How To Use Regrets to Improve Your Future Self

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!”?John Greenleaf Whittier

You can use your regents to improve your Future Self.

Regrets can really hold you back in life, especially if you keep reliving the past.

Chances are that if you look back on your past 10 years, that if you knew then what you know now, there are things you would have done differently.

Maybe you would have saved more money, taken better care of your health, spent more time with loved ones, etc.

While you can’t change the past, you can change your Future Self.

Your Future Self represents the person you want to become.

By using self-compassion and a framework for regrets, you can stop living your life based on who you’ve been.

Your regrets become a backbone for your personal growth and transformation.

Your regrets set the stage for who you become.

We Spend a Lot of Time Thinking About Regrets

A regret is when you are sorrowful or mournful of a past mistake or decision.

How often do you spend time regretting your past mistakes?

It seems very natural and very human to dwell on the past.  Below are results of a case study carried out.

When asked “How often do you look back on your life and wish you had done things differently?”, here are the results:

“Only 1 percent of our respondents said that they never engage in such behavior—and fewer than 17 percent do it rarely.

Meanwhile, about 43 percent report doing it frequently or all the time.

In all, a whopping 82 percent say that this activity is at least occasionally part of their lives, making Americans far more likely to experience regret than they are to floss their teeth.”

That’s a lot of people walking around wishing they’d done things differently.

The good news is that you can break this pattern and use regret in a more skillful way, as you’ll learn in this article.

Your Future Self Represents Opportunity

Before we go into regrets, let’s first really understand why Future Self is such an important concept.

The science says that when we feel connected to our Future Self, we treat ourselves better, make better choices that affect our relationships, our finances, and our mental well-being.

Even more interesting is that the science says that when it comes to our Future Self, we really underestimate the amount of change that we can make in a 10 year span.

While the rate of change might slow down, it doesn’t slow down nearly as much as we think.

We can change our friends, favorite vacations, and musicians. But the real surprise is that we can change our values and even our personalities.

Nothing is set in stone.

Review Your Regrets with a Growth Mindset

One of the reasons that regrets can really sting, is because we feel like stuck.

That’s a Fixed mindset.

A Fixed mindset is where you believe you believe your intelligence and skills are basically set. It’s a self-imposed limit where you believe you are either good or bad at something based on what you were born with.

A Growth mindset is the opposite and it can be your ticket to a brand new life of possibilities and potential.

The fundamental belief of a Growth mindset is:

“You can learn and you get better.”

Here is the essence of a Growth mindset according to Carol Dweck, Ph.D:

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.

This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

If you review your regrets with a Growth mindset, you open the door for continuous improvement.

And when you combine this with your Future Self, you become limitless.

Grow from Your Regrets

Sometimes regret acts like an anchor or a chain that holds you back or holds you down and wears you out.

Other times, regret serves to motivate and inspire you to make big changes in your life.

What’s the difference between these two paths?

According to researchers at UC Berkeley, self-compassion is the difference that makes the difference.

In fact, according to Kristin Neff, self-compassion trumps self-esteem. Self-esteem has several traps including narcissism, self-absorption, self-righteous anger, prejudice, disruption, etc.

Self-compassion has all the benefits of high self-esteem without its drawbacks.

Neff defines self-compassion as 3 core components:

  1. Self-kindness – be gentle and understanding of yourself, rather than critical and judgmental.
  2. Common humanity – feeling connected with others in the experience of life, rather than alone and alienated by our suffering.
  3. Mindfulness – hold our experience in balanced awareness versus ignoring our pain or exaggerating it.

You can’t grow if you can’t acknowledge your own weaknesses.

And you don’t’ grow by beating yourself up or tearing yourself down, either.

According to Neff, a better way to grow is to stop judging and evaluating yourself altogether. Stop trying to label yourself as “good” or “bad”, and accept yourself with an “open heart”, like you would a good friend.

By practicing self-compassion and going easier on yourself, you’ll experience less anxiety, less anxiety, and more peace of mind.

4 Types of Regrets

Regrets can be a wide open topic.  I find it helpful to use a framework to think about regrets in a more deliberate way.

You draw from 4 different types of regrets to identify different types of behavior changes.

In the book, The Power of Regret, Dan Pink identifies the following 4 types of regrets:

  1. Foundation Regrets – “If I’d only done the work.”
  2. Boldness Regrets – “If only I’d taken that risk…”
  3. Moral Regrets – “If I’d only done the right thing…”
  4. Connection Regrets – “If only I’d reached out…”

Foundation Regrets are when you let yourself down because you didn’t do the work.  That could be anything from you didn’t practice your instrument, or you didn’t study the way you knew you should.

It might mean you didn’t make the most of the job you had, or that you didn’t put in the effort to learn something new.

Boldness Regrets are where you didn’t step up to the plate when you could.  You shied away from things either through fear or a lack of courage.

You didn’t feel the fear and do it anyway.

Moral Regrets can be anything where you didn’t do the right thing, when you had a choice.  This is your chance to identify your behaviors and change your ways.

Connection Regrets are where you didn’t stay in touch or you didn’t let somebody know what they really meant to you.

