Don’t Regret Your Regret
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My uncle died recently. He was 98 years old and lived a long, healthy, fulfilling life. He asked to speak with me shortly before his death. He had a number of things he wanted to share, but this is the one that stood out to me: “I don’t regret anything.”
My first feeling was happiness for him, but that changed when I thought about it more.
Could that literally be true? Can you experience 98 years of life without regretting a single thing? If not, why is the denial of regret so common? Why does it matter to advisors?
The reality of regret
I regret many things. I wish I never hurt anyone’s feelings. I could have been kinder, less judgmental, less opinionated and certainly more empathetic. I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift.
I think most people identify with my feelings of regret. It’s hard to live without making mistakes, errors of judgment and doing things that, in retrospect, we have all at times been thoughtless or even downright stupid.
Why then do so many people deny feelings of regret?
Once reason we deny regret is that it conflicts with our self-image. We like to think of ourselves as intelligent and well-meaning. Admitting feelings of regret means acknowledging poor choices and dumb mistakes.
The benefit of overcoming this barrier to regret is having a more realistic self-image. We’re not perfect. Even the most well-intentioned people make mistakes. As one observer wrote: “We make mistakes, we do good things, we care, we are selfish, we are honest, we sometimes aren’t honest. We are all of it, and so making a bad choice isn’t in conflict with that more flexible (and realistic) self-identity. It’s a part of it.”
Accepting this reality reduces stress and anxiety. Rigidly holding yourself to an unattainable standard increases it.
If having regret motivates you to take action, it can be the impetus for self-improvement.
Viewed from this perspective, having regret can play a positive role in your well-being.
Not all regret is beneficial. Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D notes, “Regret can have damaging effects on mind and body when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps people from re-engaging with life.”
Obsessing over poor choices is characteristic of depression and, in extreme circumstances, can even lead to suicide.
Lesson for advisors
Coping with regret – and distinguishing the good from bad – is helpful for everyone, including advisors.
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The most successful advisors I know are emotionally very healthy and stable. They know who they are – and who they aren’t. Rather than trying to live up to an unattainable standard, they accept their imperfections. Instead of dwelling on themselves, they are able to intensely focus on others.
You can’t show genuine interest in others when you are consumed with negative feelings about yourself. If regret makes you depressed, it will be difficult for you to function at all. Showing intense curiosity and abandoning the counter-productive goal of being the smartest person in the room requires a healthy relationship with regret.
Don’t regret your regret. Embrace it.
Dan Solin is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books. His latest book is The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read. His sales coaching practice includes helping advisors convert prospects into clients and generating leads through videos and other elements of marketing. Dan is not affiliated with any advisory firm.
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