Learning from Regret

My personal list of regrets seems endless. I regret not eating an apple, instead of three (or maybe it was six) Oreos yesterday. I regret not walking the extra mile I intended to walk. I regret not writing a blog post yesterday, instead of trying to fit it in today. Then there are the big regrets. The years of being overweight, numbing out with alcohol and the two marriages and subsequent divorces. It is so easy to wallow in regret. Whether it be the humdrum, everyday food selections, or the life-altering regret of not backpacking Europe right after graduation. I bet you and I could each write a thousand regrets over a cup of coffee.

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Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Wasn’t it obvious the Eagles would win the Super Bowl? Of course, your restaurant would fail after just 8 short months – don’t most of them? Wait until the car, jeans or coffee maker go on sale before you buy it, and then, they go out of stock forever. Duh. There is always clarity in looking back. You know you should have bought Apple or IBM or Google stock way back when it was cheap, so I could be sitting pretty for retirement. Regrets actually have lessons for us beside rumination and beating ourselves up.

Here are the learnings from regret:

Regret means that you took risks.

As Maura Hughes wrote for Elite Daily, “If you are confident in every decision you make, are you really living? Life is about pushing boundaries and trying new things, and in order to do that, you must take risks.” I think about my ill-fated restaurant ‘Coyotes’ some 20 years ago. It was an experience in being an entrepreneur and living out a lifelong dream. I took an enormous risk. It failed. But it means that I have shown up and rolled the dice. I will never own another restaurant. Ever. Don’t bother even asking. I have an everlasting appreciation for all those who have succeeded in the restaurant business. I still have a shirt with my logo on it. I have taken risks that have paid off as well like moving back to the East Coast and going for my Master’s degree after my restaurant failed. You win some and lose some, but you have to show up and engage in the game.

Regret means that you made a choice.

As Dr. Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today, “Life demands that we put our stake in the ground, make our choice, and do our best to meet whatever actually happens. Of course, we would like a particular outcome, but we don’t need to chastise ourselves when things don’t go our way.” I have vacillated on a million choices in my life. Indecision is frustrating and makes you less decisive. For good or bad, make the decision. The choice. Often, waiting for more data is just putting off the inevitable. There is regret, regardless of the choice. Put a stake in the ground.

Regret ignites innovation.

Regrets help you think outside your comfort zone. I can remember when I closed my restaurant. I knew I had to figure out how to hold onto my house, mostly for my children; but also for the investment. Everyone told me to sell the house and get out from under it. The more folks advised me, the more I wanted to hold on. I rented out rooms. I cut my expenses. I took a second job. It ended up paying off in the long run when I sold the house to move to the East Coast. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Regrets are the best teachers.

As Hughes writes, “When you’re challenged, feel like you failed and regret the choices you made, you are forced to return to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. You are forced to work harder than you want and ultimately, the success is that much sweeter.” I reflect on surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, I can see the lesson in rebuilding and fixing my house. I have a new appreciation of those who have suffered a loss whether it is from fire or flood or financial ruin. I also look out the window with renewed appreciation for the view outside my house. It’s taught me to take stock in what I have and to savor the moment. You never know how long you will have it.

Regrets point you in the right direction.

As Hughes writes, “If we were 100 percent sure of everything we wanted out of life, it would be much easier to live. But, it would not be nearly as much fun. Part of growing up means realizing what you want, whom you want and how you want to get things done. There are no set guidelines, so you must figure it out as you go. Every now and then, you might think you want something only to find out that you were wrong.” I have had countless regrets over consuming alcohol, whether it was saying something I regretted, spending way too much money on it, or feeling hungover. Realizing that I wanted a new direction has been priceless. I couldn’t have gotten here unless I had regrets. Regrets inform you. But it’s imperative to listen.

I think there is strength in knowing that we all have regrets. It’s a human experience that moves us forward, so long as we don’t get caught up in mulling over it. What is a regret that you have learned from?

Putting Gratitude into Practice

Most people have some point of feeling grateful; like when the rain finally stops; when they get the overdue raise; when the dog is finally house broken. Sometimes it’s like pounding our head into the wall and when it finally stops, we feel grateful. We can wait for the pain to stop to finally reap our reward. Finally, the house is done; the project went live; the promotion is announced. These can be once-in-a-lifetime, periodic, or once-a-year events. Being grateful for these events is important but it’s not a practice of gratitude.

