16:25 Sat 25 Nov 2006
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What good does it do? I ask myself this question over and over, because I have a terrible regret habit, constantly mulling over past mistakes in my mind and wishing I could undo them.

Of course this cannot be done, but something in my head doesn’t find this obvious (or even convincing). Many of my patterns of thought, especially those around regret, seem based on the idea that I can “step across” to the alternate universe in which I didn’t make the mistake in question. I don’t know where this comes from.

Dictionary.com has two relevant definitions for regret:

* A sense of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc.
* A feeling of sorrow or remorse for a fault, act, loss, disappointment, etc.

Neither of these capture a key aspect: a sense of wishing to have done otherwise. Wikpedia’s entry does better, including “sadness, shame, or guilt after committing an action that the person later wishes that they had not done” in the description, and also (crucially) including regret of inaction.

Regret can help us learn from past mistakes. Personally, I’ve learned quite a lot from regret, but it still seems that the time and pain involved outweighs the lessons learned. It seems this way because I appear to learn the lessons but then continue the regret, instead of learning the lesson and letting go.

Letting go presents a significant challenge for me, and that may be why my regrets stick around so long. Typically, I’m not sure which of the two (overactive regret or inability to let go) constitutes cause and which constitutes effect.

It remains a struggle for me to shrug off regret and look to the present. I have to fight to keep my mind off of regrets and on the more important (and perhaps the only) question: what can I do right now?

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