Beating the regret cycle

no regretWe are creatures built for regret. We procrastinate, avoid and sometimes fail to begin at all things that we know, deep down, we should do. There is a class of regret that comes from unwise actions or poorly chosen words, but this is not the worst. It’s the things we don’t do that cause the most guilt and regret. So how do we avoid the regret of things undone? Start. Something. Somewhere. Start now.

We know so much about regret. Many of us choose not to feel regret, and that’s fine. A lot of us, though, on experiencing some triggering event, understand just how much we’re leaving on the table when it comes to our lives. What we have in the tank that we’re choosing not to use; the amount of time we’re wasting on the trivial. And choice is fundamental here – we continuously opt to do or not do (Yoda’s “there is no try” comes to mind). To go to the gym or to stay on the sofa. To write something or to watch cat videos. To take a chance or to play it safe.

A couple of years ago, I woke up in a hospital ward following a pretty significant surgery. At one end of the spectrum, the risks of the operation were paralysis or death. While the odds of dying were pretty low (~2%), I was still pretty thrilled to wake up. Most of us typically don’t feel that happiness every morning. It took a life-changing situation for me to feel that deeply. Two years later, I still remember how that felt. The problem is that it is incredible how quickly we revert to a baseline where we no longer feel amazed and delighted that we have woken up, still in the world.

I was listening to a Chase Jarvis podcast recently on my way to visit my uncle in a nearby hospital. My brother had called me that morning to tell me that my uncle might only have 24 hours left to live. Coincidentally, on the podcast, Chase was talking about how getting caught in an avalanche (and nearly dying) gave him the wake-up call he needed to start on a new career path. He subsequently started a podcast, wrote a couple of books, and founded Creative Live, a site dedicated to helping other people pursue their creative passions.

My uncle died later that day. He was awake and aware when I saw him, and I got to tell him I loved him before I left. I didn’t say goodbye, because I didn’t realise when I left the hospital that I would never see him again. I am so glad I didn’t procrastinate and attend the meetings that were already in my calendar. Instead of waiting until the evening, I went to see him as soon as I was finished talking with my brother.

His death prompted me to write this post. This blog site, the book I’m writing, and some of the other changes I’ve been making in my life, have been as a result of the wake-up call I received following my surgery two years ago. It shouldn’t have taken that event for me to start creating something outside of my day job, but it did.

My message to you, the readers of this blog post, is this. Regret less, and do more. Stop feeling guilty about things undone, and start something, anything, that solves a problem for even one person. Create something of value. Volunteer to help at a local school. If you are writing, write more. It doesn’t have to take a triggering event to start. It just takes the will to make that first step. To “Go!” in Jocko Willink’s language. Break the cycle of regret, and start waking up (even a little) happier.

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