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NOT TOO LONG after we got married, my wife and I got into a rut. We were working dead-end jobs for bosses we didn't like and were barely making enough money to pay the monthly bills. We were happy as a couple, yet we were unhappy with our professional lives. Between the two of us, we had racked up more than six figures in student loan debt. In addition, we had moved to an area of town that was more affordable and closer to our jobs, but this had taken us farther away from our friends and the coastal part of San Diego we loved most. Despite our best efforts, we couldn't see how our situation was going to change any time soon.
I started teaching at two community colleges in the evenings to supplement the income from both of our fulltime jobs. We also started selling personalized gifts at the local flea market—not exactly our strong suit, but my wife had a knack for calligraphy and I was decent at sales. Every weekend we'd haul display cases, folding tables and chairs, and all of our products in the back of my tiny convertible to our even tinier booth at the swap meet. It was quite a spectacle and an exhausting process. More than anything, though, we regretted the fact that we were working so hard and had so little to show for it.
One unseasonably hot Saturday after spending eight hours on the asphalt-paved flea market lot, we'd finally had enough. We were poor, stressed, and miserable. We were tired of trying to manage our odd jobs on top of our real jobs and still getting nowhere. It just wasn't working! After a long talk that night, we agreed we needed to make a drastic change. We got out a map and decided that we were going to move to a place where it was much cheaper to live. While we hated to leave San Diego, we knew that one day we'd come back on our own terms when it was the right time.
Starting our new life adventure was an incredibly liberating experience. We resigned from our jobs and shut down our personalized gift business. We set new professional and personal goals. We worked out the logistics of moving and got excited about the future. What quickly became clear to us is that when you stop doing what isn't working, you free up enormous amounts of creative, productive energy and liberate yourself from the shadow of regret.
Within a year after moving, we were able to get ourselves financially back on our feet and in active pursuit of our professional goals. I started writing my first book and worked on getting a consulting business off the ground while my wife was busy running a children's nonprofit charity organization. The following year we were finally able to buy our first house, and soon after that we welcomed our first child into the world. We encountered plenty of obstacles along the way, but we just felt happier and more in control of our own lives.
Don't expect life to be any different if you keep doing what you've always done. Whether you're in a bad relationship, the wrong job, or a place in your life where you feel stuck, have the courage to shake things up and cut your losses. Free yourself from the regret of the situation you're in and take a new direction. Stop doing what isn't working so you can start doing what works.
EVERY JANUARY 1 we engage in the long-standing ritual of making our New Year's resolutions. Some of us actually write them down; others just commit them to memory. In addition, some of us postpone the exercise indefinitely despite our best intentions. But all of us go through the process of at least thinking about what we should put on the list of goals we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Historical favorites include losing weight, earning more money, getting a different job, making new friends, creating greater work-life balance, putting old photos into a scrapbook, eating healthier foods, taking a longer vacation, exercising more, and procrastinating less.
The problem of course with most of our "to do" lists— whether they include our yearly resolutions, tasks at work, or things we need to get done around the house—is that we put too much on them. It's not too long before the stark realization sets in: we may never get everything done. This can be overwhelming and ultimately lead to feelings of regret if we don't complete the entire list or if we don't give it our best effort because we are trying to do too many things at once. Regret may also be the result if we spend so much time overanalyzing how to get it all done that we wind up getting little or nothing done.
So where do we start? Several years ago a man named Lee Staggert called me about getting some personal coaching on how to better organize his life. Specifically, he wanted to increase his effectiveness in accomplishing his daily tasks so he could focus more on working toward his goals for the future. Lee was the type of person who was used to feeling like he could accomplish anything he set out to do, but lately he had been falling behind. As an ex ample, he was receiving over one hundred e-mails a day and getting to only the ten or so that were the highest priority. The rest of them just sat in his in-box and accumulated throughout the month, leaving him with literally thousands of unopened e-mails that he'd purge on the first of the next month in order to give himself the illusion of a fresh start. Clearly this did not solve the problem and was only making it worse.
Beyond that, Lee was up against the clock to fill two vacant positions in his office in the midst of trying to grow a new business venture. He was also required to attend a barrage of daily meetings, which just sucked up more of his time. Finally, he was finding less and less quality time to spend with his family since each night he brought home work that he couldn't get done at the office. It may come as no surprise that Lee was stressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated.
My counsel to Lee was simple: "Pick a place to start," I said. "Choose one thing on your 'to do' list that will be a big source of regret for you until it gets resolved."
"What about all the rest?" Lee asked.
"It's not like you're going to forget about the other items on the list," I reassured him. "You're just going to find a starting point where you'll put the greatest focus for the time being. The problem right now is that you've got so much on your list, you don't know where to begin."
While Lee wasn't completely sold on my advice, he said he'd give it a try and chose to start with e-mails. His initial goal was to cut his end-of-month unopened e-mail load in half by setting aside "e-mail elimination time" twice a week for one hour a shot. In just four weeks, however, Lee wound up reducing his unopened e-mails by 70 percent. By the end of the following month, he was down 85 percent! Becoming more efficient at managing his e-mail load also allowed him to spend more time targeting the next items on the list. It wasn't long before he had freed himself from the regret of feeling ineffective and overwhelmed.
