How To Leverage Your Regrets

“No regrets!”

It’s a popular stance to take, an uber-cool Hollywood cliché – but I don’t buy it. Just sounds like they’re kidding themselves to me.

Ask yourself this: can you honestly say that you have never done anything that in hindsight you don’t regret?

What about when you lost it at your partner and said something really hurtful that you didn’t really mean? Or the carefree way you racked up thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt when you were overseas?

Obviously these specific scenarios might not apply to you, but surely you can see what I’m getting at right?

You can say “no regrets” but I don’t believe you.

And anyway, what’s so uncool about regret? Why do people see it as some kind of badge of honor to take this stance?

Regret Serves A Function

Personally I regret plenty. I do!

I don’t stay up late berating myself over the things I’ve done, but if I think back on some of my less glorious moments – and believe me there have been more than a few – I do feel a tinge of regret. But I think this is healthy and normal. As long as you don’t take it too far and get all hung up on the past, I think it’s okay to feel some remorse because regret serves a function.

Regret works as a warning system in our brains, an alarm that goes off whenever we ever find ourselves in a similar situation (to the past scenario that caused us to regret our actions). Regret should work like a little red flag that pops up with something like “Whoops! Look out!” printed on it in bold type to advise us to refrain from making the same mistakes twice.

I may regret this (!) but allow me to use some of my most shameful and inglorious misadventures to illustrate…

Do Unto Others

Like most teenage boys, when I was younger I found talking to attractive girls difficult.

Eventually I got the hang of it though and by the time I was 17 I got my first proper girlfriend. She was a pretty, intelligent girl who only had eyes for me. Ours was an in innocent, puppy-love that over the ensuing few years deepened into a great romantic friendship (otherwise known as real love).

But trouble brewed in paradise.

By the time I was twenty, far from being shy around pretty girls, my position as lead singer in a rock band had brought me a ridiculous level of popularity with the fairer sex. Unfortunately, due to life-inexperience and over-active pants, I soon decided it would be a great idea to break my girl’s heart by running away and having affairs with other young women (these trysts were mostly embarrassing failures too, I hasten to add, which makes the story even sadder).

After a few years of dragging my girl’s heart through hell and back (we were officially a couple for 9 years), I came home and lying in bed while she slept one night, I realised that I truly loved only her. I was ashamed of my behavior; I knew something had changed inside of me (how noble – not) and I knew I would never cheat on her again. I genuinely wanted to marry the girl and make up for my past transgressions. I decided to save for a ring, but unfortunately it was too late.

Before I knew what had happened, I heard those fateful words coming out of her mouth: “Seamus, we need to talk…”

She had despaired of me ever getting it together and had given her heart to another man. She was the kind of rock-solid person who doesn’t do such a thing lightly and I knew that once it was done, it was done.

So she married her new (very nice) man and I slunk off to lick my wounds. I decided to keep my vow never to cheat on a partner. After several romantic misadventures, I met my darling lady-friend of 8 years now (and mother of my child) and I am glad to report that all is well again in paradise.

But I still regret the bad behaviour I described above.

Sure, I understand that I was young, and that I probably had “wild oats” needed sowing, but nevertheless I feel regret that I acted in such an inconsiderate and selfish manner.

BUT the upside is that I have since leveraged off this regret and used the experience to improve my character.

I used my feelings of regret for my past actions to establish a moral framework in which to live my life. You’ll have to take my word for it I suppose, but since then I have never cheated on my partner and I never will because I know without doubt that trust between two lovers is the rock that stable, happy lives are built on. It is a sacred trust and a tragedy when abused.

Take the Long Way (Forget the Short-Cuts)

Here’s another thing I regret, but which I have leveraged to my advantage.

16 years ago when we started our band, I was a sober young fellow with quite a good head on my shoulders. I had no illusions that if I wanted success as a musician then I was going to have to devote all my energy to the task and work very hard. I knew I would have to chip away at it, pursue every single opportunity and just plain do the hard yards.

Then after a couple of years of solid effort, the band started to do well. We became a home town phenomenon and, bar financial wealth, all of the trappings that success brings (admittedly parochial, fishbowl success) were thrust our way.

Seems silly now, but I fell for these old chestnuts hook, line and sinker.

