I've noticed that a lot of times when I do something and I wonder for a moment if it was the best choice or not, I tend to come to the conclusion that I don't regret it, so it must be good. For example, I was debating whether a week or so of sharply diminished productivity was an acceptable cost to go hike around the mountains in Peru.
My first instinct, with the Peru situation, amongst aothers, is to say, "Well, I had an awesome time, learned some good stuff, and had a great experience, so it was the right decision." But does that actually really mean that it was a good decision?
I'm really happy with my life and what I'm doing, so therefore I don't regret any decision I've made. The implication is that even though I didn't make every decision absolutely correctly, everything worked out for the best. To support this idea, I can think of one cool thing that happened, or one really great person I met, and work backwards through the improbable series of choices I made that led me there.
The more I think about it, the less stock I put into these sorts of thought patterns. Rather than reflecting the objective reality of decisions, I think that they reflect my optimistic nature. Really bad things can happen to me, and I'm still happy. Some circuit in my brain finds happiness and then weaves all past events into a narrative that supports that happiness: "If I didn't have hundreds of thousands of gambling profits stolen, I wouldn't have become a writer and put out a few books. Therefore I'm glad that I lost that money."
So although I think that this thinking is the result of a really healthy and good mental attitude, it's important to separate the gratitude and acceptance of events from the objective truth of them. It's better to say that I'm not glad that I lost all that money, but I'm still happy, unphased, and ready to push forward undeterred.
Why does this matter? Because if I look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, I'm not very likely to learn from my mistakes. In fact, I'm not very likely to even acknowledge them as mistakes. Coming back to the Peru example, I think that a really clear way to look at it is to say that I had an amazing time in Peru, I'm grateful for all that I gained by going, but that probably those benefits aren't enough to justify taking trips like that while my attention is needed by SETT. That doesn't diminish my happiness or experiences, but it does prepare me better for making similar decisions in the future.
Photo is a classic example of a mountainselfie from the hike in question.
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Meh, I don't ever think there's a reason to think over past events and debate the merits of choices internally. That will just get you more into your mind and not able to respond to the present. Whatever happened, happened and its one's choice to accept it and surrender to whom you are. We are not our past choices, but the sad truth is vast majority of us live in our past conditionings because we can't accept that this or that which didn't turn out the way we liked. I think we should all devote a period of our day to quiet reflection and watching our thoughts so that the stresses and tensions of our decisions don't accumlate and we end up truly trapped. Beating ourselves up, however, won't get us anywhere.
That is a very good and often overlooked point: In essence, you are talking about the difference between "good" and "optimal" - as well as framing mistakes as "learning experiences." I find a problem with your extreme focus on work, to the exclusion of traveling and other fun things, however. I understand that work is fun for you, as it is for me. However, ask yourself how you will feel at 70 or 80, if all you have to look back upon are a series of days where you are working nonstop on SETT or another project. A more balanced approach to life, more varied experiences, will probably reduce the chances of you regretting things at that point.
This sounds similar to my present philosophy on regret.
About a year ago, I made a Facebook post, stating that after that particular night, I could leave my three year stint in South Korea with no regrets. The reason I wrote it was actually fairly trivial: That night I had hung out with a female friend I had once been interested in, but hadn't seen in nearly a year because she'd gone to Australia. Naturally, I was happy to see her again, and we had a fun night out on the town. However, I ultimately came to the conclusion that while she was a cool gal, she wasn't "the one" for me.
More than that, I realized that though I had met/dated some cool girls in the country, I didn't feel like I was leaving any "open doors" behind. I think most young, single guys have felt this at some point; the "if I had only tried harder, I could have dated 'so and so'" feeling. I'd felt it in the past, but this time? Nada.
So anyway, when I got home, I wrote on my Facebook wall, "After tonight, I can leave Korea with no regrets."
I had meant it in a narrow sense, but obviously people reading it couldn't know that. A while later, a friend asked me, "Hey Henry, you're really leaving with no regrets?"
Hearing that made me think about what the words I wrote actually meant. And after giving it some thought, I told him that yes, I was leaving Korea with no regrets. Why? Because even if I made mistakes, and even if I didn't do all the things I planned to do, I was happy with the present. And if my past choices led to that result, then why should I have any regrets?
Since then, I've done my best to live with "no regrets," and I gotta say, so far so good. Do I think it's possible to truly live with zero regrets? Probably not, given how deeply the concept is woven into our cultural fabric; trying to rid myself of all regret would be like trying to rid myself of the English language - not possible. But simply being aware of the concept has really done wonders.
Is the contrapositive also true? If I deeply regret something, does that make it wrong? I'm full of regrets, at least some of which I'm sure are irrational.
