We could have done it then and we can do it now.

Abstract: A life-hack from my very real life-experiences — What we regret not having done yesterday, we can do today.

Regret is a negative emotion which involves finding faults in personal actions due to an undesirable outcome or blaming ourselves for an inability to act at the opportune moment. 

I have had regrets.

Regrets of not doing something I really wanted to do. 
Regrets of not doing it at the right time. 
Regrets of not striking the iron when it was hot. 
Regrets of not being an early bird.

Regrets. Regrets. Regrets.

All because I conjured up a particular notion in my head that there is
only one right time to do something I love.

“ Regret feels bad because it implies a fault in personal action: You should have done it differently, hence self-blame is a component of regret” — Neal Roese, Psychologist 

I let this idea take root over me, hold my aspirations hostage, and make me wallow in regret. I fathom it is not just me. Almost everyone has their own regrets of not doing something they wanted to at the right time. 

“Didn’t learn swimming when I was a kid.” 
“Didn’t learn how to code in my teens.” 
“Didn’t travel the world before having kids.”
“Didn’t learn a particular software early on in the career.”
“Didn’t learn the local language in a new country immediately after moving there.”

The list is unending. I am never the one to generalize, but almost everyone I have come across in my short yet eventful life harbors a deep and painful regret of not having done something when the time was “allegedly” right.

Some could not. Some would not. Some did not.

The reasons are irrelevant. They don’t erase the regrets. 

Photo by streegar on Unsplash

The Psychology of Regret

Well, the regret we feel is not a unique individual phenomenon. So much so that on an average a person has seven major regrets, and spends an hour every day thinking about them, which totals to about 15 days every year, and 3 years in a lifetime. 

3 years of regret in a lifetime.

Which is shocking. And tragic. 

Over 90% of adults have a major regret and almost 40% of adults in another study admitted to constantly regretting a life-choice. Regret is pervasive. It is as omnipresent as God, and the only difference between the two is that not all of us have felt the grace or wrath of the latter.

The Myth of the Right Time

Pain is often the antidote to status-quo and stagnancy. Nothing changes our belief systems like pain. Although that is an altogether different subject, I bring it up because it was excruciating pain that changed the way I see myself and the world. 

It dawned upon me that I may not have done something I wanted to do when was allegedly the best time to do it. It also seemed to bother me that I did not. So I asked myself.

Is not doing it that I regret or not doing it at the right time?

That called for more introspection which eventually brought me to a profound realization — I really wanted to do that “something” then, and I still want to do that “something” now.

 Then why bear this unnecessary burden of guilt ?

The Right Time was irrelevant. It did not matter. It was not doing that particular “something” and the love I had for it which caused a deep sense of regret.

The Right Time was a myth.

The Two Best Times

Not all of us are unfortunate or fortunate enough to have to endure insufferable pain to gain a deeper understanding of life. Not all of us should have to. At least not the readers who have taken the time out to read this story, for you can take a cue from my life experiences should you choose to.

As I see it, a lingering regret is a call to action. I repeat at the risk of being redundant.

A lingering regret is a call to action.

Regret is an emotional tool that our subconscious employs to nudge us in to action. Unfortunately, our conscious mind ignores these hints leaving our wishes and desires in a perpetual coma. We have already covered the why — our consciousness is entrenched in the strong belief that the time to take action in pursuit of these dreams and ambitions has come and gone. 

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

But these desires don’t care about the rationalization of the conscious mind. They are comatose, not dead. They persist and constantly beckon us to take action.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb.

The proverb above doesn’t just apply to planting trees. It stands true for almost everything we so strongly believe we “should have done” but we “could not do”. 

There are only two best times. The first when the desire to do something initially took hold of our hearts and minds. The second best time is NOW.

Couldn’t learn swimming when you were a kid ? Learn it NOW.
Couldn’t learn how to code in your teens? Learn it NOW.
Didn’t travel the world before having kids? Do it NOW.
Didn’t learn a particular software early on in the career ? Learn it NOW.
Didn’t learn the local language in a new country immediately after moving there? Learn it NOW.

Today. This week. This month. This year. Whatever version of NOW suits your schedule, pick it, and start doing whatever it is that you could not or did not do.

It is certainly no easy task. The moment you decide to do it, a barrage of doubts will overwhelm you, questioning your decision, condemning it even.
It is too late, these doubts will tell you. What is the point, they will ask. Can’t you do something better, they will criticize. This is a waste of time, they will bemoan.

Let them. Then consciously ignore them. Because the consequences of forfeiting to self-doubt are dreadful. The regret will cost you an hour a day for the rest of your life. Will it be not more productive to spend that hour trying to do something you wanted to do than fret over not having done it?

My advice is — Do it Now. This is the second-best time to.

Today. This week. This month. This year. Whatever version of NOW suits your schedule, pick it, and start doing It.

Walk With Me

(Photo by Author — Sunset in Tosu, Saga Prefecture, Japan)

I would never recommend, advise, or suggest something unless I have done it and succeeded at it myself. 

So here’s a list of some of the “regrets” I had, which I have resolved by taking action Now — the second-best time to do all these things I truly wanted to.

  • Couldn’t learn how to build mobile applications 5 years ago —Halfway through a program in which I am learning to build awesome Android apps.
  • Could not get a doctorate right after masters — Doing it this fall.
  • Could not learn a local language despite several opportunities— Learning one even though I don’t necessarily have to.
  • Could not start a successful blog when blogs were in vogue — Began writing on this platform this summer and have garnered a decent amount of appreciation.

Truth be told, it is easier said than done. I often feel like I am a day late and a dollar short. The distractions are plenty and the inherent chaos of life assures that everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Worse, my mind plays all the usual tricks and hurls all sorts of pointed and unkind criticism at my efforts. 

But I move forward nonetheless. One regret at a time. Some regrets remain and I intend to address and resolve them all. One regret at a time. I may have failed at doing something I love when was the best time to do it, but I sure as hell won’t fail at doing it in the second-best time to do it. 

Regret is a burden that we carry to the grave or the pyre, depending upon our personal brand of fiction we sincerely believe to be true. 

I am glad I will be carrying a lot less to mine. 

What about you? 

Related.

Part Researcher Part Sociologist — Integral Humanist. Versatile Op-ed writer. Medium Neophyte. Co-founder of Manas Foundation & SheGoes. Serial Entrepreneur.
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Part Researcher Part Sociologist — Integral Humanist. Versatile Op-ed writer. Medium Neophyte. Co-founder of Manas Foundation & SheGoes. Serial Entrepreneur.
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