Yes, I am talking about free drugs and alcohol. (Hey, it was the ’90s! They were the upside-down ’60s!)

Besides the health ramifications, these indulgences lead to an inability to focus and work hard. Before you could say “err, hello-oow” (like Billy Crystal), the band split up and the whole soufflé deflated before our squinty, red eyes. And yes, I do partially blame the substances.

My drug and booze addled state didn’t stop there however, and while I certainly spent the rest of my twenties having an absolute ball – an gonzo adventure par excellence – I do regret making one big mistake over and over:

I kept looking for short-cuts to success.

My attention span became so short, and my capacity to be easily distracted so great, that I just bounced from one scheme to the next. I would quickly knock something together (a recording, a band, a gig, a nightclub, whatever) and expect that this would be “the one” that would bring the world clamoring to my feet again.

Then when it didn’t I would stick my tail between my legs and just give up.

Meanwhile, Fast Forward Ten Years…

Whoosh! Wow! That was a quick decade!

You know what I mean? Youth really is but a fleeting glory. It’s like one day you’re twenty and all of time just infinitely stretches out before you, and then you wake up one morning and suddenly you’re in your mid-thirties!

This October I turn 35 and, thankfully, I now know better than to look for short-cuts to success.

Now I know that if I had just done a little bit every day towards a single goal then I’d have achieved a lot more by now. So while I am very happy that I had a wild, fun, adventurous youth, I do also regret my lack of focus and commitment.

BUT that’s okay!

Now I can leverage off this regret and use the knowledge gained to change my ways. And I have; I am now very focussed on what I want and have already seen great results over the two or three years since I really pulled my head in and started to chip away towards unwavering goals in a patient and consistent manner.

And whenever I feel my focus slipping, I just call on the regret I feel for being so unfocused during the springtime of my youth. I imagine how I’m likely to feel if I turn 45 and still haven’t done squat about making my dreams come true.

So, Yes – Regrets!

I say down with all this cocky “no regrets” talk – it’s just immature posturing.

It’s okay to regret your past stuff-ups. It’s an opportunity to learn from the experience and become a better person.

What regret have you leveraged for greater personal growth?

Seamus Anthony is a musician, writer and entrepreneur who lives in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne, Australia. You can check out more of his personal development writing at

Image by *Zara

26 Responses to How To Leverage Your Regrets

  1. Pete says:

    I don’t think it is regrets you speak of. These incredible tales of your youth (great storytelling btw), are but the lessons you have learned in life. I would not say they are regrets. I mean, that would be like saying you regret touching a hot stove. Sure you do, but you now know why you will never want to touch that stove again.

    And that is who makes you who you are today, and us blessed to learn from your experiences. Great post.

  2. Thanks Pete for the feedback.

    Weird thing is I actually DID burn my hand on a hot stove this evening. Crazy huh?

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  4. Shanel Yang says:

    Great post! I used to regret not starting my entrepreneurial life earlier, say, in my 20s, but now I’m not so sure. I think I would have gone through a lot of what you described had I been successful — and been abjectly miserably had I not! Accepting that everything works out for the best in the end is what is meant, I think, by the expression “no regrets.” To learn everything we can from our mistakes ASAP, then move on! : )

  5. Writer Dad says:

    Regrets should be coal in your fire.

  6. Ari Koinuma says:

    A nice, personal article. I appreciate your sharing.

    That said, I think emotional scars from regrettable acts are to be healed. I think that’s what those people who say “no regrets” really mean — they have gotten over that remorseful, dreadful guilt of having done something that is very against your values. Lessons are to be learned and these acts serve as useful stepping stones in our growth, but make sure you’re not beating yourself up. That’s not to say that you stop being sorry for the pain and injustice your actions caused. It simply means that you’ve moved on and have become a grown person, and the incidents of regrettable actions are no longer dwelling prominently on your mind.

    Regrettable acts are our teachers, but not reasons to do anything. We ought to do everything simply because it’s inline with our values.


