Over the past five years, I have been trying to live my life in a way that will not accumulate more regrets.
Most people tend to find change both problematic and scary. Sometimes, we remain stuck in a bad or unideal situation for too long because we fear what we could lose if we leave or change where we are.
However, we also tend to regret things we don’t do much more than the changes we make. So even if something doesn’t work out exactly how you have planned, more times than not, you will be glad that you have taken a risk and given something new a chance.
So, if you are in a difficult situation, including a bad relationship or a bad job, and are thinking about leaving but are also scared to do so, make sure that you make the comparison fair for yourself. First, compare what you might gain if you leave to what you might achieve if you stay. Then think about what you might lose if you go, but compare it to what you might lose if you stay.
If you think about what you might lose versus what you might gain if you leave, prospect theory indicates that the potential losses will likely loom larger for you. The potential gains of you going won’t help you overcome your fears of leaving enough. You will be more likely to stay, even if the current situation is not ideal for you.
Every decision we make has positives and negatives, so don’t forget about the negatives of maintaining the status quo or doing nothing if you are in a harmful or toxic situation.
If you really want to leave but feel afraid, think about the positives of leaving plus the negatives of not making the change. In this way, both your approach system and your fear system will work together and push you in the same direction of making a change and running away from the current situation you are in.
If you are still feeling indecisive, toss a coin. Then let the coin be responsible for the action you take. It might just help you to make the change that deep down you know you want to take.
The Positives of Making a Change
Steven Levitt from Freakonomics fame asked people over a year to flip a virtual coin if they were on the fence about something. If the coin landed on heads, the website told them to go ahead and make a change. However, if the coin landed on tails, they were instructed to keep the status quo.
From more than 20,000 coin tosses, the most common life dilemma that people flipped a coin about was whether or not to quit their jobs. A large percentage of people were also indecisive about whether or not to break up their intimate partners. The website asked a series of questions first to help people arrive at a decision. If these questions didn’t help, the website instructed visitors to flip a coin.
Levitt contacted each person who flipped a coin via email two months and six months after the coin toss. Those who did make a significant change in their lives reported being happier two months later than those who maintained the status quo. Their happiness was even higher six months after their decision. The results were similar regardless of whether or not they followed the coin toss instructions if it landed on heads and made the change or went against it if it landed on tails and made the change anyway.
Levitt concluded that “people are too cautious when it comes to making a change” and probably should take action if they are uncertain about whether or not to.
How Do I Not Regret Things?
For me, preventing the accumulation of regrets is about trying to live my life in a way that is consistent with the life that I want—or trying to be the person I would like to be in every situation.
Getting to this point requires a decent amount of self-awareness and self-knowledge of who I am, what I care about, and what I want.
I’ve completed many personality tests, identified my main defence mechanisms and lifetraps, seen how my character strengths and values have changed over time and become aware of my virtues and faults.
Now that I am aware of these things, it is easier to determine what I would like. In addition, completing the future authoring program has also helped help me to clarify what I really would like in the future.
Some of the questions that they asked me were as follows:
What is One Thing You Could Do Better?
Tune in instead of tuning out. Listen to my body and mind and become more aware of what I feel and what I need.
What Things Do You Want to Learn About?
I want to learn more about running a successful business and private psychology practice.
Which Habits Would You Like to Improve?
I want to stay on top of all my responsibilities at work. I want to connect more with friends and family and ask them for help rather than doing everything myself. I want to remain a non-drinker of alcohol and continue learning new things, going on adventures, exercising, trying to eat healthily, taking my medication, and looking after my health.
What Type of Social Life do You Want in the Future?
I want to maintain connections with the essential people in my life, including my parents, siblings, host family, partner, daughter, family, and friends.
What Leisure Activity Do You Want to Do in the Future?
I want my leisure to be about being active, lifting weights, cooking well, learning new skills, being creative and socialising with those I love.
How Do You Want Your Family Life in the Future?
I want to be connected with them all, even if we are in different countries, share the good things and get support if needed. I also want to try to be there for as many big moments as possible and visit them when I can. Prioritise my partner and family here in Vanuatu and be consistent, reliable, supportive, loving, and caring.
What Type of Career Do do You Want in the Future?
I want to have a thriving private practice as a clinical psychologist. Run both groups and individual sessions and positively impact the community. I would also like to live a sustainable lifestyle where I enjoy my work and remain healthy, with enough time for leisure, relationships and personal growth.
What Qualities Do You Admire?
I want to deliberately and continually learn and improve. I want to be grateful, efficient, effective and courageous. I want to reflect on my mistakes, learn from my experiences, and gain wisdom over time. I want to be fully present, kind and compassionate to myself and others.
What Does an Ideal Future Look Like to You?
I want to be the best me that I can be. I want to help as many people as I can. I want to end up in a place where I feel satisfied and valuable and where I belong. I want to feel like my life is worthwhile and a net positive on the world.
I hope to save up enough money, live in Vanuatu, build a comfortable home and have a good life with my partner and her daughter. I want to make a real difference to the country’s mental health and share with people worldwide all of the knowledge and skills they need to improve their sleep and mental health.
What is a Future that You Want to Avoid?
I don’t want to be a drunk, obese, unemployed loner. I don’t want to fail to meet my obligations or stop striving to achieve my goals. I don’t want to be a bad influence on my partner or children or any clients that I see. I don’t want to end up in jail, commit any crimes or deliberately hurt others. I don’t like to be prideful and not apologise or make amends when I err. I also don’t want to disappoint my friends and family or be considered selfish, unkind, or shit.
Ending the post by talking about the life that I do not want may seem negative, but remember that losses loom larger than gains. By writing down the life I want to avoid, I become motivated to run away from this, make the changes I need to achieve the life I want and not keep building up regrets as I go.
Dr Damon Ashworth