Regrets: Cues for Compassion, Learning, Resilience
A twinge of regret yesterday – I missed meeting with a friend because I had the wrong day on my calendar. That mishap quickly repaired and the meeting re-scheduled.
But the twinge lingered. And led to memories of other regrets. The time I carefully selected a super-cool gift for a friend’s birthday, then completely forgot to mail it until two days after. Being so busy my last semester in college that I didn’t take time to visit my grandmother one last time before she passed away.
Not feeling like a bad person, but wishing I hadn’t missed those opportunities to be the better person I aspired to be.
Working with regrets to strengthen resilience is similar to learning from any AFGO – another frickin’ growth opportunity. Similar to the notion of “triggers become trailheads” in psychotherapy. Similar to the practice of “finding the gift in the mistake” in recovering from trauma. Choosing to learn from the experience helps to redeem the experience somewhat and build more awareness/skill/resilience for the future.
There are two practices that help working with any regret-trigger-mistake in general:
a. Cultivating the mindset that learning from mistakes is something we do. Open-mindedness, curiosity, willingness to own up and be accountable are part of recovering our resilience in general, always.
b. Being present to our experience at any moment so that we can notice the shifts when awareness of regret arises; the slight contraction in energy and focus that alerts us to pay attention to the twinge or sense of uh-oh.
And here are some specific steps for choosing to work with regrets as a specific way to recover your resilience.
1. Notice the felt sense of uh-oh; pause, take a moment to simply be with it, and evoke some compassion not only for yourself in this moment, but also for yourself in the moment when you made the mistake in the first place, yesterday or 20 years ago.
I could take in my friend’s sincere understanding of my goofing up on my calendar; we’re all human; we all do that from time to time. But I needed to feel my own sincere regret, and bring some compassion to myself for being so busy and distracted. The being with and having compassion for keeps the space open; I’m not glossing over what happened and missing the opportunity to learn from it.
It took more work, but I really could experience the chagrin my inner 20-year old might have felt when she belatedly realized she had been too caught up in her own world to track her grandmother’s decline. Feeling the chagrin she might have felt then helped me hold the regret I can still feel now; I could have more compassion for what I wasn’t able to feel or do back then, again keeping the space open for learning.
2. Bring some curiosity to the entire experience. Yes, I can have some compassion for what happened. What can I learn from what happened? What skills do I need to learn or what attitudes do I need to shift to not make the same mistake again?
The essential learning for me in all of the examples cited above was to find ways to prioritize the tracking of people important in my life, even when the demands of my life threaten to take over. Putting people on the calendar of tasks and commitments, using an abundance of post-it notes to remind me to check my calendar. And checking to make sure that my apologies and amends actually do result in a repair.
3. Claim your own learning as a pro-active step in strengthening your resilience. Even pro-actively looking for past regrets to bring to conscious awareness and re-work with compassion and learning now can be part of strengthening your resilience.
In discussing this post with a friend, I learned he has a practice of reviewing the events of the day before he goes to bed. Besides a regular gratitude practice, he also looks for any “residue,” any regrets or mistakes that day that he wants to make repairs or amends for the next day. Doing that review and setting his intention for skillful action the next day clears his mind so he can sleep easily.