Regrets, we all have them. If your totally honest how often does a past mistake pop in to your mind and send you shivering with embarasment?
These regrets are often from years ago, even childhood and are usually mistakes you would never be unwise enough to repeat, yet for some reason they still appear in our consciousness.
Why do we spend so much time on regret?
We can spend excessive time dwelling on these regrets, letting them knock our confidence and blowing way out of proportion when compared to all the times you didn’t mess up the same thing. We are programmed to remember regrets much more vividly as a survival mechanism, its important not to step on snakes, but like so many instincts that saved the human race for thousands of years they no longer serve us in todays environment.
If we can detach ourselves from the ongoing “you” narrative these regrets become much easier to deal with. If you wake up every day thinking about the mistake “you” made when you were 8 years old your going to waste your time right now. If we can realise your 8 year old self is not really “you” at all. There is the old addage that all the cells in your body replace themselves every 7 years, this means in the most literal sense you can’t possibly be that same person as all those years ago.
Living life like a Relay
A mental hack to ensure that I dodge the regret reminder conveyor belt is to think of my life like a relay race. In a relay everyone does there part for their given distance. You’re not responsible for what happens before you recieve the Baton and you’re not responsible for what happens after. Your only mission is to run your distance as effeciently as possible, setting up the next guy as well as you can.
If we can wake up and realise “you” are not the same guy as 8 years ago, 8 months ago, 8 days ago or even yesterday it absolves you from the responsbility to relive those regrets. You don’t need feel the need to loop anyone elses regrets over in your head. This leaves you free to concentrate on running your distance (today) and setting up future you in the best possible position.
If you can play this trick on yourself everyday it allows you to be productive right now. In the War of Art by Steven Pressfield he drives home the point that just showing up gets you a huge percentage of the way there in the long run. By concentrating purely on today we can show up for the things we need to do without being hamstrung by guilt about the past.
Future “you” will be proud
Once you are seperated from the need to question and doubt yourself you are free to that work you know you need to do. If you show up and do that work your future self will have less regret, its a self reinforcing cycle!
Whilst we can never totally purge ourselves of past regrets we can find ways to put them in context and ensure that these survival mechanisms don’t hamper our ability to thrive in the present.
Live life like a relay, pass on todays productivity to your future self.