regrets talked about here.
It’s not a win or fail kind of decision so I think regret is sometimes unavoidable, because you’ll likely always wonder what would have happened if you made the decision differently. How do you get through situations like that?
You are absolutely right that such a decision is far more complex. And I’ve had my share of them as well.
I think, however, that it does have to do with how you accept your decisions. You make them at the moment with the knowledge of that time. It is always easy to look back and say that you should’ve done something different. But from that view, you can never make a decision.
For me personally, the most important thing is to look and examine what feels best to you. Even if it isn’t the easy choice.
You can also try to prepare yourself for possible regret and tell yourself that if you feel it comes up to treasure you that you made a well-thought-out decision.
In many cases, there is a certain price you pay when you make a decision. That’s why staying close to yourself would be the best.
And any decision you make is a win, in my book. The result might not be what you had in mind, but you made it and you can learn from it. There are many more opportunities in life. Sometimes letting go, as Elsa said it, is what we need to do.
Not sure if this helped or if you agree, but it is a good topic to discuss.
I loved this. I felt like you continued my thoughts on my last post about mistakes and failures. To be honest I do aspire the stoics philosophy but haven’t study it in great depth. I find really interesting reading your posts and seeing what stoics have said about. I definitely agree that regrets are a huge waste of time and energy. After all we have become our wonderful selves due to those right or wrong choices and whatever has happened to us. What is the point feeling regrets about something?
Your last question in your comment hits the nail on the head. Why should we regret something?
I completely agree that those decisions make us who we are now and we might learn even more from the wrong ones. Who knows who I would be now if I could eliminate the ones I thought to be wrong. Probably not here now writing these blog posts.
Thank you for your comment and for reminding me of your really good post from last week.
Really deep and thought-provoking post. I do believe in not regretting and rather taking them as lessons. But there are some new thoughts here to contemplate over
Thank you for your comment. It’s always good to have some new thoughts, glad that my writing helped a bit.
Yes, there is no regret. You can learn from your mistakes, you can learn from every aspect of your life. Keep yourself motivated.
Thank you for your comment. You should be able to learn for every aspect of life, well put. Motivation is a key factor, I agree.