How Regret Ruins Your Present and Limits Your Future

Accept what you can’t change. Act on what you can.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

What’s past is prologue, not pattern.

There’s a concept in physics called the multiverse theory. In a nutshell, every choice that can be made is made. Every outcome that could happen does happen. Have you ever read a story or watched a movie that involved an alternate timeline, parallel dimension, or alternate history? This is where that idea comes from.

Yes, Erwin Schrödinger was involved in fleshing out the multiverse theory. In one reality, the cat’s alive; in the other, it’s dead. In one reality, that email is from your boss, with a question he needs an answer to next week; in another, it’s from an old friend, asking if you want to get together next week. In one timeline, you worked up the courage to ask her out; in another, you let her slip away.

Somewhere out there, there’s a timeline where the other choice was made. Somewhere, the other outcome happened. Each is defined by a moment. In that moment, the timeline splits. A new reality is created.

We control some of these moments. They’re called choices. We choose where we want the moment to take us.

Some moments aren’t ours to control. An outcome is the result of someone else’s choice. They choose where the moment will take them, and you’re along for the ride. Their choice is theirs to make, just like your choices are yours.

Sometimes, we make bad choices. So does everybody else. We don’t consider everything we should. We have limited information.

In 2009, Bronnie Ware wrote a blog post, Regrets of the Dying. Drawing on her experience as a palliative care nurse, she described the top five regrets her patients shared with her.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Five bullet points, but think about how many choices those represent. Day upon day, year upon year. Hundreds of thousands of moments they wish they could go back and make a different decision.

It would really be nice if we could go back and revisit some moments, wouldn’t it? Make a choice that we don’t regret fifty years later. Maybe do more to influence an outcome.

We are robbed of the joy of living in the present. “This is okay, but things would be so much better if…”

We are forever living in the shadow of some imagined better version of ourselves. We can’t compete with that. Neither can our family.

Regret anchors us to the past. It would define who we are—who we ever can be—by some fleeting moment that we can’t do anything about. We give up on the future because it will never be as good as it could have been…

Don’t lament the road not taken. It wouldn’t fix everything. We only know the moment where our path diverged from what could have been. We don’t know what else happens down that path. That reality has its problems, too.

We can’t go back to that defining moment and remake that choice. But we can make another choice today. Make a new choice. Close the gap between your reality and your dream.

What’s past is prologue. It’s just the beginning. It’s not over. We can make the present and the future whatever we want them to be. All it takes is a new choice.

Accept the things you cannot change. Act to change the things you can.

Question: What moment can you let go of today? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.