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A practice of gratitude is finding the joys of life; the little things along with the big things. My dog lying on her back on the couch without a care in the world as Hurricane Florence rages outside. The first sip of coffee at 5:10 AM. The warm embrace. The smile. The knowing glance. The warm melody of the cello playing Bach. There are thousands of things each day that pass by either noticed or not. Gratitude is the butterfly net to catch them.

Here is how to put gratitude into practice:

Reframe the event or issue

I first learned this during my Results Based Coaching with the Neuroleadership Group some seven years ago. Reframing is changing the context in which you view something. Typically, it’s turning something less desirable into something desirable. Changing the glass from being half empty into half full or half empty to thank goodness we have water. Having survived Hurricane Florence this past month has really done a reframe around power, water, air conditioning and abundant grocery stores. It goes from: “I can’t believe Walmart is closed!” to “Thank goodness Food Lion is open and they have fresh produce.” “The bridge is impassable,” to “At least I have power and can work from home.” So, when you run out of gas and have to walk to the gas station, view it as at least I got some exercise today. Reframe the negative into a positive.

Find the opportunity

Figure out what is available. When Hurricane Florence was bearing down on Wilmington, NC, I was home taking advantage of power and hot water. I think I took at least two showers a day and  kept starting up the dishwasher and washing machine. I was thinking, “Well, who knows how long we will have power. Let me do another load.” My boyfriend Roy has never seen a multi-story building he didn’t like. We checked into a hotel that had nine floors. Roy immediately decided that we were going take those stairs twice. “Here is a great opportunity!” So there I was, hiking up and down nine flights of stairs. Why waste a good opportunity for exercise? Park in the farthest spot, walk in the rain, put on a loaded backpack while you mow the lawn. Find the opportunity.

Just two beats longer

I found this in Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. As Burchard writes: Let us forget for now where we are supposed to be and what we should be doing. Instead, let us hold this moment for just two beats longer.

Do not breathe so quickly. Take in air for two beats longer.

Do not scan the room. Sense the room by gazing into each shadow and corner for two beats longer.

Do not merely glance at her. Look into her eyes and hold them for two beats longer.

Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.

Do not send the heartless note. Read it once more and spend two beats longer sensing the pain it may cause another.

Do not give a perfunctory kiss good-bye while juggling everything on the way out the door. Make the kiss count, make it firm and solid and true, holding the moment passionately for two beats longer.

Life is lived in the extra beats we hold as time unfolds.

In my opinion, those two beats hold gratitude. Savor the moment.

Journaling or whatever

Figure out a way to catalogue your gratitude. I personally have been keeping a gratitude journal for over five years. People approach this task differently – you can figure out what works for you. I kept a gratitude jar on my desk three years ago and wrote each moment of gratitude on a slip of paper, stored it in a jar until year end, and read each one on New Year’s Day. There is the practice of carrying a gratitude rock in your pocket and then touching it whenever you are grateful. You can create a gratitude tree and hang a “leaf” with each thing you are grateful for. You can write a gratitude letter once a day or week or month to thank someone you are grateful for. What’s important is that you pick something you can practice on a regular basis. I currently write five things I am grateful for in the morning and one item I am grateful for in myself (like being able to climb those 9 flights of stairs – TWICE!).

Compliment others

Nothing feels better than paying a sincere compliment. It’s completely free and feels absolutely fantastic. So, whether it’s your co-worker showing up with a new hairstyle or your assistant having completed the report in a timely manner, find something to compliment. People love to be noticed. This can be with someone you know or not. If you like the earrings of the cashier at Whole Foods, tell them you like them. It’s an easy way to pay gratitude forward. If someone pays you a compliment, be sure to say “thank you.” No qualifiers to discount the compliment like: “This old thing? I have had it for years.” Or “I really don’t like the color.” Give and accept compliments gracefully.

The underlying theme of all of this is being present and paying attention. Once it is part of you, it becomes easier and things to be grateful for multiply. Try it yourself.  What are you grateful for?

