Saturday, March 10, 2007

Thinking About Our Regrets Can Provide Learning Opportunities

As we move along down the road of life, we occasionally look behind us and recall things we did along the way. Interestingly, Alexander Graham Bell said:
When one door closes another door opens;
but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door,
that we do not see the ones which open for us.

Regret is an intelligent (and/or emotional) dislike for personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often felt when someone feels sadness, shame, or guilt after committing an action or actions that the person later wishes that he or she had not done. When we remember things we wish we hadn’t done, we tend to come away with a thought, “I wish I hadn’t done that” – this obviously is regret. It also is not uncommon think about something we wish we had done, “I wish I had done that” – this also is regret. We can regret things we did and we can regret things we didn’t do.

In the process of attending to our regrets – dealing with the sorrow, shame or guilt, among other things – it also is important for us to ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this?” Wikihow, for example, suggests and discusses six steps for overcoming regret and concludes with, “Recognize what you have learned or gained.”

I remember ignoring a family member for a long period of time because I was angry about something he had done. In looking back, I regretted two things: (1) I regretted that I ignored him (and as it turned out, he actually didn’t know why I was ignoring him), and (2) I regretted not having talked with him, telling him I was angry and why I was angry (ironically, it actually was a misunderstanding on my behalf). What I learned from that experience is that when I have strong feelings toward someone important to me, be it positive feelings (e.g., “I really like what you did and love you for it”) or negative feelings (e.g., “I don’t like what you did and am angry at you”), I am better off taking a deep breath and telling him or her what I’m feeling. In most situations, slowly and expeditiously negotiating a speed bump in the road is better than merely continuing for a long time down a long, lonely and bumpy one.

Question: Have you thought about any of your regrets and learned from it?



Cole said...

Hi Bill! I would agree that those things I've regretted and then dealt with fairly quickly usually turn out to be less 'big' then I'd figured them to be. Most of the things I still hang on to with regret are things from so far back... they are truly memories in all sense of the words. Now days if I find I'm pondering something with a twisting gut, I turn around and apologize or do whatever it is that needs to be done to address that twisting gut so it goes away! :)


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Cole,
I appreciate the strategy you found to be helpful – it sounds like that when faced with an issue and you feel a strong emotional reaction, you think it through and deal with it in the present. I would surmise that in attending to issues this way – until you feel comfortable with them – you handle them consistent with your values and beliefs. Then, with the consistency your approach provides, there’s nothing to regret later. Smart!
This sounds like a good problem/situational strategy to not only do what you think is right (now) but also to avoid regrets later. I suspect that I may be sharing this with others if you don’t mind… I like it.
Thanks again,