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Stoic Meditation #8 - Regrets
Are you brave enough to view the ruins of your good intentions?
Chris Williamson relates a story on his podcast with Alex Hormozi about Christopher Hitchens. The money quote is: "In life we must choose our regrets."
This is brilliant. It brings together opportunity and sunk costs in an interesting way. It states the obvious but rarely acknowledge fact that these costs are unavoidable. They are simply part of life. When we make a choice we necessarily forego other opportunities. We cannot not choose. Choosing not to make a choice, to do nothing, is still a choice. Just as opportunities will be lost when we make a choice, opportunities are lost by doing nothing. I think this is true regardless the importance of the decision, whether it's which pair of shoes to wear or to save yourself in a life-or-death situation. Notice this says NOTHING about the importance or the difficulty of the decision, only that the decision ends with a choice.
Once we've settled the decision and made a choice, the other opportunities left on the table become fodder for regret. In the case of a personal life-or-death situation, assuming you chose to go for a bit more life and are successful, the regret is likely to be vanishingly small. Missing what ended up being a lucrative investment opportunity , however, is likely to sting a little more.
in addition to the regrets that emerge with the realization of lost opportunities are the regrets that grow over time as the sunk costs with the choices we have made begin to grow. No one likes to think they've made a bad choice, so we stick with the choice we have made and work to make sure it emerges as the best one. There's a lot to be said for staying with our choices to see them through. It's rare when things unfold without effort. A measure of grit, perseverance, and tenacity is a good thing. Until it isn't. And that's the hard part: Knowing when it's time to change directions. Avoiding the sunk cost conversation with yourself will only compound the regrets over time. It's a debt that keeps on building.
The Five Regrets people express on their death bed, as popularized by Bronnie Ware, are profound reflections on the choices people have made. None of these regrets were forced on Ware's patients or exclusively the result of circumstances. They were realized over time and upon reflecting at a point in life when the options to change were gone.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Falling back to behaviors others expect of us is the result of not living a life true to ourselves. And it is fear of discovering who we truly are that most people find overwhelming. Courage isn't the absence of fear. Courage is what finds you when you've granted yourself permission to risk living a better life.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This appears to be a regret born from racing on a treadmill for which the pace was set by other people.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Why, on hindsight, do we suffer fools as we do?
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. We assume they will always be there and chose to take them as granted. Except relationships require care and feeding.
I wish that I had let myself be happier. The Region-Beta Paradox in action.
Ware's 5 Regrets serve as warning signs, like the notations you might see on unknown territory from old maps that said "Beyond here, there be dragons!" More often than not, we don't see the signs until we're at the edge. Best to look ahead and heed the warnings earlier.
But I've found "Don't go there!" warnings to be of limited use when it comes to mapping out a rich and rewarding life. Following just the negatives is a life based on reactions, not responses. We don't learn and grow just by avoiding what other's have labeled as "bad." In response to Ware's negative warnings, I've crafted a set of positive daily affirmations - chock full of actions I can take today - in hopes that I will never find myself on the no-options side of the 5 Regrets.
I am manifesting the courage to live a life that is true to myself. I shall honor my dreams and include them in the decisions and choices I make. I shall remain vigilant to and independent from the dream-killing expectations held by others. I shall gratefully acknowledge each day the health I have and recognize the freedom this allows me to pursue my dreams.
"The person is free who lives as they wish, neither compelled, nor hindered, nor limited- whose choices aren't hampered, whose desires succeed, and who don't fall into what repels them. Who wishes to live in deception- tripped up, mistaken, undisciplined, complaining, in a rut? No one. These are base people who don't live as they wish; and so, no base person is free." - Epictetus, Discourses, 4.1.13a
I am simplifying my lifestyle by making conscious choices that maximize family time and enjoyment. I am creating time and space in my life to support happiness and nurture new possibilities and opportunities which support a simplified lifestyle and clear perspective.
"People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul- especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat and be renewed." - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.3.1
I am manifesting the courage to express my feelings in a way that allows me to become the being I am truly capable of becoming. Suppressing my feelings and fostering bitterness and resentment for the sake of keeping the peace with others and settling for a mediocre existence shall not be allowed. I shall endeavor to speak honestly, even though the initial reaction from others may be surprising, with the goal of raising my relationships to a new and healthier level. All I risk by doing this is the release of an unhealthy relationship from my life.
"From good people you'll learn good, but if you mingle with the bad you'll destroy such soul as you had." - Musonius Rufus, quoting Theognis of Megara, Lectures, 11.53.2122
I am manifesting greater happiness in my life by making healthier choices that benefit me and my family. I am choosing happiness at all crossroads. I am seeking ways to playfully disrupt the emotional and physical "comfort" of familiarity set by old patterns and habits. I am manifesting the change I want to see in the world around me and seeking ways to be the difference that makes a positive and healthy difference. I am nurturing a healthy friendship with Change, Chaos and Risk. I shall no longer pretend to myself that I am content and so will no longer pretend to be content with others who fear, resist, discourage, or inhibit change. I am seeking ways to laugh and embrace silliness each day.
"It's ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain its own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest- by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things." - Seneca, Moral Letters, 98.5b-6a
I am reaching out and contacting my family and friends each day. I am noticing the many ways love and relationships are important to me each day.
"A living and valid tradition is like a river with a long course: It brings freshness, richness, and fertility. Just as a drought-ridden place cannot bring forth sweet fruit, those without tradition have less support for their endeavors." - Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao - Daily Meditations, #342
I am finding ways to manifest compassion for myself and others each moment.
"That which isn't good for the hive, isn't good for the bee." - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.54
It's a guarantee that at the end of each day I will have fallen short of living my affirmations. Some days are better than others. But looking back, the arc of progress leaves me hopeful and inspired to try again tomorrow. And a little further away from the prospect of any one of Ware's 5 Regrets sitting on my chest when the end is near.
If you have any questions, need anything clarified, or have something else on your mind, please use the comments section or email me directly.