Avoiding Regret

Fill in the blanks:

I wish I had ____________________________ this morning.

I wish I hadn’t ___________________________ yesterday.

I should have ___________________________this year.

I shouldn’t have __________________________all these years.

Some of your answers probably include little regrets like

I wish I had cleaned the house this morning (so that I wouldn’t have to do it tonight).

I shouldn’t have eaten that whole bag of cookies yesterday.

These are often soon forgotten and then repeated.  Yes, I regret eating the bag of cookies, but will I do it again?  Probably.

Then there are the slightly larger regrets:

I wish I hadn’t yelled at CJ like that.

I should’ve told my husband that I loved him before he left for work.

These, we try to do better on next time.  I will be more intentional about telling my husband what he means to me, and I will try alternatives to telling at my children.  I want to avoid feeling this same regret next time, and I can try to improve.

Finally, there are the big regrets:

I wish we had visited my mother-in-law in Puerto Rico.  We shouldn’t have let lack of money keep us from seeing her.

We should have made CJ stand in a picture with her when we visited her in New York over a year ago.

I shouldn’t have let my husband go so long without seeing her after we were married.

These are things that we can’t do anything about now.  This past Monday morning, my mother-in-law passed away, and both my husband and I are full of regrets.  Nothing can change that we didn’t visit her, that CJ will never get to see her again (even though he had been asking for months to see to her again), and that we will never have a picture of them together.  My heart aches for those things.  My husband’s heart aches for all the years when he didn’t visit and rarely called.  It hurts him to know that even though, recently, the calls were more frequent and the relationship was so much better, he won’t get to see her or talk to her again and that he never got to say goodbye.

How do we avoid this type of regret?  I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve spent many nights lying in bed thinking about it this week.

  1. When we are with people that we care about, we need to make the most of every moment with them.  We really don’t know if that will be the last time we see them.  If we had known August 2013 would be the only time CJ would see his abuela, then we would’ve made him stand for a picture with her.  We would’ve taken some video.  We would’ve preserved those precious memories.
  2. Love people, and show them that you love them. My husband loved his mother, but he didn’t always show it.  That’s where the feelings of regret are born.  We get so busy in our lives that we assume that people know that we love them, and really, I’m sure they do.  However, if we want to avoid regret once they’re gone, we need to tell them and show them the love.  It makes them feel good, and it will result in less regret later for us.  We know we did our best and showed our best.
  3. Listen.  Listen to the voices around you and in your head.  If you believe in God, in guardian angels, in the Holy Spirit, then listen to them.  They are guiding you toward the right path, and if you listen to them, you’ll feel no regret.  If you don’t believe in these things, listen to your conscience–that little voice in the back of your mind is surprisingly perceptive and often acts similarly to a guardian angel, nagging you about something that you’re missing, that you’ve forgotten, that is about to go awry.  If you have children in your life, listen to them.  They know how to really live.  They don’t understand the same constraints that often hold us adults back (time, money, complex relationship dynamics).  If a child wants to do it and the reason you give them for not doing it is any of these types of things, you might think about it again and ask yourself if not doing it might cause some big regret later.

If you look at articles about regret, generally they’re about relationships and how we wronged them or, at the least, didn’t try our best at them, or they’re about how we wasted our time doing less important things (instead of focusing on our relationships with people).  All we can do to avoid regret is to nourish our relationships–act purposefully towards others and love them–and when we mess up, the only thing left to do is forgive ourselves and hope that those who have moved on from this life realized how much we loved them.

As we head into the New Year, let’s resolve to make the most of the time that we’re given with the people we love, to show them we love them, and to listen and not let less important things get in the way of living.

How do you avoid regret?  How do you get over feelings of regret?  Please share in the comments below!


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