Turn Regret into Renewable Fuel by Matt Anderson

One of my biggest life regrets was not staying in a relationship during my university years with a wonderful young woman called Catharine. I decided to end things because I was going overseas for an exchange year to study in the USA. I wanted to be ‘free’, and I didn’t trust my feelings: I was afraid that if I missed her too much, I would come back home and ‘drop out’ of the year.

It was a legitimate concern because I’d done that two years prior after arriving in Germany for a job I’d arranged right after high school. That was over a girl called Sue. That had been the lowest point of my life and had been very hard to dig out of emotionally.

So, I broke things off saying I needed to listen to my head not my heart. It was about seven months before I wrote to her saying I’d made a mistake. I hadn’t met anyone new either. But she didn’t reply. What this really painful regret taught me was the value of loyalty. I was not loyal to her. I’ve been much more conscious since then about standing by great people and great companies.

1. What actions do you regret NOT taking in your life?

Think REALLY HARD about this one and start a list.

This is not an easy assignment but persevere because it can be very powerful – can I get a show of hands on who wants to live with regrets?! I found myself getting temporarily really sad. I realize you do not want to feel that way either (!), but the deeper you dig, the closer you will get to topics that you can start to use as magnificent fuel. Within a short time, you will feel differently and have tapped into new fuel that will help you surge. Fuel that will help you mine your own gold (which is the only reason I’m sharing this with you, okay?)

For example, when I listed out my regrets, I was surprised to see that most of them were areas I could still improve on now and make a very positive difference in my life. Even if they’ve hurt my happiness and effectiveness to varying degrees in the past, it doesn’t mean they have to be a life sentence. Same with you.

The first thing I wrote:
I regret living too close to my comfort zone for so long. Scared to date. Scared to take bigger biz risks. Playing too small.

2. When have you lived a life expected of you rather than one where you were being fully true to yourself?

Bronnie Ware was an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. In 2012 she wrote The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The top regret she wrote about was:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Do you really want to die with that thought in your head?!

When have you lived a life expected of you rather than one where you were being fully true to yourself?

And when do you fall into that trap currently (ouch)?

Achiever types in particular tend to have the plugin too tight. Since this was the biggest regret Ware encountered, we are fooling ourselves if we think we don’t do the same thing! We are rarely conscious of how much our surrounding culture and other people influence us. We usually convince ourselves that we are making all our own independent decisions, but in her 2022 book, Influence is Your Superpower, Yale professor Zoe Chance says: “Influence doesn’t work the way we think because people don’t think the way they think they do…most behavior reflects very little “thinking” at all.”

I remember when my twins were toddlers, I felt like I had lost my identity as I just automatically played the role of robodad, thoughtlessly doing all the parent and household tasks I was supposed to and never doing anything that I wanted to do.

What would be a breakthrough for you to be truer to yourself?

3. How to start addressing your regrets

At a minimum, as you work on your own answers to these questions, you can be clearer about not making the same mistakes again and living on a thoughtless autopilot.

The most useful question to ask yourself with each item on your list is this:
What type of person do I need to BE so I don’t live with this regret anymore?

My first answer was this: “Someone who pushes himself out of his comfort zone 6x/week – 4% growth.” Nowadays to stay out of my comfort zone, I have a “4%” as a daily Power Habit on my Habit Tracker. Throughout the day I check in with myself and ask whether I feel like I’m doing something that is pushing me 4% outside of my comfort zone or not.

Lastly, I want you to know: it’s okay to feel whatever you feel from processing through these difficult questions to remember that the value in feeling the pain is so you do not live the rest of your life blindly anymore but do your best to steer your thoughts and actions into more proactive directions. That is all you can control now. And you don’t have to be a reactive puppet now you’ve shone a bright light onto events from the past that you wish you had handled/experienced differently. And this process for you may take a little time.

Done right, this thinking can give you the power and help you build new skills and habits that fuel a future so bright you might have to wear shades (!). Most of us have many years left to make all kinds of magic happen. Accept your humanity and imperfection and live the life you’ve always wanted to.

To mining your own gold!
Matt Anderson
Founder & President
Matt Anderson International
1177 Oak Ridge Drive, Glencoe, IL 60022, USA
Phone: +001 (312) 622-3121

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