It's better to do one thing well as opposed to a lot of things poorly. When tackling your own "to do" list, don't try to take it all on at once. Instead, consider which item on the list will give you the greatest sense of satisfaction and return on your time investment once addressed. Then choose a starting point so you can begin working toward success. This will help you feel energized because you'll have a strategy in place for moving forward. Pick a place to start and you will no longer feel stuck.
MY SON, BLAKE, was born in the middle of a hurricane, literally as the eye of the storm passed over the hospital where my wife was giving birth. It was a scene that can only be described as chaotic: the hospital was already on backup generators due to flooding and a power outage, and we were on the only floor that hadn't been evacuated yet. Nurses were running around frantically as my wife begged for an epidural. Then, just as she was about to deliver, the doctor informed us that the umbilical cord was wrapped around our baby's neck. As he tried to remedy the situation, I could see signs of panic on his face. He reassured us that everything was fine, but our son was a deep blue color upon coming out of the womb.
All I remember is pleading to God to let this baby breathe. I can say without hesitation that I have never been so happy to hear a baby cry his lungs out. At that moment, I knew my son was resilient and determined to put up a fight, though I still wondered what impact the early trauma might have had on him. Did he stop breathing for too long? Would he be "normal"? I hated to think that way, but I kept torturing myself with the unknown.
As my son grew from an infant to a toddler, I continued to worry about him, even though his cognitive, social, and physical development was fine. Instead of celebrating his good health, I focused more on possible reasons for concern: he had chronic eczema that made him scratch his skin until it bled, he developed a severe nut allergy that resulted in a 911 call and a trip to the emergency room, he got bronchitis more frequently than most kids, and he needed breathing treatments for wheezing. Right or wrong, I attributed these symptoms to his precarious situation at birth, not to mention I couldn't shake the idea— however illogical—that I was partly responsible. Perhaps I could have done something to prevent the umbilical cord from getting wrapped around his neck. Maybe I should have moved my wife to a different hospital that wasn't in the direct path of a hurricane. I was haunted with regret every time I relived the experience in my head.
When Blake was almost five we took a family trip to Portland, and the itinerary included a visit to the famous outdoor market. Blake was insistent upon having his palm read by a woman at a table full of tarot cards, despite my attempts to lure him toward the cotton candy booth. Reluctantly I conceded, terrified that the palm reader might reveal something awful to my son about his health. At the conclusion of the reading my son called me over. To my surprise, he was all smiles. Then he ran off to find Mom while I paid the bill.
As I started to reach for my wallet, the palm reader grabbed me by the arm and stared into my eyes with captivating intensity. "You don't have to worry about him anymore," she said. "What happened to your son was a long time ago; he's going to be fine now. You can stop worrying, you'll see."
My jaw dropped. How did she know my secret? How did she know he was going to be okay? For some strange reason that I still can't explain, I believed her. Perhaps the sole reason our paths had crossed that day was for her to tell me that a guardian angel was watching over my son. The sense of relief I felt was overwhelming. I broke down crying right there in the middle of the crowded street, overcome with emotion and the revelation that I was no longer a prisoner to my feelings of worry and regret.
Regret can have a powerful hold on us—the key is learning how to release yourself from its grip. I believe my son was born in a hurricane because he can weather any storm. He is healthy, happy, smart, friendly, funny, courageous, athletic, and strong. I am no longer burdened with the weight of regret because I have let go of my emotional baggage from the circumstances of his birth. When we face what torments us, we put a stop to our inner turmoil. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Come to terms with your feelings of regret and don't beat yourself up over situations you can't control. Make peace with yourself and set yourself free from the past.
SOMETIMES LIFE THROWS us challenges that test our resilience and threaten to keep us stuck in a rut of regret. Lloyd Bachrach knows this all too well: he was born with a congenital bone deficiency that made his lower limbs so unusually small that doctors told his parents he should be institutionalized. When his parents insisted that they were going to take him home, they were warned that he would never be able to have a normal life. "He'll find his way," his parents responded.
Lloyd's parents encouraged him early on to figure out how to do things on his own and refused to coddle him. To the amazement of his doctors, he learned how to crawl without the use of his legs. He became progressively mobile and, despite his severe disability, attended public school when he became school age. Lloyd's attitude from the beginning was one of no regrets for the cards he'd been dealt in life. "You can't miss something you never had," he'd say. Lloyd also adopted a motto that embodied his can-do approach: "It doesn't matter what you don't have— just use what you do have to pursue your goals."
Lloyd's goals included becoming a top athlete. He developed his upper-body strength by swimming, and then he learned to play baseball. Although he couldn't run very fast on his small legs, he taught himself to scoot around the bases at lightning speed by using only his arms and dragging his legs behind him. Then he took on gymnastics and was a serious competitor throughout high school, so much so that in his senior year he placed fifth in the state tournament. When asked how someone who was a disabled person could be such a formidable opponent to other able-bodied athletes, Lloyd said, "I'm not disabled, I'm differently abled." The apex of his athletic career, though, was when he played on the USA sit-volleyball team in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. Now Lloyd, who is married and has two daughters, is a frequent motivational speaker at schools and organizations.
