One of my clients, from my very early days as a physical therapist, was a real estate agent who came to see me with a complaint of persistent neck and upper shoulder pain. She often rubbed her neck or stretched her neck to relieve the tension that she described as a "vice." Her appointments with me were near the end of the day, usually after 5 PM and she would come in frazzled, hurried, frowning. And, very grumpy.
One day, she looked at me and said, "Am I ever going to get better?"
"Well, I think so. Yes. Why?" I replied.
"My clients are demanding, constantly changing their minds, I run all over town, and then do it again the next day and my neck is killing me! And, this is just happening every day over and over and I come in here and feel good for a while and then it just starts all over again!" She exclaimed.
Unfortunately, I helped this woman very little. I didn't really know what I was doing. I did the best I could at the time using all I was taught in school and on my clinical rotations: heat, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, cervical traction, stretching, massage, some joint mobilization, exercise. None of it worked very well. She felt better immediately after her visit and for a few hours later but returned the next time with the same list of complaints.
Eventually, she just stopped coming. I don't blame her. I wish I knew then what I know now. I'm certain I could have helped her.
Now, I know how to decode the language of the body: how to interpret what people are saying as they describe their problems. I understand the interplay of physical-mental-emotional turmoil and that pain stems from all three without discrimination. I know how to examine the body's movement, the mechanics, what's acceptable and what's not, and how to alter it. I didn't know any of these things back in 1983 and learned none of them in school.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
Life without regret is simply not life. You make mistakes, miss things, say or do things you shouldn't and then spend some amount of time re-living it through the lens of regret. Or, you look back on your life and wish, as I do from time to time, you had known more or made a different decision. Is regret a good thing or a bad thing? Should you spend any time at all pondering what might have been? Or, is it all just a huge waste of time?
I don't think having regrets is a waste of time as long as you learn from the process and then move on. The past is really good for two things: fond memories and learning from mistakes. Persistent regret stems from the inability to accept mistakes or poor choices and learn from them. And, it's a process that takes time and practice.
There are some things you can do to reduce future regrets: be more mindful of your decisions, think about why you chose the regretted action at the time, and determine if you made the decision at the time using the best information you had available. In my case, I did the best I could with the information I had; with the tools I had. And, I knew that the information I had and the tools I had weren't good enough to truly help people over the long term. So, I did something about it.
But, even though I know I did the best I could at the time, it doesn't mean that I won't occasionally be bothered by a resurgence of regret. Moving past regret is not easy. What is easy is to get stuck in a mental rewind where you keep living the decision over and over and feeling bad about it, beating yourself up over it. The only way I know to get past this is to be aware of it, acknowledge it, and then make a conscious decision to let go and recognize that it will be back. Next time, with less force, less grip on you and the time after that, even less. And, over many months or even years, it will fade to nearly nothing.
"The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret."
Henri-Frederic Amiel (1856)
Make today count - and if you don't, don't regret it.