Living with Regret

September 2016, originally printed in The Counselor’s Corner of the First Baptist Church
of Pelham, AL newsletter

It is September, which for many of us means the beginning of the school year and/or the beginning of the football season. A commonly heard phrase at this time of year is “This year (or season) will be different.” There is a lot of hope wrapped into that phrase; frequently, there is a lot of regret.

Regret; uuuugh.

Regret is a quirky thing. It is both a thought and a feeling. It is handled mostly by the thought: “just get over it” (and then we try to dismiss the emotion), but that is easier said than done, and it really misses the point. If we consistently try to get over it and then begin to notice we have a lot of regrets, we can misapply the patterns of regret as failures of character and over-personalize it to the point that we say, “I stink (or worse) and I am beyond hope.” Whoa there, Nelly.  Let’s take a breath and back it up a bit. There is a real possibility that there is life here.

Regret can be a pattern, but it wants to be an opportunity. Realize this: regret is about missed opportunities. When we regret, it generally means this: an opportunity is coming; let’s not miss it this time.

So how does one do that?

First, remember.

Look at the memories of missed opportunities. Ask yourself or have someone ask you (which is a better way of remembering), "what could I have done differently?" Use your imagination. Revisiting the memory and imagining will start to unlock possibilities that can be used this time.

Second, reconsider.

Ask yourself what was missing.  When you find yourself saying, “if only…”, you are indicating possible resources that can be gathered to make the opportunity happen. Consider that all those missed opportunities were possibly not about laziness, but about being overly-cautious. Ask what resources in time, energy, items, or people may be necessary to make it doable, this time.

Third, register.

Put your name down on the piece of paper and commit to it. Get yourself surrounded by a community of people who can motivate you, support you, and keep you accountable to see the opportunity through. Sometimes the subtle pressure of someone asking, “How’d it go?” is all you need to make it happen, this time.

And so, come December, you may be looking back with a much more satisfying feeling — accomplishment; niiiiiiiiiiice.

Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist, a professionally licensed counselor and a nationally certified counselor. He is available for marital, family, or individual counseling or consulting, or for speaking at your local organization. He has offices is at the Innercare Counseling Center in Greystone on Highway 280, and at the Hope Counseling Center in Pelham on Highway 31.  >> Contact Paul today.