Rethinking RegretOct 18, 2022
“Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so love the people who treat you right, forget about the ones who don’t, and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”
I remember reading “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost in middle school. Even back then, the enormity of the poem wasn’t lost on me. In the narrative, a traveler is presented with two paths. He can head down the more traveled and worn path or choose the less traveled, grassier path. As he chooses the less traveled road, he first tells himself that he will come back someday to explore the other way. He then quickly realizes he is unlikely to return to this precise fork in the road. In the final line, he muses, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I was recently getting my social media fix on Facebook when I found an interesting post. In it, a physician revealed how he had become consumed by regret as he thought about past decisions. The details are unimportant, but the mid-life questioning of past choices is exceptionally prevalent.
- What if I hadn’t become a doctor?
- What if I had chosen a different school?
- What if I matched in a different city?
- What would my life be like if I had chosen a different specialty?
- What if we hadn’t lost touch?
- Am I living it right?
The incredible thing about this particular post was the support the original poster received in the comments. There was discussion that self-reflection is normal and healthy, recommendations to focus on joy, the belief that everything happens for a reason, and suggestions that the poster should seek further evaluation for possible depression. There was no judgment in these responses, just genuine concern and the hope that he may find solace and a solution to the issues troubling him.
Here was my response:
“One thing to remember, but I’ll forewarn you, it’s a bit meta. You are who you are today, regrets and all, because of the choices you made. If you made different choices, you’d be a different person with different regrets.
Rather than focus on what could have been, decide who you want to be and then commit to being that person right now. If there’s something you want or a goal you have, start today. Then, future you can look back and thank you, rather than look back at this time with regret.”
Regret is fueled by the belief that life could have been better if things had gone differently. And it is predicated on an idealized fantasy that probably never existed in the way we choose to remember it. When we regret decisions, we discount the knowledge and feelings we had when we made the supposed life-altering decision.
We made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time.
When we are consumed with regret, we also forget that we are who we are today because of the decisions we made, the consequence of those decisions, and the things we learned in the process. Had we made different choices, we would have learned different lessons and become different people. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be regret; it is simply that the regrets would be different. If we never learn to manage our thoughts about previous decisions, the only constant will be looking back at our life with regret.
An indulgent emotion is one that keeps you stuck and prevents you from moving forward. I recently wrote about ‘worry’ being an indulgent emotion. Regret may be the most indulgent and least helpful of all emotions. It causes us to ruminate on the past, prevents us from seeing the gifts of our current life, and precludes us from leaning into the future we hope to build.
Don’t be afraid to be curious when you find yourself pondering your life and feeling a sense of regret.
- What are the gifts of the decision I made?
- Is there something I currently have in my life that I wouldn’t have if I had made a different decision?
- What if everything happened exactly as it was supposed to happen?
- What can I do to ensure I never regret the decisions I am making today?
So many of us argue with the past and, in so doing, prevent ourselves from achieving the future of our dreams. Although the past cannot be changed, the future can be whatever we want it to be. As I wrote to the author of the Facebook post, decide who and what you want to be today, then commit to being and doing those things. Don’t wait. Start today. And as you toil to bring that life to fruition, never lose sight of how thankful you will be to yourself for creating the life you always wanted. That will be the greatest gift of all.
What do you think about regret? Do you spend time pondering what could have and would have been? Does looking back with regret serve you? What if you could move past those prior decisions and start creating the life you’ve always wanted today?
I want to invite you to check out my FREE TRAINING. Click here to get: How Busy Physicians Can Stop Trying To Escape Medicine And Start Living Their Best Life Today.
This training will teach you the five essential tools physicians need to stop feeling disconnected, overwhelmed, and trapped in medicine. You will also learn how to discover what you truly want in life and how to get it.
PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do, too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
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