How to Handle Regret
Have you ever compared yourself to the ideal you and fallen short?
Maybe you’ve thought things like I should have studied X like I really wanted to, or what if I had taken that job opportunity?
Or maybe you’ve compared yourself to others and felt like you’re not good enough? I know I’ve thought things like why aren’t I as successful as them – they’re younger than me?
If you’ve had these kinds of thoughts, then you’re not alone. In fact, it’s so prevalent that my daughter’s friends even coined a term for it: the Grass is Greener Syndrome.
The Grass is Greener Syndrome
The Grass is Greener Syndrome puts you in a negative state, one of regret, recrimination and maybe even self-loathing. Why did I do that… again?
That kind of negative energy will slow you down, sap your strength and drain your life of joy.
As U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
That negative energy can stop you from moving forward for fear of getting it wrong. Or it can lead you to make choices that make you miserable. Like majoring in accounting so you’ll always have a skill to fall back on, even though you hate numbers.
Many people believe that there’s one right way and an infinite number of wrong ones.
But what if the opposite is true?
What if there is no predetermined path, and many roads can lead to a destination?
What if you can’t go wrong?
What if there is only one wrong way – which is to make no choice and end up doing nothing by default – and any number of right ways?
What if you could not go wrong?
Instead of fear, regret and loathing, that simple shift in perspective invites exploration and expansiveness. You feel encouraged to act and experiment.
Maybe that’s why there’s the poster Sheryl Sandberg referred to at the Facebook offices that says, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
How to let go of the Grass is Greener Syndrome
Once you’re in the grasp of the Grass is Greener comparison, it’s tough to shake off. But all hope is not lost.
Here are three strategies I’ve found helpful.
1. Make your way a right way
Ask yourself, “what makes this a right way?” Challenge yourself to look at the situation from the other end of the telescope.
What did you learn about your interests and dislikes? How does this make you a stronger or wiser person? What insights have you gained that will be useful in the future?
2. Identify the wrong way
Continuing with the premise that there’s only one wrong way, and it wasn’t the way you took, reflect on what that wrong way is. Looking back on the past, a prime candidate for the wrong way is riding the median and doing nothing by default.
And looking forward from now, the wrong way is any way that stops you from acting and moving forward. Once you identify the wrong way, it’s easier to stay away from it while also feeling better about the route you’ve taken.
3. Is it serving you?
Once you’ve wallowed for a while, ask yourself, “How well is my reaction serving me?” If it isn’t bringing you closer to your goal or contributing to your welfare in some way, then it’s time to make a change.
How to prevent comparisons
Once you’ve gotten back on an even keel, then here are some strategies for preventing those comparisons from triggering your Grass is Greener Syndrome in the first place.
1. Control your social media
Stay away from reading, watching and listening to people who trigger your impulse to make unfavorable comparisons. Instead, follow the people, blog posts and podcasts that energize you.
My daughter recommends Lin Manuel-Miranda, creator and star of Broadway musical Hamilton, who tweets an uplifting message daily. I’m a fan of best-selling author and marketer Seth Godin’s blog.
And maybe there’s something useful about those cat videos after all…
2. Choose your friends wisely
Avoid those who are likely to berate you, drag you down or tell you what you should do. Those “shoulds” might have contributed to your situation in the first place.
Hanging out with the right crowd can be an effective preventative measure too. My daughter’s friends are the ones who stopped her from falling further into the Grass is Greener trap. All I can say is, spend more time with those wise friends!
3. Remember your why
And when you’re about to make a big decision, write down all the reasons why you’ve chosen that route. That way, you’ll have a document to pull out to remind yourself of the very good reasons you had for doing what you did. Think of it as an insurance policy against the Grass is Greener thinking.
What will you do?
So don’t let the Grass is Greener Syndrome stop you from moving forward. Life is a journey and we are explorers.
Each experience is a learning experience that you can turn into an asset – a challenge you faced and overcame, a joy you experienced, people you got to know. And it’s just as helpful to discover what’s not for you as part of the path to figuring out what is.
There’s plenty of green grass where you are and where you’re heading next… as long as you’re open to recognizing it.
So, how about you? If you’re feeling regret, how can you reframe it and keep moving forward?
Leave a comment and let me know.