I think that regret is a useless emotion. I put it in the same category as jealousy and anger (or any other emotion which is an emotional response that can't improve the situation it's responding to). The focus should always be on the process, not on the outcome. Really the only use for the past is to think of it as a series of experiments and glean what you can from the outcome, whether it was good or bad.
If you regret something in the past, I'd say one of the following is true: a) You made the wrong choice and are making things worse by regretting it or b) You made the right choice, had a bad outcome (like taking a "good" risk that didn't work out), and are still making things worse by regretting it.
Not sure if this answers your question. If not... maybe a specific example would be interesting to talk about.
Good point. I tend to think the same way. Such as: If it hadn't been for all the horrible, inept bosses I've worked for, I wouldn't have realised that I could do a better job and found the courage to set up my own business. But you're totally right. Obviously I'm not glad that I've worked for lots of difficult bosses, I'm grateful for what I learned from the experience. Two very different things. :o)
Life is much more complex than just a series of binary choices, and without a flux capacitor, we'll never truly know if decision A will be better than decision B. Maybe it's a little optimistic, but I feel that every decision we make is the right decision -- and here's the key -- at that exact moment. Otherwise why would we have made it? Sure, looking back it's easy to assess all of the factors that you now can fully understand, but at the time, you didn't have all of those factors to base your decisions on, you had to make a decision based on the information you did have. And that's where the learning process comes into play. 'Oh, so steam coming from a pot on a stove is actually an indicator of a heat that will burn my hand. Now I understand that.' Unless you're Leonard Shelby (Memento) and can't make memories, I don't think we can help but learn from all life experiences. And those lessons learned get recycled and factored into the next decision we're presented with. Hence the saying, hindsight is 20/20.
It's well documented that taking breaks from work can increase productivity. Do you think that sub-consciously your passion for Sett was factored into the decision to go to Peru as way to actually increase productivity and prevent burnout?
Some little voice inside you told you to go- call it a sixth sense-conversely if you reached an age that prevented the experience that perhaps would be cause for regret.
I'm intrigued by the "hundreds of thousands of gambling profits stolen" observation. Example or something that really happened? If so, what's the story, if you don't mind talking about it...
A couple months ago I was minding my own business, reading a book, about to go to sleep. I give twitter one last check on my phone and see a message from my friend Jenna telling me of a deal to go to Lima, Peru for $380 round trip. I have no particular reason to go to Peru, but I decide to start booking it and make the decision as I go through the steps. The deal is about to go-- it's disappearing from different booking sites one by one. Hey, might as well go, I think. For how long? Well, I can't think of anything off the top of my head in Peru besides Machu Picchu (which I already decided I had to see before I died), so I play it safe and book eight days, figuring that will give me enough time for Machu Picchu and maybe one or two other things.
After booking, I begin to do a little research. The thing to do is the Inca trail, which is a four day hike from the Cusco area to Machu Picchu. You have to go with a tour group, and you have to book far in advance. I booked too late for that. The standard alternative is the Salkantay trek, which is typically a five day trek. It's harder than Inca and has better natural scenery, but no ruins along the way and doesn't lead directly to Machu Picchu like Inca does. I try to find a good tour group going there, but none of the published dates fit into my short window in Peru. Fine, I think, I'll just go solo.
I order a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and mattress pad, and that's the extent of my planning for over a month. With a week before I leave, I figure I ought to see if I need train or bus tickets. That's when I learn that Cusco is almost 24 hours away from Lima by bus, and that getting to the trail from Cusco takes several hours as well. Long story short, it looks impossible for me to Salkantay. But I've had it in my head for a month now that I'm going to do it, so I don't give up easily. Finally I find a way I can take a bus to Arequipa near the end, and then take a flight from there to Lima just in time to catch my flight. The problem is that this leaves me only about 3 days to do the trek, and less than 24 hours to acclimatize.
A week later, my trip begins. I'm overjoyed when my tent stakes make it through TSA security. Actually getting to the hiking trail is contingent on several fairly unlikely assumptions, the first of which is that the titanium stakes will make it through. The flight to Lima is long, but I somehow manage to get an exit row seat to Panama, and a whole row to myself to Lima. I get the best plane sleep I've ever had.
I see such an obsession with happiness these days. It's sad.
There's different sorts of happiness, but the one people seem after the most is the lowest, saddest form of happiness - a pleasurable mix of biochemicals.
Do you know how cocaine works? It's what's known as a triple-reuptake inhibitor. It makes some of the happiness chemicals - serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine - cycle out of your brain more slowly, giving you wonderful feelings.
And - so what? You've got more happiness chemicals in your brain so you bliss out? How could anyone in their right mind think this is the meaning of life?
I try to do things that I find meaningful, ideally on the largest scale I can. I'm not there yet, but I'm trying. I still need to get stronger in other areas, get more disciplined. But I'm working on it.