The Quick Fix to Avoiding Regrets

Written by Scott August 11, 2010

The End of Regret

“As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.”

-Zachary Scott

Written by: Scott Dinsmore

Average Read Time: 3.5 minutes

Have you ever experienced that burning feeling of regret? When you know you did something that crossed the line?

I know I have.

It only took once or twice to realize how much the feeling tore me up inside.

And now I do absolutely everything I can to avoid actions that might lead to regrets later. But actions are not the only thing that cause regrets.

Inactions can be just as big of a contributor. And they can be a bit sneaky since they don’t involve actually doing anything.

There are two types of things one can regret:

1. Things that we do or don’t do. These are the things we control. When we choose the wrong action or inaction and it results in something we wish never happened. Say we tell a lie, intentionally hurt someone’s feelings or cut an immoral corner.

2. Things that happen to us. These are things we can’t control. Say we are rejected from our number one choice for college or grad school. Or maybe our car gets stolen or we aren’t chosen for that dream job we interviewed for.

While it’s possible to feel regret from either of these, the second type can be solved by realizing that everything happens for a reason. As long as you did your best (and this is an important if, which I’ll get to below) then that’s all you can ask for. If seemly unfavorable things still happen to us, that’s life. Our only option is to grow and move on.

I’m sure looking back you can remember plenty of times where things seemed like they couldn’t have gone worse at the time, but today you wouldn’t change a thing given the opportunity or experience you had as a result. Years ago I was crushed when I didn’t get into the university of my choice, but if I had, I would have never met the amazing woman I’m going to marry next week!

There is nothing we can do about things happening to us other than find the lesson and embrace it.

It reminds me of Warren Buffett’s thoughts regarding investments:

“What you really want to do in investments is figure out what’s important and knowable. If it’s unimportant or unknowable you forget about it.”

The corollary to life is to focus on the things we have control over and forget about the rest. It will save you a boatload of stress and dissatisfaction.

Avoiding the regrets we can control

It’s the first type of regret that we have some control over. The things requiring us to do or not do something.

The most sure-fire way to avoid regrets of this nature is to have a crystal clear understanding of your values, as these become the guiding light for your decions. The topic of values is too big to dive into here but I cover them plenty in The Beginner’s Guide to Being Congruent.

For now, I want to talk about something much simpler than values. What if we’re looking for a quick fix for avoiding regrets?

The simple answer:

Give something every last drop of your effort in every way you know how.

There is no worse feeling than the regret of knowing it was in your realm of control and knowlege to have avoided it. Yet it happens all the time. People end up having another drink or don’t lose that weight. Maybe they don’t make enough sales calls or pass up on the chance to fully prepare for a meeting.There are all kinds of things that cause us failure every day that are inside our control.

I am constantly revisiting this in my investment business. You hear about entrepreneurs all the time who shut the doors because they couldn’t raise enough money for their idea or get enough clients.

If this ever happens to me, it will be because there was not another rock left to turn over. And if that’s not the case then I didn’t want it badly enough.

While I do not have control over what the stock market will do tomorrow or next week, I do have control over the businesses I buy and how many meetings I set up or phone calls I make. A failure due to a bad market is something I could stomach whereas a failure due to too few prospect and client meetings is unacceptable. So I commit myself to focusing on what I can control, making regrets impossible.

It would crush me to look back on a failure and be able to say that I could have done better, I could have worker harder, had more meetings, made more presentations or treated my relationships as more of a priority.

If you fail after giving life every ounce you have then you have succeeded in the knowlege and experience gained. If you fail having known you had more to offer, regret will always linger.

No More Regrets

How to Avoid Regrets of Inaction:

1. Know what is controllable and uncontrollable. If you need help, ask a leader in your space.

2. Know your priorities. Don’t expect to be able to give 110% if there are too many things that are more important.

3. Get an objective opinion. This could be a coach, mentor or friend. Anyone who will objectively look at what you’re doing and tell it to you like it is. Whereas we tend to rationalize inaction with ourselves, an outside perspective will not. Find someone who will tell you if you’re being lazy.

4. Find a compelling reason. You must have a tough-as-nails-reason to get yourself to give it all you have. Will you starve, be ridiculed or lose your husband or wife? Find one that motivates you. I covered this more thoroughly in The Most Dangerous Word In the World.

Take a Regret Avoidance Inventory right now and ask yourself the following:

How are you doing with your various goals?
Is it in your control to do better?
If so, why have you not?
Who or what could help?
Do you have a compelling enough reason to make it happen?

The regrets that hurt the most are the ones we know we could have avoided.

We all know when we could be performing at a higher level. Be honest with yourself and do something about it.

Make the decision today. Vow to never again have a regret of inaction. Only commit to goals you are willing to give every ounce of your heart and soul. If they don’t pass that test, they aren’t important.

Once you make this commitment, you will not only abandon regret, but you’ll surely experience mountains more success.

“When one door closes another door opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

-Alexander Graham Bell

What has been your biggest avoidable regret? What did you learn? How’d you fair on the Regret Avoidance Inventory? Share with us in the comments.

If you liked this article, please Tweet about it or tell your friends on Facebook using the links below. I’d appreciate it.

Other Books and Resources To Help You Along the Way:

The Most Dangerous Word In the World

The Beginner’s Guide to Being Congruent

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 8th Habit

Photo 1 courtesy of erin MC Hammer
Photo 2 courtesy of DanielKHC
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