A Fresh Perspective on Regret

As I have accumulated more and more evidence of how quickly life moves and of how short it really is, the specter of regret has loomed increasingly large in my life. The idea of looking back and wishing I had made different choices scares me. In one of the evolutions of my coaching practice, I even identified as a “No Regrets Coach.” I thought most other people must be as frightened as I was of ending up with regrets. Since that concept never gained traction, writing a blog post about regret may be risky or futile. Maybe there will be no interest.

Recently, though, I have been introduced to a fresh perspective that I find tremendously helpful. You might, too, so I decided to share my new insight.

My bike ride a couple Sundays ago started out pleasantly. I knew it was the calm before a front moved in, but I was happy to be out there enjoying my ride. I had had a rough track record of harassment by badly behaved humans and dogs (still the fault of their humans) over the previous couple weeks, but I was riding highly vetted roads on a Sunday morning, when it is generally quiet. Suddenly, just as I was really settling in to enjoy my ride, I spotted a dog ahead—large; black, with a white chest, and jumping out of his skin with excitement. He had clearly seen me before I saw him and was eagerly waiting for me to enter his chase zone.

After a really scary encounter the previous weekend with a different dog, I just couldn’t handle a confrontation. Abruptly, I made a U-turn in the middle of 247th Street. Realizing I was turning around and not wanting to lose this opportunity, the dog took off after me on a dead run. I hammered the pedals and blared my dog horn. It took two blasts, but the stronger second one stopped him in his tracks, stunned and confused, giving me the break I needed to watch him drift farther and farther back in my mirror. After that adrenaline surge, I switched directions and recalculated my route in my head.

Several miles later, “Hmm, is that a sprinkle I felt?”

A few more questionable sprinkles, and soon there was no wondering. Heavy mist settled upon me, coating my sunglasses and dripping off my helmet. On my altered route, I would make a pass by my house and resigned myself to ending my ride then, six miles short of my goal for the day, since the heavy mist was making it harder to see.

But then inspiration hit.

Not wanting to lose the moment, I rode right past my street and felt a surge of excitement as some ideas I had been pondering for a couple days really started to gel.

A few days earlier I had seen a Facebook post that Mel Robbins shared. It was a quote from Nakeia Homer:

“Forgive yourself for learning some things the hard way.”

I had no idea who Nakeia was (I have since learned.), but those words really spoke to me.

After seeing Mel Robbins’ shared post, I started tossing the concept around in my mind, but it was on my soggy, rerouted bike ride that I saw, through my mist-covered lenses, what the words really meant to me.

They offered a fresh perspective on regret.

For several years, in my quote collection, I have had Brene’ Brown’s quotes: “Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” and “’No regrets’ doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living with no reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.”

Those words must have struck me at the time I originally read them in Rising Strong because I recorded them in my quote book, but in the years since, I have resented them and rejected them. When I have landed on them while randomly select a quote for reflection, I have brushed them off and chosen something else.

Suddenly on that bike ride, alongside Nakeia Homer’s words in my head, I saw them in a different light.

I recognized that the feeling of regret—and my fear of it—is actually learning the hard way.

This is such a helpful perspective for me. I invite you to explore it, too.

It allows me to shine a compassionate light on a personal paradox. There are certain big decisions that I made years ago that I have, at times, viewed with a twinge (or more) of regret. The paradox, though, is that while the person I am today would not make the same choice as I did back then, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today, if I had not made the choice I made back then.

On that wet bike ride, I realized that these regret-evoking decisions were opportunities to forgive myself for learning the hard way. Having made the choice I did propelled me down the road toward a greater understanding of the lesson I needed to learn.

Learning the hard way is still learning. It is valid and deserves to be recognized for the lessons and progress it brings.

What occurred to me on another bike ride last week is that learning the hard way may be incremental. That is okay, too. We make a decision, choose a direction, take an action. If the results of our movement are not what we hoped or expected, it is important to acknowledge that. With the acknowledgement that our decision or action didn’t lead to what we wanted, we can choose to forgive ourselves for learning the hard way and then make an informed decision about how to proceed. Sometimes the results of our next decision also may be disappointing. This is where the recognition that learning the hard way is sometimes incremental comes in. We move farther along our journeys with every decision, become more fully the people we are capable of becoming, and we forgive ourselves for—and release ourselves from the pain of—learning the hard way.

