When we regret something we missed out on the lost time can actually help fuel a motivation and desire to get more out of life thereafter.
Life is short, yet we treat it like tomorrow will always come. While that is understandable to not want to feel an overload of stress, knowing time is slipping away can actually be used to motivate us into action.
Every single one of us will be on this planet of our for a different amount of time. We come in at different times, we leave at different times. What we do in between is the only time we have that we can control.
Yet, we can often spend much of our time without taking control of it, and as ‘lost time’ piles up so too does the regrets of missed opportunities. Yet ‘lost time’ isn’t really about time, but something deeper.
Time Can Be Our Greatest Healer. Not Just In Time Moving Forward, But Backwards Too.
When we lose time we actually send off a signal to our brain to act. It’s a survival mechanism that forces us into action when we feel time is short. If we think time will just be ever-present then we don’t act.
But what about time that has already gone?
The time that has already elapsed may feel like it’s impossible to get back, but it can still be useful motivation to us.
To understand this we should look at why regrets are such emotional bearers on us. Why can’t we just get over something and move on?
Well, often it’s because we don’t live life to our own watch, but to societies expectations – societies clock and milestone timestamps of what we should have achieved by a certain point in life.
Let’s say you are 25 years old right now. Now while it shouldn’t matter what you do in life by a certain age, it’s often ingrained in us by society that it does. Someone whose relationship falters in their 20’s just gets encouragement, ‘there’s plenty more fish in the sea’. Someone whose relationships falters in their mid-thirties or forties ‘oh poor you’.
‘You will never be that age again’, we are kindly reminded. We should have life figured out by a certain age. We should climb this constant upward curve towards this perfect mountain-top where everything fits, where all milestones have been checked off in milestone life bingo. But, as we know, life doesn’t work like that.
These milestones of expectations throughout our life shouldn’t define us (but they often do from the outside-in). Yet, hope is not lost, as you can actually use this to your advantage.
Okay Society, I’ve Not Met Your Standards. Good!
When we asked a group of 30 pluses what their biggest regret in life was, nearly all said it was not doing something when they had the chance, rather than doing something they regret.
Many had ticked off some boxes that they were ‘meant’ to have done by a certain age, whether they wanted to or not. Even big successes seemingly didn’t mean much after ticking the box off, but those things that they hadn’t done weighed heavily on their mind still.
They were asked to recollect some of the successes they had. What had been their driving motivation. Some said it was their family, the expectation of where they were in life, or a self-built goal. The answers varied, but when asked what would motivate them the most to complete something not ‘ticked-off’ yet 70% said it was the thought of not having done it by a certain point in life or losing the time to do so.
We are social beings, so the answer is not that shocking when we think about it.
We tend to be hard-wired to fit into groups, and milestones also play a role in that. When all your friends are married with kids you tend to feel like you are missing out and have an urgency to catch up (not that you should).
We all tend to play milestone bingo at some point, but when we do we miss the biggest power of time – when it is in our control.
Missing a milestone can do three things to you. Fill you with regret, make you realize that it really didn’t matter to you, or give you more urgency and motivation to do it.
The first one is the most natural as we tend to think of milestones alongside time and societal expectations. We place it outside our hands.
When time elapses past that expected window, however, we may realize that it just didn’t matter. It frees us to concentrate on something else more meaningful to us that playing societal milestone bingo.
It might still linger though, and in that case it’s likely more important to us. If so then we actually now have an advantage. We missed the timeframe and don’t get the bingo stamp that others have got, but we now have a deeper sense of motivation.
Hello Regret, My Old Friend
Think of something you wish you did when you were a teenager but never did. Do you regret not doing so? Maybe it was asking a person you liked out on a date. Or not following a dream of becoming a musician. Maybe it was just not taking the time to make your own decisions and instead, life just happened for you.
Whatever it was, you can use that as motivation to push you onto something else today you want to do.