Lloyd's incredible story is a testament to his no-regrets attitude and tenacity around turning his adverse situation into an opportunity. Instead of using his disability as a source of regret, he has used it as a reason to do things that others never suspected he could accomplish. This has implications for people without disabilities as well. For instance, we all have found ourselves in situations where we were at a disadvantage, whether we were vying for a job when other applicants were more qualified, taking a class in school that wasn't in our strong suit, or playing in a competition where the opponent was more skilled. Do we get mired in regret about the fact that we are at a disadvantage, or do we look for creative ways to play to our strengths?
The next time you are confronted with adversity, think about how you can turn it into an opportunity. Consider your unique gifts and be innovative in finding solutions. Look at the possibility for success as opposed to the chance for failure. Believe in yourself and have the confidence to embrace the situation. Turn adversity into an opportunity and face your challenges head-on.
WHEN I WAS in eighth grade I joined a youth group, and at our first event we had a speaker who introduced us to the PLUM game. PLUM stood for "Poor Little Unfortunate Me," and the speaker's contention was that most of us knew how to play this game all too well, especially when we were faced with tough challenges or if things didn't go our way. He explained that when people play the PLUM game, they take little or no responsibility for their own situation. Instead they pretend to be victims when actually they're just whining about their regrets—for example, how they don't get what they rightfully deserve, how things never go their way, how they always get the short end of the stick, and all the other ways that life has somehow cheated them.
He called this pattern of behavior "victimitis" and was quick to make the distinction between it and being a true victim: "People with this condition actually have the ability to change their circumstances," he said, "but somehow they convince themselves that they can't." Next he had us practice whining "Poor little unfortunate me!" in our most nasal voice possible. This way he could be certain we understood just how annoying people with this disease sounded. Then he gave some examples of the regrets that adolescents with victimitis whine about, most of which rang true for our group: "I got a bad grade on the test ..." "I didn't make the team ..." "I didn't get the part I wanted in the play ..." "I'm not popular ..." "My parents are on my case ..." "I'm grounded for a week ..." After each example we had to shout "Poor little unfortunate me!" The exercise was both invigorating and revealing, and it still sticks with me today.
Excerpted from No More Regrets! by Marc Muchnick Copyright © 2011 by People First Group Holdings, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Part 1 Get Out of Your Rut
1 Stop Doing What Isn't Working 12
2 Pick a Place to Start 16
3 Make Peace with Yourself 20
4 Turn Adversity into Opportunity 24
5 Avoid Victimitis 28
6 Steer Clear of Toxic People 32
Part 2 Take Nothing for Granted
7 Live Your Life the Way You Want to Be Remembered 38
8 Greet the Day 42
9 Stay in Touch 46
10 Make Every Day Count 50
11 Freeze the Moment 54
12 Put Your Stuff in Perspective 58
Part 3 Aim for Authenticity
13 Live Your Vision 64
14 Listen to Your Heart 68
15 Find Your Own Voice 72
16 Speak Your Mind 76
17 Be True to What You Value Most 80
18 Pursue Your Happiness 84
Part 4 Stretch Yourself
19 Give It a Shot 90
20 Trust Your Inner Strength 94
21 Get Out of Your Comfort Zone 98
22 Overcome the Obstacles 102
23 Broaden Your Cultural Perspective 106
24 Match Up with a Mentor 110
Part 5 Be a Force of Goodness
25 Keep an Open Mind 116
26 Love Unconditionally 120
27 Take a Mulligan 124
28 Do the Right Thing 128
29 Strive to Be Selfless 132
30 Make the World a Better Place 136
Next Steps 141
The No More Regrets! Game Plan l45
Giving Back 150
About the Author 151
Posted January 14, 2011
This book hit the mark. No More Regrets offers practical, useful, relatable stories to uplift, inspire and motivate change. It is a refreshing look at how to get a fresh start and new outlook on life. A terrific read. Your life can be improved on 30 days or one day just by reading it and acting on the suggestions contained within. I highly recommend it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2011
There are at least 30 reasons to read this book!
Let's face it - we all want to improve the quality of our lives, but who has the time and energy to really think about this? How do we change old patterns? How can we remain true to ourselves? Where do we begin to live life to the fullest?
This book is extremely helpful... offering 30 easy-to-implement ways to live a life without regret! "No More Regrets!" is a fast-read yet offers practical and effective suggestions for bringing about positive changes in our lives. Simple yet powerful, entertaining yet enlightening, this book now has me looking at life from a fresh perspective.
Posted January 5, 2011
After reading this book, I was able to implement some of the simple techniques to truly make my life more meaningful. The stories are humorous, touching and really made an impact on me! I loved this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 5, 2011
This was an amazing and inspiring book that helped me to get my priorities and goals for the New Year in order. The stories touched me and questions asked at the end of each chapter really made me think and reflect on how I can live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. I have already made this my book club book for next month.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.