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How to Make Regret a Catalyst for Positive Change

Let’s talk about regret, a feeling I know all too well. It’s defined as sadness, disappointment, or repentance over something done or not done. Regret is a double-edged sword that many people hold within themselves, causing great pain. While it’s the worst feeling I have ever felt in my heart, it can also be a catalyst for positive change if we choose to be proactive. Letting ourselves and others down feels awful, but we can use that feeling to motivate us toward a better future.


Wanna Hear a Mad Story?

I want to tell you about an experience that has changed my whole life. It’s a story that has a happy ending but the regret part is what I want to focus on. Let’s go back to when I was younger. As a young boy playing guitar in a band, it’s natural to dream of becoming as famous as Oasis or The Beatles. Doing what you love forever was the ultimate goal. That was one of my half-baked fantasies when I was a kid and something I halfheartedly pursued as a teen and into my twenties.

I loved to play and sing at parties as many of my friends will attest to. I wasn’t a bad player and have a decent singing voice but I wasn’t really putting the necessary attention into honing my craft that would be needed to be successful in music. This is one of my regrets that I have subsequently learned from. Either go all in or don’t bother at all.

When I was 21 (this January is the 21st year anniversary), something really life-altering happened to me. I fell from a building, four storeys high, whilst on holiday abroad. Realistically, I should have been killed, but amazingly, I survived, and miraculously, only with minor injuries. I had damaged my foot really badly (severed forefoot) and had broken my right arm, but apart from that, I was OK.


Wake up, Rob!

I had regrets, though. I’d not taken care of myself. I had not been responsible for myself. In fact, I had been very irresponsible. I knew it was no accident. Having consumed a cocktail of substances and not even knowing where I was when the incident happened. My first memory was waking up on a hospital operating table with a doctor shouting at me that I had taken something (not the most pleasant way to awaken to this nightmarish outcome).

Welcome back to the world Rob, I was still alive. I looked at my arm and felt how sore it was and thought to myself, ‘I may never be able to play the guitar again’. Looking down at the doctor sewing my foot back to my leg, I thought, ‘I may never walk properly again’. I was so full of regrets. It really was like a puncture in my heart. I couldn’t stop crying. Then blank, the anesthetist must have knocked me out again.

The days were long and lonely in that hospital bed in a foreign country, without the ability to get up and walk away and pretend it was all a dream. I hadn’t even got the ability to get up and go to the bathroom. Regret was becoming familiar to me and I didn’t like the feeling. Karen Schultz talks about regret in a Ted talk and mentions the characteristics of regret. She highlights denial, bewilderment, the punishment of self, and perseveration as the hallmarks that go along with episodes of regret and I can concur that all those things were my experience too.


Let’s Try Denial!

In the following days, I really tried to deny it happened and that soon I would be taken out of there and my healthy body would be given back to me but no amount of pretending and denying would make what had happened to me go away. This was closely followed by bewilderment with ‘how could I have possibly done this to myself’? Then the thought that I should be punished and never be allowed to step outside ever again without supervision. And then came bouts of excessively and repeatedly going over the incident (what I could remember of it) in my head.

Perseveration is very interesting. It is a constant rewinding of the inevitable moment or moments where you have to take a look at yourself and take responsibility for your actions. It is the best and worst. The denial of agency, to the acceptance of responsibility, is what makes the circle of regret complete.

In all, I spent 8 days alone in that hospital before being allowed to transit back to Ireland. I told my parents not to travel over when they called me on the phone. In no way was I ready to have them come over to share in my misery. I’m glad that I spent that time with myself. I did a lot of soul-searching in that hospital bed. There were many discussions with God. A hospital church worker came to visit me and that was something that I looked forward to each day.


A Divine Intervention?

My friends who had traveled with me on the holiday also visited me on a few occasions but in many ways, it didn’t serve to cheer me up, rather it made me regret stronger because they would be leaving and I would have to stay in that hospital bed watching the fallout of the September 11th attacks and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden on Spanish TV. When my friends did leave, I got back to my talks with God and I had begun to look at my whole life and considered the idea that I really had in fact been quite lucky or blessed.