When you miss a milestone that time that felt like pressure on you now becomes your friend as you aren’t matched against a clock, but your feelings have been triggered by it. It often isn’t even the feelings of the milestone you missed, but other things you may have missed before in life that you regret not doing. When you miss a milestone then you just trigger those emotions to bring them to the core.
Time pressure is often an illusion. Sure we all have a set amount of time on this planet, but time pressure often comes from a deeper feeling of wanting to do, or not do, something in our life.
Remembering the feeling of regret is the real motivator.
Think of it this way. You likely got over not asking that person out or moved onto a different career that you are possibly even happier with.
However, our imagination is often fueled by our emotional memories, our nostalgic connection. It can either make us live in the past full of regrets in missing opportunities, or it can motivate us towards not wanting to feel that again and therefore push us into taking the opportunities that come up from today.
We can’t go back to being a teenager, we can can’t turn back time, but we can use the time we lost as a motivator to make the most of the time we still have ahead of us, and time is always more effective to us when we use the time ticking away right now, and not ‘tomorrow’.
There’s other ways to motivate us into action too, such as competing silently with a friend or relative who seems to be doing ‘better’ than you in life, but this can lead towards negative and jealous feelings, and it’s not conductive to a positive mindset moving forward. Being competitive is good for us, but only if we are competing with our past self to become a better self today, not when competing with someone else.
We can also use our past self as our greatest tool for progress. It’s our biggest source of wisdom as it knows for us what worked and what didn’t. We may have failed in a previous business, for example, because we didn’t really know what we were doing, but experience is not failure, it’s our friend.
In the same token, losing time in the past can also be our friend. We can learn from it rather than dwell on it.
So, what can you do right now to put time on your side?
Think of a regret you had. Something you didn’t do. A dream you had. Don’t bring up a sore point, it serves better when you are now over it emotionally enough to use it as fuel going forward, rather than something that requires counseling or brings up wounds that still hurt.
You want the feeling to be motivating to push you into action, not freeze you.
That said, those who avoid feeling grief altogether about something that hurt in the past take the longest to actually get over it. The most effective way to move on from something you regretted doing or not doing is to bring up that fuel swept under the carpet and use it now the dust has settled a bit and it’s not so raw.
If there’s anything that gets people waking up in the morning and making the most of their time it’s not the pursuit of comfort, but often when something has pushed them into action.
When you have ‘life is short’ actively in your mind you are more likely to go out and do something with that time than if you don’t think that the game can be over some time. Treat your life like a video game, it can be surprisingly helpful.
Consider what makes immensely successful people motivated. It’s the knowledge that time is ticking and they only have a certain amount of time in life to see their dreams or goals happen that is often around the top of their motivation list.
You simply get more done when you feel time is of the essence, so long as it doesn’t paralyse you in fear, but that then becomes about managing time and pressure better.
Finding those who have been there and done that also helps, wisdom from those older or more experienced from you can certainly put you in the right direction, but it’s still on you to take the leap.
Therefore, to make yourself accountable, set up a goal as a time-limited challenge and make it happen now.
You don’t want yet another thing to regret after. Too many regrets leaves a person frozen in time wishing they had it back, but acting on the time you have right now is the only way to fix that.
Think of this thought experiment.
The Benefit Of Hindsight
The biggest power in missing milestones is that you realise that the world doesn’t end when you miss it. There is still time, just without the pressure of achieving it by a certain point. When you ask someone who is sixty-odd about stressing about life goals, they would largely say not to worry so much as life goes on anyway.
You are 25 right now, what do you really want from life? Okay, now you are now 60, what is important to you? No doubt there will be a difference in what you see as important at different ages, so if you missed out on something then it likely doesn't matter to you now anyway, but we just think it does as we missed out on the time to do it then. We can end up filling our mind full of regrets this way, but all that does is stifle us moving forward. When we take a check on what actually matters to us moving forward then we can let go of things that we thought were important once, but now aren't, easier.