I shouldn’t have done that. Is ‘regret’ a useful emotion?

Ugh, I think we’ve all experienced that gut wrenching feeling when you’ve just said or done something that you instantly regret: ordering that third ‘Manhattan’, eating a second slice of birthday cake because the first piece was so good (the second never is though right?) or volunteering to organize the high school graduation night.

Then there are the regrets that take a while to settle in that often start with “I wish I’d” and refer to things you wish you HAD done rather than hadn’t. I wish I’d stuck with piano lessons,  forgiven my dad sooner, picked up the phone and opened for The Chieftains instead of cowering in the corner listening to the answering machine.

Ok some of these are a bit specific and obviously from my back catalog, but you get the gist. The question I’ve been asking myself is…Is regret a useful emotion?

For much of my adult life I’ve berated myself for not studying theatre or music in college and instead opting for the safe ‘English Major’ route. It was obvious I was never going to be happy unless I was singing, teaching and acting, but it has been a very circuitous route getting here I can tell ya. The truth is, despite the fact that I believe I arrived on this earth brimming with joy and confidence,  by the time I was a teenager, it was pretty much gone and didn’t think I would amount to much at all.  Not at all the resilience needed for a career in show biz!

So back to my question…a different way…Regret, is there an upside? Or is it just a means of making us feel like idiots for not having had the insight and courage we have now, back then?

I’ve come to the conclusion regret is mostly a crappy emotion and not much worth the time BUT it is useful if you can either learn from it straight away and make a different choice the next time a similar situation arises, or and this one I love, project it into the future as a ‘look back tool’. (Brook Castillo talks about this approach in her brilliant podcast The Life Coach School podcast episode .)

For example, if I project myself 5 or 10 years into the future what might I regret not doing now?


Putting money aside for retirement.

Spending as much time with my awesome teenager as I can before he leaves home.

Creating my online course.

Becoming the best voice actor I can be.

Taking more time for my health and fitness.

Telling my husband I love him every day.

Visiting my mum more often.

And learning to play that damn piano!

So, with a holiday weekend coming up, watch out for those margaritas and take a moment to think …What would be on your list in 5 or 10 years?  Let’s not keep thinking it’s too late to start and then not start at all.

I’d love it if you would inspire others by sharing in the comments.

2 thoughts on “I shouldn’t have done that. Is ‘regret’ a useful emotion?”

  1. This is just what I needed to hear today.
    Thank you Julia, I will never regret the time I’ve spent listening to you.
    You are a treasure.

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