Regret: Harness It or Holster It, but Don’t Be Hampered By It

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~Fulton Oursler

Should we “believe in” regret, embrace natural feelings of remorse and shame about the past and harness them as lessons that can help us grow, mature, emotionally develop and thus propel us toward greater destinations, tomorrow?

Or should we choose to not believe in regret, but instead “holster” or stash away and neglect those feelings of remorse and guilt about our pasts, understanding them as unfortunate-but-necessary vessels that have brought us to this point in our lives, today?

To Regret or Not Regret? That is the Question..

It seems that there are at least two equally strong but diametrically opposed camps of thought regarding regret. One camp embraces feeling regretful as natural and inevitable to occur, that it presents the opportunity to evoke positive change and inner growth. The other camp explicitly chooses to disregard ever feeling regretful, that the past should be left there and that regrets burden our minds and prevent us from acting as we “ought” to.

Every now and then, I take some time to brainstorm a handful of blog post drafts with interesting titles and subjects that I intend to return to and finish writing at a later date. A few weeks ago, one of the blog post topics I came up with was, “Why You Shouldn’t Believe In Regret.” At the time, I thought it would be a strong (though controversial) subject for discussion because for someone to categorically choose to “not believe in” something like regret has Renegadeism written all over it.

However, only about a week later, I came to think that the premise of the piece was completely ridiculous, saying to myself, “Understanding ‘regret’ holds some serious potential to actually help people change and grow,” and deleted the post. Now, I present the question to you, the reader, and ask for your thoughts and honest opinions: As Renegades, should regret either be harnessed (utilized for our benefit) or holstered (put away, neglected, denied outright)? Or is the answer to find a blend of the two?

To Harness or Holster Regret?

The late American playwright and composer Jonathan Larson said, “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” You’ll find similar, powerful quotes across the Internet that espouse a like-minded philosophy: that guilt stemming from missed opportunities, that “hanging onto” mistakes from the past entails a burdening, lingering effect that negatively impacts how one lives and leads his or her life in the present moment.

Choosing to “not believe in” regret can reveal maturity and peace of mind from one who has relinquished attempts to control all aspects of one’s life, and thus come to accept the unpredictable nature of it. But, the more I consider the nature of regret, the more I fear that neglecting to understand and harness one’s regret is ultimately more detrimental because holstering it can cause us to neglect to take responsibility for wrongdoing, to acknowledge one’s own shortcomings, and failing to learn lessons from the past — all of which can be harnessed and used for the sake of bettering one’s self in the present and future.

I’m reminded of a brilliantly written and incredibly insightful piece by the New York Times’ Jonah Lehrer in February, which boldly suggested that the remarkable prevalence and impact of depression across the human species might indicate that humanity unwittingly utilizes the depression as the means to evoke change:

“[Perhaps] depression has a secret purpose and our medical interventions are making a bad situation even worse. Like a fever that helps the immune system fight off infection — increased body temperature sends white blood cells into overdrive — depression might be an unpleasant yet adaptive response to affliction.”

Could something similar be said of regret? As the prevalence of depression could indicate that the affliction is  used by evolution to plausibly propel change, development and growth, so too could regret be harnessed for the sake of personal and emotional change.

Refusing to be Hampered by It

As Jonathan Larson warns, regret can threaten to hamper and hinder the extent to which we live our lives. This much is surely true. But equally as much, regret — an emotional reaction to a conscious realization — enables human beings to be able to understand that actions and behaviors of the past ought to be done differently in the future. In other words, doesn’t regret empower us, propel inner growth and emotional development by allowing us to realize our mistakes?

Perhaps, whether we choose to harness it for our own personal development or holster it so as to not be burdened by past mistakes, we need to make the conscious decision to not be hampered by regret as we move forward with our lives. Perhaps there is no one “right” way to consider regretful feelings, but a handful of better, more positive ways to encounter it and use it for our individual benefit and for the sake of bettering those around us.

What do you think? Is regret for the better, or for the worse? Or is the answer more complex than a simple Yea or Nay?

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