For years I had a limited mindset. I was brought up to believe all rich people were crooks and having wealth meant you must be a ruthless, robotic machine who cared not about the deeper things in life, such as art, love and kindness.
I was conditioned by my father’s ranting that the world was against poor people — poor people like us, and specifically him.
In my youngest years, I was told Margaret Thatcher was to blame for everything, that the Royal family were inherently evil, that the world was split into haves and have-nots and we were in the latter camp, so don’t forget it, son.
The trouble with being in any camp is you begin to identify those limits and struggles as who you really are.
You begin to fight for your limitations and so, you get to keep them.
My father would tell me tales about how he almost did something but someone somewhere talked him out of it and therefore it was their fault he was stuck in a rut.
He was a paradox. He simultaneously fought for his limitations and yet also blamed them on everyone else, including family and friends.
He was soaked in regret and inaction; a potent cocktail that becomes more intoxicating as the years roll by.
Regret as a Tool
Regret is a sticky web, once you’re in it, you’re stuck, and the more you fight it, the more stuck you become. So you made a token effort to change your life and it failed? The web gets stickier. So you experienced some sort of disappointment or hardship? The web gets stickier.
If you’re not careful, regret can wrap you up in its web like you’re a flailing blue bottle fly ripe for a spider’s dinner.
Yet there’s a simple escape route out of this cycle: Do not identify with your failings, your hardships and your regrets.
You are not your past.
My father saw each struggle, each defeat, each bad piece of advice or wrong turn as evidence he was meant to go without. He looked at his past to confirm who he was. He’d point at it and say “See! I told you so!” and would then relieve the pain of his situation by blaming everyone else.
He knowingly (or unknowingly) wallowed in the sticky web of regret.
Whereas, not identifying with regret means we can be free of it.
This, of course, takes work. You must unstick yourself. That failed relationship isn’t you. That failed job interview isn’t you. That period of drink and drugs isn’t you. Remove each string of the web one by one, work through them.
Your past regrets are not you and they are certainly not your future.
As Jorden Belfort said:
“No matter what happened to you in your past, you are not your past, you are the resources and the capabilities you glean from it. And that is the basis for all change.”
Regret then, is a basis for change, not evidence of your limits. Regret is merely the first kernels of wisdom. Use them, don’t identify with the regret itself.
This isn’t about shirking responsibility from your past, you don’t need to carry that burden, you’re merely tapping into regret as a teacher, as a fuel. You don’t have to wallow in its web, you can use it as a trampoline to propel you onwards and upwards.
What is the purpose of life if it is not to realise your true potential? Not financially (though that too) but to grow as a person, to love more, to appreciate more, to connect more, to serve more, to touch inner peace and find happiness?
All this work has to be done in the furnace of real life. It can’t be done in theory, only practice, you cannot grow without growing pains and you cannot feel progress or achievement without adversity.
Jordan Peterson says:
“Despite the fact that life is tragedy tainted by malevolence at every level of existence, there’s something about the human spirit that can thrive under precisely those conditions, because as difficult as life is, and as horrible as we are, our capacity to deal with that catastrophe and to transcend that malevolent spirit is more powerful than that reality itself.”
It comes down to choice. We choose to fight for our potential or we let the shadow — the Yetzer Hara — win.
My father never had anyone to lift him up, he wasn’t from a culture or climate where men talked about feelings, hopes or dreams. They gritted their teeth, drank, fought, worked hard and shut up.
He had no mental model of the past to help him learn and grow, so like many, he became caught in regret’s web and instead of fighting, decided to get comfortable.
His identity became regret.
It’s not his fault, it really isn’t. We are all products of our environment, but this is why small regular epiphanies, self-help and the help of others can allow us to redirect the course of our lives.
When I realised I didn’t have to think like my father, when books, coaches, speeches and YouTube videos lifted me up from these limiting beliefs and freed me from my childhood conditioning, when I truly stopped identifying with bitterness and regret, I was immediately free.
It took years, and then it sort of happened all in an instant.
This isn’t about reaching some Shangri La, instead, it is merely about accepting the inner work. It is about reframing the past to serve you rather than imprison you. Then you are free of regret’s web. It’s how the fightback begins.
As Peterson says about the fightback:
“When you make the decision to take on all of that voluntarily, as soon as you make that decision, all that catastrophe justifies itself in the nobility of your striving, and that’s what it means to be an individual.”
You are an individual. Your past isn’t you. Your future is unwritten.
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