«There is no way to determine which decision is the best because there is no comparison. Man lives everything immediately for the first time, without preparation “. So writes Milan Kundera on a page of The unbearable lightness of being.
But everyone, or almost (after all, only Nietzsche’s superman has no regrets for the past – nor fears or hopes for the future – accepting every moment of existence), at least once in our life we have experienced the suffering related to regret for a choice made: the strong belief or doubt of having made the wrong choice can become nagging up to constantly occupy a place in our thoughts, ruining even the most beautiful moments.
In the book, Imperfects and happy (Imperfaits, Libres et heureux, 2006, in the translation by Anna Morpurgo, ed. Corbaccio) the French psychiatrist Christophe André states that regret is even more frequent in the presence of self-esteem problems, so much so that some people with a low self-esteem prefer not to choose not to run the risk of regretting it.
But what creates major regrets is having done a certain thing or not having done it?
Since, explains André, the passing of time makes our regrets evolve, in the immediate term we tend to regret above all the things we have done (regrets of action, obviously when that action has not been successful), while in the long term, and intervening a certain detachment, we tend to regret the things we have not done (regrets of inaction).
On an emotional level, the former, in which we regret a reality, are called “warm regrets” while the latter, in which we regret virtuality, is called “melancholy regrets”.
Research has also found that subjects with good self-esteem produce slight memory distortions, thus feeling closer to their successes and further away from failures, while for subjects with low self-esteem exactly the opposite occurs.
In any case, André continues, everyone, with or without high self-esteem, to fight against excessive regrets we should free ourselves from the myth of the “right choice”. This simply does not exist because only we have the power to make our choices right or wrong: “We should avoid seeing our life as a succession of decisive and definitive moments” (see page 338 of the aforementioned text).
The best thing, to get rid of at least the fear of early regrets related to a choice, is therefore not to give up acting but to increase one’s ability to tolerate failure. And above all, learn to draw a lesson from it.
Furthermore, as Professor Catherine Drew Gilpin Faust (the first woman to hold the position of Rector of Harvard University) often advises her students, we should not always be satisfied with the “first free parking”, ie making only the simplest choices, but also trying to make choices. more daring (the theory of “free parking”, the parking space theory of life states in fact, metaphorically, that you should not park a kilometer away from your destination just because you are afraid of not being able to find another free place: better get more close to your destination and if you really can’t find “parking”, you will go back).
It is, therefore, necessary to learn to accept, if not love, the more or less courageous choices already made and face future ones with this awareness, without waiting for external events to decide for us.
But how do we deal with the regrets that already keep us company?
How can we make them less painful and convince ourselves that the feeling that often comes back to haunt us, after all, can be useful and is teaching us something?
In reality, we would gladly do without teaching as well as a painful feeling. But eliminating the regrets completely and in a short time is almost impossible, we can only mitigate them with some strategy.
While waiting to metabolize the lesson and to feel less crushed by this annoying company, we could try to believe these words of Arthur Golden taken from Memoirs of a geisha: «Regret is a very particular type of pain; we are powerless in the face of it.
It is like a window that opens on its own initiative: the room becomes freezing and we can only shiver. But every time it always opens a little less, until the day comes when we ask ourselves what happened to it. “
A wise friend, therefore, seeing us in difficulty, would tell us to wait patiently for the day when the regret will seem to disappear and in the meantime continue to make our choices without too much fear. Will we be able to listen to it?