I have come to recognize another paradox around regret. This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but that attribution is disputed. I am not sure who actually said it first, but for a long time, I have taken it as a caution and held it to be true. Taking this fresh perspective on regret opened my mind to the paradox. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Regardless of the original author of those words, what I realized while pedaling with a push from a strong northwest wind was that it is not that simple. Everything we don’t do—whether by conscious choice or by the default of not choosing—means that we do something else. Every time we leave one action on the table, something fills the void. We may come to regret—and learn the hard way through—whatever fills the void. It may not be clear whether it is what we didn’t do or what we did instead that led to the disappointment, regret and, as long as we recognize it, learning.

I have always found forgiveness to be difficult, whether for myself or others. I have tried to understand it and to embrace it more openly, but it has been elusive much of the time. During my yoga practice last week, it occurred to me that, not only can I acknowledge regret as learning the hard way and forgive myself, but I can also more easily find my way to forgiving others when I recognize that we all learn the hard way.

That doesn’t mean that everything is excused. Some actions are just wrong and cruel, and I can’t begin to understand what is behind them, but we are all flawed works in progress (unless we have stagnated through hopelessness, callousness or deprivation). When I can look at people who have hurt me, but who still play a role in my life, and see that they, too, sometimes learn the hard way, it can open the door for me to forgive them for being flawed and still having lessons to learn.

The essence of the JustWind mindset is that we have the freedom and power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives. Viewing regret as a marker of learning the hard way and having the compassion to forgive ourselves for needing to learn that way in some (many) instances feels life changing. Instead of being stuck in a stew of regret, disappointment, shame and guilt, we can acknowledge the hard lesson for what it is, recognize that learning the hard way is still learning, compassionately forgive ourselves (or others) and choose to move forward in a way that serves us and our world more powerfully.

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A Different Slant on Common Advice

One of my favorite and most frequently used mantras is, “My thoughts shape my perceptions, determine my actions and behaviors and create the world I envision.”

Goethe’s advice to live each day as if life had just begun contradicts the popular recommendation to live each day as if it is your last. I find the idea of living as if life had just begun much more hopeful and inspiring. While living as if time is short (which it is, in the big picture) can remind us to make the most of each moment and to prioritize what matters, I think such a mindset can also discourage pursuit of our dreams and even encourage a fatalistic perspective.

I prefer a more optimistic, proactive approach to life.

If I think that life is drawing to a close, I am less likely do something challenging like build a health coaching business or even put in the work to be a stronger cyclist or to live as healthfully as possible. If I am living as if each day is my last, why bother?

But, if I adopt a perspective that views each day as a clean slate, a new opportunity, a chance for a beginning (with the benefit of the wisdom I have earned along the way to getting here), my options feel, if not limitless, far less bounded by fate or even time.

Every day is a chance to make a difference, to live my purpose and my values more fully, to embody my personal and professional missions. By choosing this outlook, I can act accordingly. It feels worth the risk to go after my goals and worth the effort to improve and grow.

It is easy to get discouraged when goals are not achieved as quickly as I might hope because life and responsibilities get in the way. However, I am empowered by embracing the belief that each day gives me a new chance to work toward my dreams and to add value to the world in new and exciting ways.

Tim McGraw hopes we get the chance to “live like we are dying.” My wish for you and for myself is that we seize the chance to live like we are living—right now, every day—not just existing or biding our time until we until we really are in our last days.

The mission of my coaching practice is “to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.” I believe this mission is far better served by living each day as if life has just begun and goals are worth pursuing and that my efforts matter.

I encourage you to try on this perspective and see how you like it. Compare it to viewing each day as if it were your last. What would you do differently if you lived each day as if life were just beginning?


