Regret is a strange emotion. It causes us to feel bad about choices we have made in the past. Regret can lead to serious unhappiness and a sense of helplessness since we cannot change the past. But maybe it serves an important purpose in reminding us that we will have feelings later about the choices we make now. It is not enough to make the choices that will make us feel good immediately. Sometimes we will have a better outcome and a better overall picture if we are able to weigh the value of the possible choices and their potential outcomes. But it is difficult to forgo feeling good right now in the hopes that we will feel better later. One of the ways we strengthen that capacity to make difficult choices is remembering that we do not like feeling regret.

Knowing that somewhere down the line, in five years or in ten years, we will look back at this moment and have an opinion about what we should have done or could have done, we can take into account the well-being of our future self and try to construct a better future even when those choices mean a more difficult present. And, of course, the way we do this is by reflectively considering the different factors relevant to our current choices. It is the time and space we take to be deliberate and thoughtful about our efforts that ultimately allow us to make the best choices possible given the current situation.

It can be helpful to imagine what our future self would want to tell us looking back at this moment. We can only know what we know; our understanding is always imperfect. But it does actually make a difference if we do our best to sort out the current reality; do some careful analysis, figure out the possible options and the outcomes of those options, and make an effort to work toward the future that we will be glad of rather than the future that is the easiest.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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