Not Succumbing to Paralyzing Regret

Robert Terson

Today’s blog is an addendum to last Friday’s post—Are You Oblivious to the “Obvious”?—which told the story of my friend Dave’s Social Security faux pas: passing up two years of Social Security spousal benefits for his wife, because he erroneously thought she didn’t qualify for a benefit; this because she had “just” been a housewife during most of their 47 years of marriage and didn’t have enough work credits of her own to qualify for a benefit.

To his great credit, Dave never spent a second lamenting the lost $28,000 his two-year mistake cost; instead, he was grateful to discover he and his wife would be receiving an extra $14,000 a year from this point on. How many people do you think would have taken that kind of positive approach, not driven themselves crazy over what had been left on the table? Not too many, I’d wager.

All too often we can’t get past our mistakes, especially the doozies. (Would you say a $28,000 mistake is a real doozy? Would you have let one that go as quickly as Dave did? Come on, folks, we’re being honest here, right?) We lie awake nights, thinking about what we should have done if we weren’t so damn stupid. Figuratively speaking, we’re ready to cut our wrists, jump out a ten-story window. We’re so fixated on the past that we can’t move forward.

Here’s a quotation from Sydney Smith that I’ve used a number of times on this site: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

The reason Dave got past his mistake so easily is because he grabbed onto gratitude instead of regret. He also knows how to forgive himself when he screws up. Do you? When your standard for yourself is nothing less than perfect, you set yourself up for self-hatred, because…if you’re human (you are human, aren’t you?), it’s an impossible standard.

So that’s the message of the day: gratitude instead of regret; self-forgiveness instead of perfection. Keep that in mind; hold onto it when you inevitably commit one of those doozies.


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