So at this point in the new year most of us will have received our grades back from last semester. Perhaps you’re also assessing all of those personal, non-academic goals you had set for yourself at the beginning of the school year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably also spend some time (read: A LOT of time) ruminating on all of those things you didn’t do.
I think we can all agree that being able to take stock of what didn’t go so well is an important part of learning how to improve yourself or your situation going forward. That said, if you spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on it (like I do), it can turn pretty toxic very quickly.
Re-purposing your regrets
I think one of the most useful things I’ve realised recently is that the term regret does place a lot of judgment on the situation. Mistakes are part of life and I probably need to be a little more forgiving in terms of what I expect from myself. Could I have studied a little more for that test? Could I have been friendlier to that person? Could I have made more of an effort in ________? Probably. But some of those decisions were also “right” or understandable when I take into consideration my situation at the time or the kind of person I was when making that decision. Having only added my Philosophy PoSt fairly recently, I spent some time regretting that I didn’t take more philosophy courses last term. When I think about it though, I had different goals at the beginning of this year and philosophy wasn’t necessarily a priority. When you look at it that way, it makes sense that I made the decision that I did. That’s not to say you can completely let yourself off the hook. Some regrets will certainly come from decisions that were just wrong. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Regrets can be fairly useless (even harmful) things, but if you re-purpose them into mistakes it allows you to move forward and address them without focusing on all of the unproductive negative emotions.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Sitting in the discomfort
We humans don’t like unpleasant feelings–that’s obvious enough. Sometimes though, the efforts to avoid uncomfortable feelings actually just creates more unpleasantness. Naturally, when someone says “Don’t think about an elephant” the first thing you do is think about elephants. Some of the negative feelings that may arise from regret, failure, or inaction are just straight up necessary. When I made my peace with that it became a lot easier to manage the discomfort. Am I ever going to stop being anxious when emailing or talking to a prof about asking for an extension? Probably not. At least not entirely. But knowing that’s just part of the process means it’s more unlikely that I’ll avoid or delay in these situations (as I have done in the past and in doing so, often made things worse). So I’ll tell myself it’s coming, spend half an hour squirming over my keyboard, and then click that send button and try to focus on the next task.
How do you move on past regrets, academic or otherwise?