Falling four stories from an apartment block and surviving with only fractured limbs led me to question the involvement of some divine intervention in the incident. The haze of the cocktail of substances coursing through my body made the memory of the moment of impact impossible, which is more favourable than a regrettable outcome but is also one that opened my mind up to the potential of divine intervention.

Or maybe, it was an unconscious aspect of my personality that took the reigns with its suicidal intentions and lobbed me over the railings? I will never know for sure.

You may have heard of post-traumatic stress but what occurred for me after this incident was post-traumatic growth. I remember committing to huge changes in my life. Being pretty unsatisfied with my life at the time. Having been in a relationship for a couple of years previous, I was 21, and being single was new to me at the time. My commitment was growing to start big changes. As the days went by in that bed, my thought process went toward what actions I was going to take when I got home.


Let’s Make Changes!

I was going to commit to education. My objective was to quit being irresponsible. I was going to work on who I was and how I was showing up in the world. Committing to serving the world in a greater capacity and providing value in something that aligned with my heart. This was unknown and hidden from me at the time. I felt slightly better but still massively regretful upon leaving the hospital. Saying goodbye to all the staff who were tasked with looking after me. Getting wheeled into the ambulance and taken back to Ireland after 9 days there alone.

Over the course of the last 18 years, my beliefs about things such as God and who I am have changed dramatically. I no longer believe that any metaphysical anomalies occurred on that day in September 2001. I also look back and believe that it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It gave me a massive opportunity and served as a catalyst to press the reset button on my life. The direction that I was taking at the time wasn’t leading anywhere positive.

I did commit and follow through on most of the promises I made to myself and God in that bed. Educating myself and continuing this commitment to the present. I have become a much better and happier person than I once was. Stopping the substance abuse and neglect of my body. Now, I have the greatest relationship with myself I’ve ever had. Having welcomed the most amazing woman into my life too. I am also committed to offering my services to be of value to the world in a greater capacity than I could have imagined before. Back then, I was working a job that didn’t bring me any satisfaction at all.


Catapult To Service and Satisfaction Not Regret

I now work in the coaching industry helping people achieve the results they want and getting their lives to a place they want them to be. This matches my heart’s commitment from my memory back in that hospital bed. Would I prefer to have a fully functional foot and be able to kick a ball? Of course, I would, but I now choose to consider this as one of the greatest moments of my life. I was the catalyst that allowed for the leaps and bounds I have come forward in the past eighteen years since it happened.

Who knows what type of person I would be today had this not happened? I wasn’t really very good at football anyway and was never going to be the next Pele. I never did lose the ability to play the guitar as I’d initially feared and I still get great pleasure from doing so to this day (check out my YouTube Channel)


Is There Value In Regret?

So, should people dwell in regret? In my view, it’s certainly not going to move them forward. My regret started to fade away as I became more proactive and followed through on my commitments to change. Setting the goal to change is one thing. Not giving up on it and doing small steps which move us towards the goal is what is important. I have mourned the loss and considered the causes which created the string of bad choices I made as a young person. I think that is vital to understand what it is that makes us do what we do. That honesty is difficult because it means confronting uncomfortable issues around our history but is exactly where the growth gold lies in waiting for those brave enough to mine it.

That commitment to our integrity and growing self-awareness around what is of value to us is where the rubber hits the road in our emotional landscape. I believe that paying the closest attention to the harmony of what our core is telling us to do is where the bedrock of success in anything is nurtured.


How We Move On From Regret

By achieving my goals, I transformed my regret into an appreciation for the person I was becoming. To deal with regret, ask yourself what you can learn from the experience and if you’re taking the best steps toward learning that lesson. Are you being honest with yourself about everything or do you avoid the hard truths? How can you reframe the experience into something you gained from and have been rewarded by?

Are you incorporating the feedback the world and your emotions are giving you? Does this fit with the new person you want to become? If you do, the natural effect of doing so is that the regret starts to loosen its hold on your heart and you begin to appreciate the new you that you are becoming. We thrive by adopting a proactive mindset instead of simply reacting to the world around us.

We can all be very powerful if we choose to be.

I am a Freedom Coach and Mentor – I help freedom-loving people in their early/mid-career create a Successful Mindset. If you would like to explore some of these themes and move towards achieving more freedom this year, let’s connect and set up a call.

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