Regret Able

It’s hard to tell someone not to have regrets. I admit I have done this. I suppose what I mean is to move forward and learn from your mistakes and not to stress too much over things that are etched in history and can’t be changed. The word itself, “regret” is so entrenched in our brain and as a part of our lexicon that it is expected that we need to have them – in a negative capacity. The question comes how consistently you have regrets and how you deal with them.


Cognitively, we are built to have regrets; a mechanism of learning from your mistakes and making corrections. Traditionally, regrets are synonymous with emotional feelings of sadness, or a disappointment, which are divergent emotions. You can’t eliminate regret as it’s in your DNA for a reason. To have no regret at all suggests that one would be psychopathic. The inability to feel or display emotion. So let’s agree that most of us aren’t that, however there are mechanisms to control regret, disappointment, without becoming “pshyco”.   

Cognitive dissonance occurs when you generally have two parts of your thought processes fighting one another. The most relatable example is probably “buyer’s remorse” whereby you have seemingly, even subconsciously thought through a few major elements such as: commitment, time, and responsibility to your action and purchase. In this case it can be buying something small or large personally, or making a business decision about the purchase of equipment, software, hardware, or contracts with human resources. 


I am a fan of thinking things out, thoroughly, before making decisions. But that implies that it takes time. Not necessarily true. “Thoroughly” in this case is a matter of asking yourself the right questions before making decisions and doesn’t need to parallel overthinking. That by itself may result in the adage “Analysis Paralysis” whereby you are paralyzed and make no decision at all, which ultimately translates into your mind as lost opportunities. Studies show that regrets of inaction have a much longer-term effect due to feeling a lack of closure rather than those of where action resulted in shorter-term stress effects, a sense of closure, or simplified disappointment. In short, they are easier to get over.    


Find a reasonable balance and be more aware that you are experiencing a decision making process. Regret is built into us as a protection mechanism, but also can stifle you from taking any risks. Risk is patrolled in our brains as warning signs or threats equating negative connotation. Much of this is due to social standards and what we see. For example; standing near a cliff “risk of falling”, crossing the street “risk of being hit”, eating those fries “risk of clogged arteries”, taking your medicine “risk of everything bad that exists and experiencing same symptoms that are making you take the medicine”.  Lost opportunity has multiple threads. Ones that you can change, such as going back and getting those fries, and ones that you can’t change because the opportunity has passed. The introduction of risk whether planned or unplanned can also correspond to opportunity. You just don’t get beautiful green signs that you may just succeed. Consider which situation you are in when balancing risk. Believe in your capability. If you have confidence and convinced and believe you are competent, you are even more likely to succeed taking that risk. Carpe diem “seize the day”. We aren’t here forever.   

Richard Van Staten