“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”-Mark Twain
Most of us would like to shove away a subject like regret into a deep, dark, closet, recess of our mind. But then, what happens when that closet gets overstuffed, and everything tumbles out and buries me?
I’m a deeply reflective person who loves to turn old experiences that feel like rotten garbage into soil. With that “dirt”, I grow something new.
That’s right regrets, you’re going into my emotional compost heap.
When I watched this video from Ashton Kutcher’s Aplus website, two themes came to mind, one of which was discussed toward the end of the clip. The word “not” and the concept of kindness surfaced in various forms. People discussed not achieving their dreams, not following through on things they cared about, and not being kind to themselves and others.
Regret can be a red flag indicating room for improvement or a club to beat myself up with. At some point, I need to make a choice about how I want to view my regrets.
I choose to view them as nuts. Walnuts, pistachios, almonds. But seriously, I crack dissatisfaction open, understand why I have the feeling, and then decide what to do with the contents. Sorting through the “barrel of nuts”, I find the rotten ones, and decide which ones are even worth examining.
My biggest regrets so far are not having been true to myself, especially in the face of pressure from others, and having ridiculously high expectations of myself.
See that? There goes the NOT, and the KINDNESS again. Not fulfilling myself, and unexpressed kindness arouse for me, just like for the people in the video.
The longest running relationship I will have in this lifetime is with myself. No matter where I go, there I am. I realized at some point that I had had enough of ditching my feelings, my dreams, and my values for someone else.
In the moment, it might seem like a good idea to abandon my own ship. I worry that the person in front of me will be disappointed if I say no or that somehow things will turn out wrong. Sadly, over time, it all adds up to a pile of regrets. Rotten regrets.
In many instances, it never occurred to me that I need to be on my list of what’s important in life, and on the radar of kindness. After a while, I recognized that if I keep leaving myself behind, I am never going to be happy. They say, compassion isn’t complete if it doesn’t include myself, and to me, kindness is a form of compassion.
Not too long ago, a friend told me that when she began to be kinder to herself, she was kinder to everyone around her as well. Interesting.
The difficult thing about regrets is that there will probably always be some that we cannot change. Those are likely the most difficult to face. I want to acknowledge that, because some situations are simply painful, and dealing with those types of situations might go into a different category.
But for everything else, let’s throw all the regrets into a giant heap and let them break down until they make new soil for hopes and dreams, and then, follow through on them!
But how to do that?
One of the first steps for me is recognizing what my regrets are in order to deal with them.
I ask myself, why do I regret this? Is it something I can change? Can I learn from it, or is it one of those things I have to find a way to let go of?
Here are some points of action that help me let go of regrets and not form new ones:
1. Figure out which ones I can and can’t change.
If I can change something, I form a plan on how to go about doing that. If there’s nothing I can do, I work on letting it go. Sometimes that comes in the form of finding a different way to live.
For example, if I wasn’t kind to myself in the past, I can’t change the “way back then”, but I can find ways of helping myself today. Or if I didn’t fulfill a dream, I can ask myself if I’m still interested in it, if it’s attainable, and what steps I can take to work on it.
There have been times when I regretted something, and later realized I was truly glad I didn’t get what I thought I wanted. Fancy that!
2. Learn what my personal priorities are and make small steps toward those goals.
There were time I didn’t know what I wanted in life, including what was important to me. I could tell you what others thought, but not what I wished for.
Deep down, I think I knew what was important, but it was hard to see and hear that voice. Learning to listen to myself, and sifting through various things was necessary to find the gems.
After discovering what’s essential, I form a plan to make things happen. Making a plan is a huge step. Yes, I take credit for everything because it matters. Even if I advance in smalls steps, it’s better than none at all. And sometimes, it’s OK to do nothing, just bask in the work I’ve accomplished, or rest until I find direction if I’m confused.
3. Learn to say no to others, even when it’s hard for me to do.
If I always say yes to others, I won’t have time for the things that are important to me. Saying no isn’t always easy. What if that person will be unhappy because I say no? What if I saying no brings repercussions that I can’t image in this moment?
Learning to say no can be like working a muscle I didn’t know I had. At first it can be painful, scary, and tiring. But as I take small risks and speak up, the muscle gets stronger, and pretty soon, the muscle is pretty, darn strong.
All I can do is try to make the best decisions with the information I have today. What ifs abound, and worries will always hang out, but when I return to my goals, I have a guide to lead me by. People will come and go, and sometimes it hurts, but those who repeatedly don’t understand me may not be the best types of folks I want around anyway.
4. Listen to and follow my instincts.
Related to all the others, this might be a tricky skill when I don’t even know what my instincts are. Again, becoming aware of who I am, and what I feel takes time, but has high rewards. Everyone is bound to make mistakes, regardless of how hard we try, but I’ve found instincts are a powerful light to live by.
Which brings me back to my biggest regrets: not being true and kind to myself.
So here’s my plan for this year: lower my expectations and slow down. Yes, I said LOWER the expectations! I must be nuts! (Back to those nuts again.) I have had such high expectations in my life for myself, that no matter how hard I try, I chase my tail until exhaustion strikes. So slowing down makes sense. When I give myself time, I can pay attention to what’s important to me and work on it. Including finding ways to be nice.
And as for being true to myself, that’s a moment to moment challenge that I re-visit almost daily. Those steps I wrote are a reminder for me, and Mark Twain’s quote sums up how I feel. As I go through my day, I ask myself if what I’m doing is healthy for me physically, mentally, or spiritually. If I return to the answer no frequently, I might need to revisit my motives behind my actions.
One of my favorite things to say is, I’m learning. Learning implies an ongoing action that I can build on. And it implies I’m allowed to make some mistakes.
What are your regrets? Can they be changed? Or are they a stepping stone for something better? Can they be transformed into something new?