“Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz
The other day, I told my adult niece that I regretted selling my downtown condo several years ago.
“On no,” she said. “You told me back then that you were finding the lack of light was getting to you. You weren’t happy there.”
I had no memory of that until she reminded me. And surprisingly, it lifted a great deal of my painful regret around it. It helped me change from regret to recognition that I’d made the right decision.
That got me thinking about other things I regretted. Am I remembering them correctly, or am I revising history? In other words, am I suffering needlessly?
Memory is a funny thing. We don’t usually remember all the details of a situation. We pick and choose.
For example, my regret around selling my condo focused on missing its cool location, being aware of how the value had increased, and reflecting on the many fun times I had with friends and family there.
My memory did not include how much construction has been going on in that location these past years, how my two favorite restaurants closed, and how the best neighborhood coffee shop in the world went out of business.
My regret, my emotional pain, was based on very limited data, some that isn’t even relevant anymore.
Isn’t that interesting?
Is it possible that all our regrets don’t take into account enough information to help us feel more at peace with these painful situations?
I decided to sit and reflect on some of my other regrets. Would it be possible to alleviate some of my suffering by broadening my perspective on them?
Here’s how I made peace with my regrets:
Step One: I reviewed the regret and thought about all the things that were going on at the time of the disappointment.
For example, let’s take my early career as a singer/songwriter. When I looked back on it, I felt regret, deep emotional pain over never recording an album of my songs.
There was a lot going on in those years surrounding my career. Specifically, I was never totally happy. I spent more time reading self-help and spiritual books than practicing my craft.
I had a hard time relating to other musicians. And I really had a terrible time with the record company executives and producers. I didn’t like how they treated me.
I even had my manager ghost me. And that was way before we even knew what ghosting was.
In addition, I was on the road a lot, playing in smokey bars, which was really challenging given that I neither smoked nor drank.
And because I spent a lot of time as a solo performer with just me and my guitar, I spent way too many days, nights, and weeks alone in strange communities, eating in bad restaurants, because that was all I could afford.
Hah! You see how remembering the details around the regret can be so eye-opening? Until I did this exercise, I honestly had forgotten about all of that.
Step Two: I reflected on how this bigger picture influenced the outcome that I was currently regretting.
There was nothing very inspiring or exciting about the day-to-day grind of being a musician on the road for me.
Everything seemed very hard. Finding places to play, driving long distances, meeting with executives who were judging me and my music, dealing with agents and other musicians, and missing my family.
It was all hard. And I didn’t like it.
I dreamed of finding colleagues who would help me to fulfill my potential as an artist. Except for a small handful, the ones I worked with seemed much more interested in furthering themselves.
I felt used.
And although I enjoyed the time I spent living and working in New York City and Los Angeles, I was a Canadian citizen and unable to obtain a proper work visa.
That meant I would go back and forth across the border often, keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get caught!
Step Three: I explored another way to look at the situation, often called “reframing.”
Reframing is exactly what it sounds like. If you had a frame, maybe 24” x 24”, and you placed it on a very large painting, you would be focused on the section of the painting within the frame.
But what about the huge picture all around it? If you moved the frame, you’d see another piece of the picture.
And if you expanded the frame to be the full size of the entire canvas? Now you’d see a very different picture.
We can reframe situations in our life this way. By moving the frame around, and especially by expanding it, we simply see a different picture of reality.
As I reflected on all the things that were going on with my early musical career, I began to see the bigger picture. And guess what? I felt the pain of regret lift from my heart.
Of course I quit that career!
Of course I was unhappy!
Of course I didn’t get to fulfill my goal of creating an album. The situation was not going to support that, no matter how hard I tried.
Step Four: I made peace with what was once a regret.
Certainly, sitting here now with an MP3 of my songs in album form seems like a great thing.
But there was always a good chance that it was not going to be something I was proud of. I didn’t have the support structure to make that happen.
And what happened instead of sticking with my music career?
I came back home to my family, went back to school, and had the best time learning, writing, and studying topics that I found inspiring and fascinating.
Coming back to school gave me the chance, as an adult, to explore who I really was, find my true passions, and commit to how I might share those passions with the world.
University was the best time of my life.
This exercise has helped me heal. I no longer have emotional pain around what I used to see as a disappointment for my life.
I have insight now that leads me to believe that the music business was not my passion, not my purpose, and would never have made me happy.
This great insight provides me with great relief. I have found peace where once there was the emotional pain of regret.
I hope you try these steps for yourself and learn how to make peace with your regrets.