Don't look back
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
When I think about regret, I’m reminded of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development. He created a model of human development that has eight stages and describes social/mental development over the lifespan. The eighth and final stage which starts around the age of 65 (i.e. retirement age) is called “Ego Integrity vs Despair". In essence, this stage is about a person looking back on their life and either feeling happy with their accomplishments or regretting things that they did or didn’t do.
For as long as I can remember, my father has been talking about his past and things that he didn’t do. The conversation always starts the same way with, “Now you know, Rob, I don’t have any regrets, but ...” Then he will go on with something like, “If only I had ____ at your age then I ...”
Don’t get me wrong, he’s my dad and I love him, and he’s been a great role model. However, as a role model he has not only helped me see some things I want to do in my life but also some I don’t want to do. If at all possible, I don’t want to waste time looking back with regret about things I haven’t done.
My father isn’t alone. It’s not uncommon for me to hear clients with similar If-only’s. One thing I like to ask these clients is: “What can you do right now so that you can look back in ____ years and feel good about it?” Sometimes this is enough to help people get unstuck. Many of us know what we want to do, but are held back, usually out of fear. Avoiding regret, like what I have seen in my father, is a significant motivator for me to take some risks. Even if I don’t succeed, I can look back and give myself credit for trying.
What could you do today so that tomorrow you can look back with satisfaction at your accomplishment?