We’re all used to the old saying, “Live life without regrets” or “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” Which implies that it’s a waste of time to regret over things that can’t be changed. But, when does that happen? It’s pretty sure that all of us have regretted something we’ve done in the past. In this TED talk by author and journalist, Kathryn Schulz, we learn about how to not regret regret. 

Regretting regret sounds like a funny thing to say ain’t it? But before we explain, we’ve first got to learn about the emotional process of regret. Regret is the emotion that we express when we think that our situation could have been happier or better if we had done something just a little bit differently. It also requires 2 things, making a decision and imagination, which is to imagine going back in time and making a different decision then going back into the future and imagining what would’ve happened. We feel the most regret when we think that we’re responsible for a decision that came out badly, but almost came out well.

We actually experience regret in 4 different ways. First being denial, when we tell the problem to “go away”, and wanting the problem to instantly vanish. Next would be bewilderment, which is when we ask ourselves “how could I have done this?”, and alienating ourselves from the decision and not understanding why we made that certain decision. After that would be punishment, which is when we feel the need and want to intensely punish ourselves for making that decision. Finally would be perseveration, which is just a fancy word for repetition, meaning that you continue repeating these words and cycle in your mind. Sometimes, when we go through this cycle of regret, we end up committing acts of idiocy to try to resolve our problems. But, these acts of idiocy most commonly would leave you totally vulnerable and exposed to the world, leading to your own vulnerability and fallibility.

So the important lesson here isn’t actually to learn to live life without regrets since that’s humanly impossible, but to actually learn to live life with it. And how do we do that? We can actually do that by laughing at ourselves. It may sound cruel and strange but it actually makes more sense than you’d think. Whatever makes you regret obviously brings you pain and humiliation to you. But in certain instances, humour plays a role in helping us to cope. In this painful humiliating cycle , they help to connect the poles of our life together and send a small current of happiness back into us. Another way to live with regret is to give it time. Like what everyone says, “time heals all wounds.” Whatever you may regret about now would always settle at the bottom of the ocean of your thoughts eventually. 

digital illustration of a chameleon on a tree branch with a chinese quote about needing to change mindset and perspective

We should also remember that sometimes, some of our own regrets are not as ugly as we think they are. Regret also teaches us the most important lesson life can teach us. Which is that if:

  • we have goals and we want to do our best to achieve them or,
  • we have people we love and we don’t want to hurt or lose them,

we should learn to feel pain when things go wrong. 

We should never hate ourselves for having regrets, but to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things we create and forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did something badly, it reminds us that we can do things better!


The image below can now be downloaded as a wallpaper! Click on it to download! 

wallpaper with a digital illustration of a chameleon on a tree branch and a chinese quote about changing mindset and perspectives mockup of a phone with its wallpaper being a digital illustration of a chameleon on a tree branch and a chinese quote about changing mindset and perspectives

October 12, 2020 by Celine Chin Wheniwasfour

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