Biking in the Radiant Light

I recently finished three months of telephone coaching with Tejashree Chawla (11Tejashree@gmail.com), a co-active coach and workshop facilitator, whom I met several years ago when she lived in Wichita for a short time. We have stayed connected since she moved back to California, and I recently accepted her invitation for coaching. I tend to be very introspective, have kept journals for years, read nonfiction—including a lot of personal development books—voraciously and maintain several reflective practices. When Tejashree invited me to participate in coaching, I did not have a specific goal or need in mind, but decided to focus on finding more tools for managing stress because I feel like I struggle with that more than ever.

Having completed the coaching, I am still not consistently managing stress effectively, but I did experience several benefits and insights, which I want to share here.

A major tool that Tejashree uses is shifting perspectives. This reminds me of the concept of reframing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_reframing), which I have used both personally and professionally for many years. I struggle with sustaining my perspective shifts when I feel bogged down with worry or overwhelmed with responsibilities. However, if I can remind myself of my desired perspective frequently enough, it does help. When I spoke with Tejashree last Thursday, I had been carrying around a great deal of anxiety and was constantly feeling the nervousness in my stomach. We explored several ways to alleviate the heaviness of that feeling, but the one that was most helpful was her invitation to adopt a “Biking-in-the-Radiant-Light” perspective. I generally feel free, strong, powerful and happy when I am on my bike. When Tejashree asked me to describe a visual or visceral association with assuming the biking perspective, I described it as one of rising power, in the form of light, from my stomach. It then radiated into my limbs and throughout my body. I felt energized, confident and capable. When I stop to imagine myself on my bike, I feel the anxiety lightening, and I feel happier and freer. Although I struggle to maintain the perspective constantly, it does serve as an effective mental stop sign when the anxiety starts to take over.

In mid-August Tejashree and I discussed the sense of foreboding that comes upon me around the time school starts every year. Swimming pools close, and I know that cold, dark weather is coming and will linger for months and months. I don’t want to let the coming winter usurp my remaining weeks of summer weather. Yet, I struggle. I had already decided that I really must maintain some level of winter cycling this year, and not have all bike training relegated to the indoor trainer. Tejashree encouraged me to consider more ways to ward off the cold-weather doldrums. One of the ways I did this was to attach meaning to living in Kansas. For example, I acknowledged that one of the prices I pay for living in a place with so many wonderful, open, quiet roads for cycling is dealing with winter.

I think the most helpful contribution Tejashree made to my personal exploration during our work together was her ability to listen to what I was saying and then articulate her interpretation of it. On one occasion, her expression captured a concept that I had been trying to form fully in my mind. I knew the feeling, but hadn’t been able to find the right words to express it. Tejashree said something that felt just right. I don’t think she realized at the time how significant that single sentence was for me, but it began to percolate in my mind and, within several days, had morphed into a personal mantra that brings me hope and encouragement, peace and empowerment.

The phone is my least favorite mode of communication. I usually cringe when any phone for which I am responsible for answering rings, and I try to use any other medium first. So, I was not at all sure that thirty minutes twice a month for three months on the phone was going to appeal to me. While my feelings toward the phone have not changed, I did find our phone conversations to be useful and meaningful. On our last call, I told Tejashree that it has been nice to have a place, other than my journal, in which to explore ideas and thoughts around personal development. I have been feeling rather constrained because of a very tight schedule. The temporal constraints create mental constraints, and then I create social constraints, trying to protect precious minutes to myself. My coaching calls were short breaks in a busy life where I could bounce ideas off someone who genuinely listened and who posed challenges and inquiries designed to nurture my personal growth.

I feel that I have grown through our calls, and my decision to launch this blog at the time that I did was influenced by a challenge that Tejashree posed. So, I will work to maintain, or at least consistently revisit, the “Biking-in-the-Radiant-Light” perspective—a gift both of my cycling life and of my work with Tejashree. If you are intrigued by my coaching experience, I encourage you to contact Tejashree and find out if you too might benefit from some time dedicated to yourself and your growth.

Here is her contact information:

Tejashree Chawla, MA, MS

Listening for your brilliance & championing forward action!

Co-Active Coach; Workshop Facilitator

PH: 310-514-7137, Email: 11Tejashree@gmail.com