I’ll never forget the advice I was once given about regret. A friend of mine told me after we had been talking about the countless hours just wasting time and energy on things that weren’t important, “Never regret anything, because everything that’s good in your life is a result of your past actions, good and bad.” I agreed at the moment, because it made me feel better about myself. But when I thought about it a little more carefully,I realized there was a bit more to it than that.
For me, regret is the ultimate learning experience. If you regret something you’ve done, you’re likely to try to avoid doing it again in the future. Even if you regret the fact that you didn’t do something, missed a great opportunity, you’re also likely to actually try do those things the next time around. In contrast, if you live with no regret, if you believe that everything you’ve done, good and bad, are all contributors to your happiness now, then there’s no room for improvement. You’ve created a limit for your personal growth that is molded by the effects of the actions of your past.
I think there are two different types of regret that most of us experience. Call them ‘good regret’ and ‘bad regret’. Good regret is what I’ve described above. If you’ve made a wrong decision that in a situation where you should have made the right decision given the knowledge that you had at that point, then that’s good regret. It’s good because you can learn from it; it can teach you to make a better decision the next time you face a similar problem. It will make you aware of the fact that you do possess what’s required to make the right decision.
There is, however, bad regret. This is when you make a bad decision in a situation where you couldn’t have made a better decision given your knowledge at the time. In other words, you couldn’t have known better. For example, say you were playing a physical sport two years earlier that you loved. In one of the games, you end up hurting yourself really badly, and now, you can’t play sports anymore, and end up regretting that you played that game, or trying harder than you should have. In this case, it’s bad because if you could theoretically go back in time, you would have still done the same thing given the amount of knowledge you had.
An example of good regret, conversely, is if you spent months binge drinking and having fun without any consideration towards your studies or fulfilling whatever goals you’ve set forth for yourself. The idea is that you did have the knowledge at the time to be more aware of what you were doing, but chose not to do it anyway. I think it’s good if you regret those conscious choices because you’re now feeling a sense of responsibility towards towards making up for lost time, and avoiding making those same mistakes again in the future.
It’s also good to regret living your life a particular way you shouldn’t be living, according to other people’s expectations. it’s good to regret not being more assertive, more brave, more proactive. It’s good to regret not being more organized, more empathetic, more determined. It’s great to regret those things because you give yourself the opportunity to become those things now.