This is why when somebody unexpectedly loses a love one, they might tell people they love them, a little more often, and a little more freely.

The Top 5 Regret of the Dying

You can learn about some of life’s deepest regrets from what people say they regret when they are on their death bed.

In the book, Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, Bronnie Ware shares  the short-list of what people regret the most when they are on their deathbed.

Here are the top 5 regrets of the dying at a glance:

  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 didn’t work 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.

Notice how #4 on the list is effectively a Connection Regret.

You can use this insight to help inform behaviors and habits that you want to adopt today.

Again, your Future Self will thank you for it.

9 Choices Your Future Self Will Regret

While knowing the top 5 regrets of the dying can be helpful, you ultimately need to figure out the regrets that resonate with you.

In the article, 9 Choices Your Future Self Will Definitely Regret, the author identifies a short list of potential regrets:

  1. Letting other people shape your world
  2. Sticking to your bad old habits
  3. Giving up
  4. Hiding your real self (behind a mask)
  5. Constantly waiting for the right time
  6. Tolerating negative energy
  7. Striving to control every little thing
  8. Not taking care of your health
  9. Being lazy

This is the stuff that New Years Resolutions, vision boards, and every day goal setting are born from.

The beauty is that all of these are choices you can control.

The Grant Study

When it comes to big regrets in life, we can learn from the Grant Study.

The Grant Study is a study of 268 men for 75 years to learn about happiness and how to live a good life.

Here’s how George Vaillant, the director of the Grant Study, summarized the findings:

“Happiness is love. Full Stop.”

Vaillant says that while Virgil taught us the power of love long ago, now we have the data:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points, at least to me, to a straightforward five-word conclusion:

‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’

Virgil, of course, needed only three words to say the same thing, and he said them a very long time ago— Omnia vincit amor, love conquers all— but unfortunately he had no data to back them up.”

As you can see from the study, in terms of the 4 types of regrets, Connection Regrets are a big deal.

In fact, here is what Dan Pink had to say about the Grant Study in his book The Power of Regret:

“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives…

Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”

In many ways you might say, the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships.

The Terman Study

We can also learn about big regrets in life from the Terman Study.

The Terman Study is an ongoing study that started in 1921 with 1528 children and it’s another study to figure out what makes us happy and how to live a good life.

Friedman and Martin write:

“The qualities and lifestyles cultivated by people on these life-long paths reflect an active pursuit of goals, deep satisfaction with life, and a strong sense of accomplishment. 

That’s not to say that these people possessed a giddy sense of happiness–we described how cheerfulness doesn’t necessarily lead to a long life. 

But having a large social network, engaging in physical activities that naturally draw you in, giving back to your community, enjoying and thriving in your career, and nurturing a healthy marriage or close friendships can do more than add many years to your life.

Together, they represent the living with purpose that comes from working hard, reaching out to others, and bouncing back from difficult times.

How fascinating to understand that those individuals who became involved with others in a consequential life would be improving their health as an unanticipated bonus.”

Here you can see how Connection Regrets can play a role in how you live your good life.

Look Back 10 Years Through the Lens of Regrets

This is your chance to really identify your transformational changes that will unleash the you that you really want to be.

And it’s these changes that will be your game winning strategies for life.

This is how you win the game of life your way.

This is a pretty easy part of the exercise, you can look back over the last 10 years of your life and identify your most important regrets.

What would you do differently?

This is your chance to use your past for lessons that will help you become the type of person that you want to be.

You can look back through key areas of your life using the Life Hot Spots framework:

  1. Mind
  2. Body
  3. Emotions
  4. Career
  5. Finance
  6. Relationships
  7. Fun

Looking back on your past 10 years, if you knew then, what you know now, what would you do differently?

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, what changes would you make in terms of how you think, feel, or act, and what you focus on?

Remember that your thoughts are behaviors, too.

Maybe you spent the last 10 years thinking too much about your regrets!

With regrets in hand, this is your chance to change your future, so you regret less, and live life more fully on your terms.

How Does the Rocking Chair Test and the Dickens Pattern Fit In?

Now that we know the 4 types or classes of regret, we can evaluate how different tools help reduce our future regrets and live more fully.

The first tool that comes to my mind is Tony Robbins’ Rocking Chair Test.

It’s a simple test and it goes like this:

Imagine yourself as 80 years old (or some age in the future), sitting on your rocking chair, and you didn’t do whatever it is where fear is holding you back.

If it doesn’t bother you, then don’t do it.

I think the Rocking Chair test really nails the Boldness Regrets.

Another tool that comes to mind is Tony Robbins’  Dickens Pattern exercise.

The Dickens Pattern exercise is really focused on limiting beliefs, which could overlap with Boldness Regrets, as well as Foundation Regrets.

But the value of it is ultimately creating clarity around your limiting beliefs and the impact they have on your life.

It’s Never Too Late, To Start All Over Again

It’s never too late to start all over again.

Regret can be a good thing if you use it to learn and grow, along with practicing self-compassion.

The whole point of getting good at regret is so that as you live your life forward, let your past go, and become more of who you want to be.

You can change your fate through your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions today.

This is how you help your Future Self think, feel, and act like the person you want to become.