Regret and avoidance

There’s a great video going around at the moment (you can check it out below) about regret, showing people’s biggest ones. Why did all these people make choices that were not in line with what they really wanted? This is because they chose to avoid. We spend so much of our lives trying to avoid so many things; pain, failure, mistakes, conflict, poverty, disappointment, rejection, looking foolish, loneliness, meaninglessness, ageing… and the list goes on. Avoidance is a way of coping – by not having to cope. When feelings of discomfort appear, we try not to experience them. So how much of your time do you spend on avoidance? How many of your actions or big decisions are based on it and how many of these might you regret some time later?

“People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools” ~ Alice Walker

Keeping safe

You try to protect yourself from uncomfortable feelings by not taking any action that may mean allowing them in. So you do this by not facing something. By not going a certain direction. Not trying something new or different. By either staying where you are, or by going after plan B. Even if it’s not exactly where you’d like to be – at least you know what’s in store. At least you won’t be that bummed out about anything not working out. You think you’re happier, putting all your time and effort into moving forward in your plan B’s and C’s. Sometimes you even put your efforts into things that are entirely not part of your original ideas. This way you don’t risk your precious plan A.  Plan A forever stays fresh, safe and unused wrapped in the box. Yes, this means that plan A will never unfold, but at least it’s because you decided it won’t, not because it just didn’t pan out as you hoped it would. You’ve put it securely in the plans/dreams box and stored it away. You’re totally in control. Hell yeah, you’re the ‘master of your destiny’ – making sure your dreams stay dreams.

“Avoid problems, and you’ll never be the one who overcame them” ~ Richard Bach

This offers you a sense of protection. Staying only and forever a dream, you’re always able to live it in your imagination. Your dream’s stays exactly as you’d like it to be, without it going any other way life may want to throw at you. You get to keep it as the ultimate fantasy, rather than a real-life goal with all its risks, flaws or work that might need to be done. You also get to blame this box for any feelings of misery you might feel in life when you’re looking for reasons for your lack of satisfaction. It’s not you. It’s that damn dream getting in the way making you feel shit. But you can live with that. After all, everyone’s got dreams and it’s just normal to not having gone after them. Can you just imagine everyone going after their plan A’s…? Chaos, I tell you.

“One meets his destiny often in the road he takes to avoid it” ~ Proverb

Biggest regret

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Keeping comfy

Sometimes you even put so much of your effort into plans B or C, you end up excelling at stuff you never wanted to begin with. You might get acknowledged for it or rewarded. It may give you a passing sense of pride but ultimately this leaves you feeling unfulfilled or ‘wanting more’. You’re always onto the next goal or achieving something bigger in the hope it will bring you some real satisfaction.

Sometimes you avoid something not entirely, but just by putting it off to some day in the future. ‘One day’ you’ll be in some kind of better place to do whatever it is you want. But somehow, that day never comes. It keeps getting postponed, to some other better day when you’ll really be ready. And so you suddenly (or not so suddenly) find yourself that ‘one day’ so involved with plan B or C, you prefer to abandon that plan A as it just seems too late. By this point it’s a bit silly trying to go after something amazing when you can just settle for this. You’ve already become comfortable with what you’ve got, even if not entirely satisfied. Why fix what ain’t broken? It may not be your first choice and not super exciting but at least it’s already here, right?

“Regretting wasted time is more wasted time” ~ Unknown

Avoiding vs creating

The balance between avoidance and creating can be a very fine line. If you’re acting on avoidance, you might think you’re creating some kind of security. You might think that safety is the main focus of your mind. But safety from what? Holding onto fear creates an illusion of safety. The more you hold onto it and make your decisions based on it, the stronger it becomes and the bigger the safety lie grows – making it even more difficult the next time not to act on it. In fact, your mind is creating more of the stuff you want to avoid rather than what you’d like to create. You end up building more of these perceived blocks in your mind. This is because every time you avoid, you’re actually strengthening and reinforcing the idea of what it is you’re trying to avoid. Every time you act on the same avoidance, the bigger it makes the perceived avoided object, adding another layer to it, confirming all the risks and ‘dangers’. So you avoid thinking you’re creating safety. Subconsciously you’re making them even more ‘true’ than before, rather than acknowledging they’re just ideas out of infinite possibilities out there. Sometimes you don’t even notice you do this as the avoidance becomes a habit and you don’t give the decision or action much thought. Negative passing ideas turn into limiting beliefs that are very convincing in seeming real. But these were never real to begin with; you just piled layers up on top of each other instead of clearing them away when you noticed them.

Regret

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For example, you might avoid quitting your job and going on that dream round-the-world trip or starting your own business as you want to create or maintain a more financially–stable future. You might say – “This isn’t avoidance. I’m trying to create financial security”. But as long as you stay in this job for this reason – you’ll still be promoting (sometimes only subconsciously, sometimes more obviously) that anxiety of one day not having enough. So your security is false. And for the time being you might be feeling safe, but uninspired. Bored, unfulfilled. Later those feelings of lack of satisfaction turn into regret, which is far less useful than fear. They can also feel much worse. Sometimes they can be so painful, almost like grief – a feeling of loss, of something so dear to you which you’ll never again have the chance to experience.

“A man is not old until regrets take place of dreams” ~ John Barrymore

So how can you move forward?

There is no need though to try and be free of doubts or fears, or to figure things out. Instead, you can simply bring out the passion and commitment to whatever it is you value, love or want to create. In fact, if what you might label as ‘fear ‘ or ‘doubt’ (which you might alternatively label as ‘excitement’ or ‘uncertainty’) is present to some degree it’s a great sign. It means that what you’re facing might have the potential to give your life a good shake and take you to new levels of awesomeness. And this is true whether you achieve your goal or whether it’s just put you on a new path.

So how can you identify and avoid making avoidance decisions? Look out for the wanting some kind of safety. This shows that there is underlying fear around the issue you’re trying to avoid. By asking yourself  – ‘Are you choosing out of wanting to create or wanting to avoid?’ you are more likely to avoid… those feelings of regret.

“Neither look forward where there is doubt nor backward where there is regret. Look inward and ask not if there is anything outside you want, but whether there is anything inside that you have not yet unpacked” ~ Quentin Crisp