Leave those Regrets at Home (DE Wave)

People sometimes get into the habit of making themselves sad by dwelling on “what could have been.” What a profound waste of time! If you spend, say, just 10 minutes a day thinking about the things you wished you had done differently, that adds up to nearly 61 hours – almost 3 entire days – lost forever to the wasteland of regrets!

Of course, it makes sense to face up to our mistakes and learn from them. But doing so should not lead to sadness. Healthy and effective people don’t “catastrophize” their missteps. They recognize that whatever doesn’t kill them will enrich them, and if they pay attention, they don’t have to live through it again. Regrets come about when people can’t achieve the psychological equivalent of brushing oneself off and getting back into the game.

Few things help me understand human nature better than learning what people experience over the course of their lifetimes. One way I do this is to watch biographies on television. These hour-long glimpses at the lives of notables reveal that a lot of successful people experience disappointments and failures. Former New York City real estate mogul and now our current President Donald Trump is just one example. As an entrepreneur and wheeler/dealer, he has experienced repeated frustrations and disappointments, including bankruptcy and the loss of his fortune. Yet, he picks himself up, dusts himself off, and goes on to do what he does best. Say what you will, but his repeated successes speak for his perseverance and strength of mind.

When you read or watch biographies of people you consider successful, you begin to understand that success matters more than failure. For example, Mr. Trump had disappointments, but his biography isn’t on TV because of that. It’s there because of his victories in business. Disillusionment and frustration are awful things to experience, but they’re always temporary, and they pale in comparison to the thrill of achievement. By not losing sight of this, you gain the psychological capacity to achieve the other things for which people gulp Prozac and Paxil after the regret-filled mindset takes over.

Think of regret as the psychological equivalent of a tightrope walker, high off the ground, letting himself — indeed, making himself — look down in order to deliberately disturb his concentration. It’s interesting how so many people do the same thing mentally by stirring up all the pointless emotions triggered by their regrets.

When you focus on the things you feel you did wrong, you begin to overlook the things you did right. For example, I’ve heard people who recently bought a beach house say things like, “I wish I hadn’t taken those cruises (or traveled to Europe, or whatever) five (or ten, or fifteen) years ago. I could have bought a bigger house with all that money!” Yes, but if you had fun on those trips, then what’s the problem? And, by the way, you STILL bought a house at the shore. If you apply yourself, you can always manufacture a down side. The brilliant George Carlin said it best: “Inside every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud!”

Of course, different decisions might have led to better results. But the fact is, what’s done is done. Life’s full of tradeoffs. For most losses, there are gains. The ability to honestly feel, “What’s done is done,” is a fundamental element that separates the depressed from the non-depressed.

Learn from your mistakes, but don’t replay the past over and over. Regrets are normal and natural, but the key is what we do with them. Think of them as unwanted psychological visitors. Summon your courage and vision to send them on their way so you can look to the future for the strength to make your dreams come true.

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