Regret Exists to Help You, Not Hinder You

On the advantages of regret and how you can learn from it

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

When I tried out for the cross-country running team, I not only became a better runner but I won seventh place in the regional finals.

For some reason, I didn’t try out for the team the next year but I did the year after that. After those two years, I decided to just quit.

I don’t know why I gave up so easily but I acted according to how I felt during the school year. I was shy growing up, so I either avoided extracurricular activities or eventually quit them.

My third-grade teacher had a lot to do with my decision to initially try out for cross-country running. He was always an encouraging coach and teacher. Throughout school, I had very few teachers who I felt understood me, so that positive reinforcement really helped.

However, I didn’t like the fourth grade. My friend and I had parted ways the year before, and I felt like I had to start from scratch, friendship-wise. I think this played a big part in why I didn’t try out for the team that year in between. I hardly felt comfortable talking to new people, so trying out for the team was a no-go.

I’m not sure whether I quit because I lost interest in running or because my third-grade teacher eventually transferred to another school — but I do know that I regretted not trying out again.

When I entered adulthood, I looked back on my high school years wistfully, wishing that I’d been more involved. Wishing that I had joined something other than the book club. For a long time, I had this nagging nostalgia about my teen years, thinking they would have been better if I had been more social, more willing to try new activities or more willing to continue long-forgotten ones — like running.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

I considered trying out for cross-country running during high school but my dad made a good point. I didn’t run regularly as it was, which meant I was years out of practice. I could have made a habit out of running and tried out for the team but I didn’t.

That’s the thing about giving up — if you leave something too long, it can be hard to get back into it. That’s why it’s better to do something and continuously fail at it rather than give up.

Because you may regret it later on.

I noticed others around me doing the same thing: trying something and then quitting, sometimes without really giving it a chance. I hated seeing this tendency in others — because it was a tendency of my own.

There have been times when I have stuck with something, even if I didn’t succeed. I tried out for the volleyball team, even though I knew I wasn’t good enough. But I still went to every try-out and learned a few things along the way.

It feels good to stick with things, no matter whether you fail or succeed. It feels good because you’ve shown up for yourself.

The only time when I think quitting something is excusable is when you’ve tried it enough to know you don’t like it or when you know it’s best for you to move on.

It’s better to try and fail than not try at all and then wonder what might have been…I used to wonder all the time whether I would have enjoyed high school more if I had tried out for the cross-country running team or been involved with the school yearbook committee.

Now I know that none of those things matter anymore. Regret is a great teacher because it shows you what you’ve done wrong in the past and what you can do to change things moving forward. It also shows you that things can’t be changed — what’s done is done — and all you can do is move on.

Photo by Hamish Duncan on Unsplash

Many people think you should live with no regrets or minimize regret as much as possible. But I agree more with Henry David Thoreau’s way of thinking.

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” -Henry David Thoreau

We should never dwell long on regret but like other emotions, it serves a purpose. Regret is there to teach us and give us valuable lessons. And if we pay attention to what it’s saying, we can learn a heck of a lot.

We can make the most of regret by living fully, understanding ourselves and shaping our pain into valuable lessons.

If you aim to minimize your regrets, you’ll have less of them… but you’ll still have them. There will always be times in your life when you wish you had done something better. That’s just human nature.

Just because you regret something doesn’t mean you can’t change it now. Even if I regret not continuing cross-country running, I can still make the decision to start running again.

I may not have joined the yearbook committee in high school but I have joined a local French language group. And I think the language group has been more valuable to me than a yearbook committee might have been.

That’s another thing about regret: it gives you hindsight, making you see that maybe things worked out for the best.

If you regret not doing something or wish you had done things differently, there will always be opportunities for you to approach a similar situation in a new way.

Life is a series of lessons and we never stop learning.

Regret is not there to keep you in one spot but to help you move forward and do even better. So whenever you feel regret, don’t try to ignore or dwell on it but instead examine it and try to look underneath its surface.

What is it telling you?

What’s your approach to regret? What has it taught you?

Communications and digital marketing professional, interested in creativity, personal development and mindful living.

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