  7. Thanks for your article Seamus. So glad you learned your lessons – so sorry you had to learn them the hard way. :-)

    I like the fact that you share your biggest regret as looking for short-cuts to success. There are no short-cuts in life, and every action we make (or don’t make) will ultimately lead to our success – or unsuccess …

  8. Thanks Shanel, I often wonder what would have happened had I had massive (rather than minor) success in my twenties. I may well have crashed and burned even harder, but – there was no danger of that level of success happening then. I made sure of that! 😉

  9. Thanks all for the comments – I am in complete accordance with all points made :-)

    Don’t forget to click on my name and go check out Rebel Zen, we’ve just released a free e-book about a little something called “Curly’s Law”, which may be of real help to you as you make your way through this kooky old world…

  10. ceres says:

    Coincidentally, I recently decided to live a life of “no regrets”, but for me, the statement is forward looking. When I vowed to live a life of “no regrets” a few months ago, it actually refers to making conscious decisions now so that when I look back at my life at this moment from the future, I don’t feel regret for the things I did or did not do. So while I agree with your overall sentiment, I disagree with your negative connotation in your question, “Why do people see it as some kind of badge of honor to take this stance?” I totally see wanting to live a life of “no regrets” a badge of honor. It’s a badge of honor because it’s hard (since it takes being completely aware of yourself at the time) and admirable (since it usually involves making very hard decisions).

    I agree with Pete above that your “regrets” are more lessons than regrets. But a great and thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Hey Ceres, I love that idea of a forward looking vow to live a life of no regrets. It’s a big call – but that’s cool, shows you’ve got balls. I wish you all the best with that noble mission!

  12. Sarah Watts says:

    Regretting is not as bad as it is made to sound, as rightly said in the post, in the Hollywood movies. If you are ready to take responsibility for your actions and then take corrective actions then your regrets always work positively. Feeling regret means taking stock of the wrong things that you might be doing and how you can make them right. Loved your post.

  13. Thanks Sarah, I must say I am finding it interesting the different responses to the way I’ve used the word “regret”. Some seem to feel I have misappropriated the word. Obviously I don’t 😉 but I am cool with the differing opinions also. Words are funny like that, all interpreted differently through our unique filters.

  14. Pete says:

    Maybe it’s a sign :)

  15. Maybe, thankfully wasn’t a bad burn, thanks for asking 😉

  16. Loy Williams says:

    This is an excellent post and I’m grateful that you’ve written it. I too have some regrets and instead of wallowing in them I’ve learned to accept my mistakes. I used to have this wild fantasy that somehow if there were a time machine invented I’d go back in time and unmake the mistakes I’d made. Now, looking back, I realize that the past is what made me what I am in the present. I wouldn’t change a thing now.

  17. Ah – no regrets eh Loy? 😉

    I’d probably take the option to un-do a couple of things, but not much … that time when I was six and I “science experimented” with a toy robot, a power point and some wire was pretty nasty …

  18. Stuart says:

    I think you only regret the things you don’t do, not those that you do

  19. Speak for yourself :-) I regret plenty – but in a Zen way 😉

  20. Loy Williams says:

    I agree. There’s plenty of things that I have done that I regret. I’m not as zen a Seamus but I’m workin’ on it :-)

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  22. RaAr says:

    Regrets are common in life but we have to understand what fruit that brings in our life. If regrets brings good than we have watch closly on that & accordingly we have to change ourself to meet good thing. If we do something & we know that it is wrong still if we doing that it brings only bad to us. Some of the points we have to think practically, just by seeing some one doing & same we done that without analysing whether it right or wrong then there is chance of that may wrong, so first concentrate on activity what you are doing.

  23. Totally, RaAr , Concentration – that’s the key :-)

    Thanks for your contribution!

  24. seks shop says:

    that time when I was six and I “science experimented” with a toy robot

  25. sex shop says:

    taught meditation, travelled to France

  26. Shawn1587 says:

    I am 24 going on 25 this Thursday. I have been playing in bands for the past couple of years. My girlfriend of 2 years (whom I have a son with 10 months) left me because I wasn’t giving her what she needed. She tells me and told me before that I was horrible to her and that I didn’t treat her the way she needed to be treated. I look back at it now and I understand what she means. I have been a crappy person and I didn’t give her the best chance that I should have. All in all, she is now falling for another guy and dealing with it is pretty hard. Reading your post really brings a lighter side to my situation. Just wanted to share and say thank you!

    Happy New Years!!! 

    Shawn from Seattle

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