Harness the Power of Regret to Achieve Your Dreams

  • Someday Lesson: For every path we take we choose not to take other paths and create regrets and a series of what-if’s.

D Sharon Pruitt on flickr.comAsk anyone who’s happy and they’ll likely tell you they have no regrets. They’ll most likely even pull out the line “If it weren’t for my past I wouldn’t be who I am today and because of that I couldn’t change a thing.”

Yeah, whatever!

I’ve arranged my life to more or less be exactly as I want it. I’ve made a lifetime of choices that have led me to this place. There’s almost nothing I’d change (other than having more money).

And yet, I regret many things in my life.

Recently went to see a production of Mamma Mia and it brought back childhood memories of wanting to perform in musicals. If only I had spoken up as an 8-year-old about my desire to take dance and vocal classes! Instead I let the gender rules of a hockey town crush the desire.

Understandable at eight, but my inability to face confrontation and my need to hang my happiness on other people lasted until quite recently and crushed not only this dream of musical theatre but many other dreams as well.

Then there’s my laziness which kept me from applying any passion to my dreams until my late 30s when the alarm on my biological clock went off saying “If not now, when?”

At forty, I’m finally willing to accept success instead of running away from the work it takes to create that success. And so I regret all the starts I made with so few finishes.

I look at my siblings and many of my peers with their well paying lifestyles, beautiful houses and the ability buy what they want when the want it and I regret not having chosen a more lucrative life path (or at least starting my current path at least a decade ago).

My life is full of many other little regrets as well.

  • I regret snapping at my boyfriend on the weekend just because I had a headache.
  • I regret the sandwich I had for breakfast yesterday when I know what does nasty things to me.
  • And I regret wasting an hour this morning watching America’s Top Model instead of working on marketing.

Everyone has regrets. For every choice we make, every path we choose, we choose not to take other paths. The faster life gets and the faster we make decisions, the more likely we’ll end up regretting a decision or two.

We also end up regretting those decisions when make choices without conscious thought, by letting fear stop us from choosing what we really want, or through laziness and a desire to avoid work that lead us to put off our dreams.

Before continuing to read this article, take a moment to think about your own regrets – the big ones and the little ones. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What choices have you made in your life due to thoughtlessness?
  2. When did you let fear dominate your decisions?
  3. Have you ever let the effort required to achieve a dream stop you from starting or from finishing things?

(And if you really want to explore your regrets in detail, don’t just think about them, write them down!)

Done? Good, let’s continue…

Using Regrets As Motivation

It’s okay to regret. There are countless movies and books that explore the idea of what-if. Anyone with even an ounce of imagination plays that game at some point.

Anyone who says they regret nothing is lying. They might not let their regrets affect their level of happiness, but they still feel regrets, even little ones.

Regrets can actually be good for you – and act as motivation for your current dreams. And when you feel pressured for time on choices or decisions, remembering what choices you’ve regretted in the past can help you make regret-free choices quickly in the moment.

Let’s take each one of my regrets and see how they can help me now.

I regret not standing up for my creative desires as a child: in another thirty years I don’t want to look back at my life and say that I regret not pursuing my writing, so I pursue it now.

I regret not having the strength to deal with confrontation: if pursuing my happiness means confrontation, then I don’t just accept the confrontation – I embrace it because it takes me closer to my dreams.

I regret hanging my happiness on others rather than finding it within: by seeing how unhappy relying on others for my happiness made me, any time I slip back into bad habits I can use this sense of regret to propel me back into developing new (and healthier) habits.

I regret avoiding working hard to achieve success: I don’t want to lose any more dreams due to laziness, so daily commit to the work it takes to achieve my version of success.

I regret not choosing a more lucrative life path: that’s just not me – I’m working on my dreams right now, and that’s enough. Even if the money doesn’t come, I’ll be happy.

By firmly putting my regrets in the past and using them to change my actions in the present to reach my future dreams, I’m creating progress and success.

Plus, when I’m aware of my regrets I don’t allow myself to make thoughtless or fear-filled dreams and I give myself a kick in the butt to get to work instead of lazing about.

We are not our pasts and our actions in the moment are what matter, but we can use the less than stellar past choices to make sure that every choice we make right now is exactly what we want and takes us closer to our dreams.

No matter how fast the choices are zooming past.

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7 thoughts on “Harness the Power of Regret to Achieve Your Dreams

  1. Alessio says:

    Alex, this post couldn’t have come at a better time! My job’s been getting me down lately, and I’ve been regretting the choices I’ve made in my life that have gotten me to this point. Even with my dream getting closer to being realised, it’s just felt far away lately! Thanks for putting me back on track when I needed it most!

  2. Cathy says:

    Alex, I totally agree with Alessio on this one, it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I need to focus on what my dreams are and hopefully put some of them in motion within the constraints of raising two children!!
    .-= Cathy´s last blog ..Officially Autumn =-.

  3. Alex, this is a GREAT post. I really think everyone has regrets (even if they pretend like they don’t). I know a lot of what I’ve been through in life as brought me to the place I am now, but I certainly regret doing some of those things. I love the way you’ve turned a negative (regret) into a positive (a way to achieve your dreams). And, as a side note, no one should ever feel bad about watching America’s Next Top Model. That show is addicting! I’m sure you couldn’t even help yourself so don’t regret it. 😉
    .-= positively present´s last blog ..14 reasons to fall in love with fall =-.

  4. AM says:

    Outstanding post, one that made my heart hurt. I feel like I’m driven by my regrets right now, so much so that I forget to rest sometimes. But I love your perspective on using regrets of the past to drive action in the present. It’s so much more constructive than wallowing in self-pity and wasting even more time that could lead to even more regrets.

  5. I read this last night when it came in my inbox, and again this morning when I woke up. Such a great perspective – I often find myself in the “what if” syndrome and haven’t found a way to reframe that or, as I like to call it, “turn it upside down.” There have been moments in my life where the hard work of keeping up a blog plus a full time job have prompted me to wallow and almost give up, but there are always solutions to both – I usually brainstorm with my creative coach on those ideas. (And, I often waste a few hours watching America’s Next Top Model, especially during the Sunday marathons, which just suck you in, so we can both regret that guilty pleasure together 🙂 )
    .-= Laura – The Journal of Cultural Conversation´s last blog ..Book Review: The Cheese Monkeys =-.

  6. Tracy says:

    I think that’s been one of the most important part of growing up for me, learning that while I don’t have to let my regrets define who I am they do offer valuable lessons. Knowing why I made a poor choice can help me make better ones in the future.

    Or sometimes understanding that I made the best choice I could have with the information and skills I had at the time helps me realize how much I have learned and how far I have come and how much better my future will be.
    .-= Tracy´s last blog ..Friday Photo Fun =-.

  7. Alex Fayle says:

    @Alessio & @Cathy
    Glad to hear the post came at a timely moment! I love when that happens for me when I’m out reading in the blogosphere.

    @Positively Present
    Actually I don’t feel that much regret about watching ANTM – the craziness of Tyra and the wannabe models is just too much fun!

    Wallowing and self-pity also have their place (I love a good wallow) but at some point we have to get moving, and I think all parts of our lives (positive and negative) can provide us with motivation.

    I hear you on almost giving up – in fact I have a post I’m preparing for The Bridgemaker blog for October just on that theme. Glad to hear your coach helps you get past that moment (and I love that you read the post twice – totally made my day!)

    That’s a great distinction – regrets don’t define us but they can help us grow.

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