There’s still a lot of things you’ll never know
Like why each time the sky begins to snow,
Dan Fogelberg, Hard to Say
How did things end up like this? Who could have seen this coming? What did we ever do?
We’re talking about regret here. Mostly we regret our choices. Like our choices matter.
“Simply put, we regret choices we make, because we worry that we should have made other choices.
“We think we should have done something better, but didn’t. We should have chosen a better mate, but didn’t. We should have taken that more exciting but risky job, but didn’t. We should have been more disciplined, but weren’t.”
Why We Have Regret – zen habits zen habits
We’re obsessing about our bad choices and some psychologist comes along and does a study where he concludes that the problem lies in the seams between our actual, ideal, and ought selves. (Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2018). The ideal road not taken: The self-discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets. Amercian Psychological Association.)
Okay, yeah, thanks. We’ve been down that road before. That we feel regret is all on us.
“Contrary to what you hear in the media or what your friends tell you, living life without any regrets is pretty much an impossible task. It is completely natural to wonder what your life could have been like had you chosen another career path or had you married your high school sweetheart. From huge life-altering decisions to trivial everyday choices—our lives are full of could haves and should haves. It’s what makes us human.
“Importantly though, not all regrets are felt the same. They differ in number and intensity based on the different categories of self-concept. This information could be used to minimize the weight of regret in your own life.
“It all depends on who you are and what you are trying to achieve. If you define yourself more by your obligations and responsibilities (the “ought”), it would be wise to think carefully before making any decisions that involve close others in your life. On the other hand, if you are guided more by your personal ideal, then you may be happier deciding on the thing that move you closer to it.
“The first step, then, in reducing regret: know thyself.”
Why You Feel Regret—and What You Can Do About It | Psychology Today
Not sure I get all that, but I got the last part. Socrates said that. Must be true.
I guess the rest of it means that life is all cause and effect, so the idea is to work on your causes in order to get the effects you want. That’s the regret cure. No wonder the “cause and effect essay” is such a big deal (Google the phrase and you’ll see what I mean). You break the law, you pay. You try to defy the laws of gravity, you die. You put your hand on a hot stove…. Got it. Undeniable. Some decisions are seriously stupid. You’ll be a danger to yourself and others. Don’t do it. But maybe life isn’t quite so linear and scientific and all put together as that. Maybe it’s complex, not complicated.
“Complicated problems can be hard to solve, but they are addressable with rules and recipes, like the algorithms that place ads on your Twitter feed. They also can be resolved with systems and processes, like the hierarchical structure that most companies use to command and control employees.
“The solutions to complicated problems don’t work as well with complex problems, however. Complex problems involve too many unknowns and too many interrelated factors to reduce to rules and processes.”
The Critical Difference Between Complex and Complicated (mit.edu)
We’ve heard that before, too, and it also makes sense. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to say a relationship is “complicated.”
Here’s another regret cure: If you’re feeling regret, you can grieve your way through it—go through all the stages of grief until you come out the other side. Grief is the earthquake, regret is the aftershock. Deal with the grief, it helps with the regret. The Stages of Grief: Accepting the Unacceptable | Counseling Center (washington.edu)
Only trouble is, grief is a response to trauma, but grief is also its own kind of trauma. Grief puts the flight or fight response in charge, furloughs the part of our brain that makes us feel we’re in control. Memories and emotions hog the stage, banish decision-making and planning. Fear about how we’re going to live without what we’ve lost goes on permanent reruns—our brain has no setting other than “binge.” We feel lost, become disoriented, lose track of time and place. We go wandering, literally and figuratively.
Grief ain’t no picnic, in other words. Might be necessary to stay healthy, but as a cure for today’s severe case of why bother? All this blaming myself and needing to become more self-aware and understanding that sometimes it’s complex, not complicated and realizing I need to grieve my way through to restored mental health maybe gives me some hope that I can get through it, but
It still doesn’t capture why things didn’t work out.
All of that’s well-intentioned and well-researched and well thought through, but how does it help me now?
Here’s a one-word perspective that might help:
We exist in context. We experience life in context. We find meaning in context. We express ourselves in context. We reach conclusions in context. Context is biological, cultural, environmental, temporal. We create reality in context—both individually and collectively. We take our cues from our surroundings—our physical and temporal and cultural settings. Our bodies and brains construct our reality from what’s around us, including how the people around us are constructing theirs. We share worldview with each other, create shared reality, and build things to support and perpetuate that reality—institutions, architecture, art, economics, law, government, religion, norms and customs, rituals and practices, metaphors and icons, etc. All of that is aggregated and expressed in a coordinated network of brain regions and functions shaped by what’s going on around us.
And there’s a whole lot going on in context that we have no clue about and no control over. There’s a lot we just don’t see coming.
Wait! Say that again.
A lot of things happen that we didn’t see coming. We didn’t choose anything, didn’t do anything—they just happened. They came out of the context we’re living in—which feels like they came out of nowhere because our consciousness doesn’t reach all the way out to the edges of our context.
That’s what I thought you said.
The “Serenity Prayer” has its uses in recovery settings, I get that. But how about if just for a moment we don’t reach for it with our most sanctimonious self and sigh out the refrain about the things we can change and the things we can’t and the wisdom to know the difference? Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice. And yeah, sometimes we need to fake ourselves out and act like we’re wise enough to know the difference. Fake it ‘til you make it. Got it.
But how about if right at the moment we don’t go there. How about if right now we just admit that
each time the sky begins to snow, you cry.
Cool. Good for you. I don’t need you to explain it—to me or to yourself. You don’t need to resolve to make better choices, be more self-aware, go through the grief stages…. Right now, you and me, we’ll just say, cool. I don’t know anybody else who does that. You’re tender somewhere, who knows why. Snow triggers it. Sweet.
You’re human—may not feel like that’s worth much, but it’s a fact, and facts count for something.
At least I think they do.
And since it’s March Madness time and we’re on a Dan Fogelberg tour, how about this:
Your fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance
Dan Fogelberg, Run for the Roses
And the cool thing is, that doesn’t have anything to do with basketball.