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Soulful Sundays: Regret

“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.“ ~Helen Keller

Trace a line far enough back in memory and you’ll find numerous branches— inflection points that have given shape to the life you now inhabit. These can be significant or mundane, conscious or unconscious, auspicious or tragic. They form a narrative that is unique to each and every person, and the interpretation of the story is at the root of personal growth and development. A rotten core spoils even the most splendid fruit.

Regret is an inevitable part of being human. We all experience it to some degree, and it is a natural part of how our brains are wired. Feeling of regret were evolutionary signposts for changing maladaptive behavior. Back in pre-history, regret was quite effective for enhancing our survival. It didn’t take too many mistakes to start regretting bad food, spoiled water, or other poor survival choices.

Modern humans have it much harder than our ancestors when it comes to processing regret. This is due to two primary differences: 1) The same machinery that functioned well for basic arithmetic back then is now being asked to comprehend calculus—there are far more variables influencing our decisions than we can make sense of; 2) Because of the increased number of options available to us, we have the perpetual specter of opportunity cost looming over every action, haunting us with, “What if?”.

What is the antidote, then, to regret? Simple answer—there is no way to avoid it. We can only reduce the amount. The same is true for stress. We can’t ever completely reduce stress in our system, nor would we want to. Without a certain amount of stress we would become brittle and helpless. But we also don’t want to drown in it either.

The solution then is to…

1) Keep decisions as simple as possible.

2) Align yourself with universal values that you have refined through spiritual meditation.

3) Take action in your sphere of influence, no matter how small.

4) Remain adaptive to changing your behavior and (much harder) your beliefs when you come up against contradictory evidence.

5) Practice gratitude and forgiveness.

No matter what happened in the past, something worse was always possible, and in most cases something better was also possible. But possibility does not equal certainty. There is no shortage of extenuating circumstances that can interfere with expected outcomes. Something as small as a butterfly landing on a leaf can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world, as the theory goes.

The countless stories told by humans throughout the eons for making sense of the world (which includes the field of quantum mechanics) all point to a shared understanding of the universe—the observer is an essential component to the unfolding of reality. Without consciousness, we would have no way to grasp existence. So next time you experience regret, remember that the most important thing is what you do next. The only true regret is that you have gone so long without knowing your own power.

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