You cannot out-smart regret, but you can out-live it
You cannot unmake your past, but your past can unmake you. You are unmade by regret, by rumination and when you reject the opportunities that make you come alive. When we avoid risk, we find ourselves on the sidelines watching life go by. There are definitely times when we need to set boundaries and recharge. But repeatedly choosing comfort, safety and avoiding sacrifice will not make us feel more alive.
It isn’t about trying to have a “Big Life.” Taking everyday little risks is good for us and is vital for our emotional and mental health, and our well being.
“Suffering is a critical component of life an success. On a basic physiological level, we require the stress hormone, cortisol, to thrive; if we don’t produce enough we can actually die. Stress makes us stronger and without it, our adrenal glands function at a low level. Our goal is not avoiding stress, but managing it, and even using it to our advantage.” Mike Mahler
The every day little risks…
You may have your own ideas about what feels like a risk. Risks can include parachuting out of a plane (is there anything else that you parachute from?), taking a year off and travelling, writing a book… these are big ones. But most risks come in small packages.
Here are a few ideas to spark your imagination:
- Say one thing that is on your mind without filtering it.
- Listen to a hard rock station for 3 minutes. Or if you love hard rock… listen to the Light Hits Station (Ugh!)
- Say “hello” to a stranger.
- Look someone in the eye.
- Tell someone one thing you appreciate about them.
- Tell your coffee how they brighten your day.
- Brush your teeth with your non dominant hand.
- Drive a different way to work.
- Pick an area of your city where you usually don’t go. And just go there.
- Tell someone what you really think about their shirt, or blouse.
- Be honest with yourself about what you regret… and about what you have done well at (so far – your life is not over yet!).
- Ask a teenager for advice on how to live a fuller life.
- Hang up on a telephone sales person. Mid sentence.
- Go into a mall when it is packed. And then just watch.
- Go for dinner and ask the server what they recommend. Then go for it.
- Say ‘yes’ to something when your anxiety would rather have you just stay home (again).
- Make a list of your past regrets. Then do one thing that is a move towards more life: more like who you want to be.
- Make cookies or cake or brownies and give them to a neighbor.
- If you get pulled by advertisers, or by the stuff other people around you have… Say ‘no’ to buying that shirt, book, pair of shoes or $138 dollar toothbrush. Because a full life is not really about what we own. Debt will choke the life out of all of us, and having closets full of stuff is not what life is about. Or…
- If you tend to deny yourself from buying things you like, say ‘yes’ to one thing. Happiness does not come from having stuff. But be realistic, sometimes we become too practical. Buy the impractical thing that doesn’t match just because you like it.
• • •
My own story of risk, being filter-free for a day and redemption
It’s been one year since my family and I went to Disney Land. I don’t regret one penny of the thousands of dollars that we spent for that holiday… but it isn’t my days at Disney that are my best memories.
One of the coolest memories that I took from that trip was spending an afternoon with my son driving looking for hat shops. We drove around Santa Ana California and encountered some of the strangest things I have ever seen.
We wandered into one second hand store where the owner had a pet Albino rat. And it ran free free in the store. Did I say rat? Running free?
When I noticed the rat, for a second I lost my mind. Then I blurted out to the owner, “Is that rat supposed to be running around the store?” At first, he humored me. My second mistake was not leaving at that very moment. Mistake #3 was opening my mouth again… I asked the price of his one and only hat. He told me it was custom and he would let it go for a few hundred dollars. I think my eyes bugged out and I remember laughing. Out loud. He didn’t laugh.
I don’t remember much about what happened next. My son was there and he remembers it all. He tells me that the owner’s eyes hardened a little and it felt as though the store got a little colder. For a minute, my son wondered if the two of us were going to have a Cowboy style gun battle on a dusty street in Oklahoma, Circa 1890. Somehow we got out of the store and went for an ice cream. Ice cream is way better than having a gun fight.
Probably my mind has added a few details, but that was a fun day. My son and I have laughed so much about that experience. I don’t regret it one bit.
• • •
I am not a fan of suffering, but one thing you quickly learn in life is that if you try to avoid difficult things or hard work, you won’t grow. And, sooner or later, you will look back regret it.
Ask yourself: “What regrets am I holding onto? (And more importantly…) How are my regrets holding me back?”
Keep it Real
Photo by Britt-Knee