Dodging a Bullet: Hurricane Florence

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my home was flooded in Hurricane Matthew on October 8th of 2016. It was an incredible lesson, a challenge and, ultimately, contributed to the demise of my marriage. So you can imagine my anxiety as I saw the path of Florence some 5 days before it made landfall and its potential path over my home in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was scared. I wasn’t sure what to do and if I even had the fortitude to survive another storm. I did. Currently, my dog Baci, my boyfriend Roy and I are just fine, but I’d like to share my experience dodging the bullet.

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Here is what I learned this time around:

Prepare

Five days before the storm made landfall, every store I went to was out of bottled water. There were random posts on Facebook that the Dollar General had water or bread. I started to fill containers and empty soda bottles with water. I filled every one of my dog’s water bowls to the brim. I filled the bathtub. After Matthew, we had to boil water for about a week. I wanted to make sure there was plenty of water for toilets, dishwashing, etc. I had three (yes, three) exterior battery packs and every electronic device completely charged by Thursday morning. Being able to charge your phone is critical after the storm has passed. In addition, I had everything in my garage stored at waist height or above or in my house. The garage received the brunt of the damage from Matthew and I didn’t want my front yard being full of debris after the storm.

Vigilant

I’m pretty sure I logged about thirty plus hours of Weather Channel before, during and after the storm. I watched as it dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 3 to a Category 2 at landfall. I had two separate weather apps that notified me of flood, hurricane, and tornado warnings and watches. Forewarned is forearmed. It started to rain on Thursday afternoon so I took the opportunity to run the dishwasher and wash a load of clothes. Knowing we could easily be without power for a week, we were vigilant to use it before it was gone. I cooked things that needed my electric oven and held off on the things we could heat up on a camp stove. When I woke up in the morning of Friday and still had power, I made two cups of coffee before 6 AM. We lowered the thermostat about 5 degrees lower than normal in anticipation of losing power. Use what you have before it’s gone.

Break

We never lost power. Thank goodness. The downside of not losing power is that we were sucked into the anxiety of Jim Cantore (infamous storm-chasing Weather Channel correspondent) knee high in water right outside the hotel I had stayed at just 5 days earlier and constant weather alerts on my iWatch and phone. The apex of which was early Saturday morning when I woke up at 4:30 AM to see the glimmer of water up to the first step of my deck. Gulp. This is it. Matthew all over again. I was devastated. I wept. I remember Roy telling me to take a deep breath. We weren’t being flooded at that moment. This could be the worst of it. We marked the bottom step as our high-water mark. By 11 AM, it was down about an inch. It turned out to be the high-water mark of the storm. We stopped watching the news on a continuous basis. It’s not like we never turned it on but taking a break and, more importantly, taking a breath was really important.

Explore

When the water started to recede, Roy suggested that we walk in the rain down to the dam. The dam on my lake had been reconfigured to spill at a lower lake level, so it made sense to check it out. So there we were, walking in the rain about a mile and a half down to the dam. We saw many snapped pine trees and debris but as with any exercise, it was a relief to get out of the house and to see that actual dam. It had been the cause of the damage from Hurricane Matthew as the lake hadn’t been lowered and the dam wasn’t functioning properly. It was reassuring to see the deluge going over the dam and that nothing seemed amiss. We were not the only ones suffering from cabin fever as we saw many out on the road driving to see how the neighborhood had fared through the storm.

Aftermath 

Keep in mind that if you weather the storm, things will not be back to normal for a while after the storm. It took at least a week for there to be gas and stocked store shelves. Interstate 95 and 40 are still partially closed and countless other roads are closed. Roy headed to his home in Morehead City (near the coast) and it took over 6 hours to get there. Demands on local services were sketchy especially at the coast. Mail service was delayed, businesses closed, ponding on roadways and rivers was still cresting. It will be months, if not years, for many areas to get back to normal. Or at least a new normal. The aftermath goes on and on.

Gratitude

I’m so grateful we didn’t suffer any damage from the storm. There were tree limbs down, ponding, and debris, but it was small and insignificant compared to those along the coast. When co-workers, friends and acquittances now see or talk to me, their first question is “Are you OK?” They were aware of what I went through in Hurricane Matthew and were concerned that I would have a repeat. Heck, I was scared I was going to have a repeat. I feel guilty that we never lost power, cable, Wi-Fi, cellular or running water. I dodged a bullet but I am so grateful that I won’t be dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors and, most importantly, staying put in my lovely home without incident. I am most grateful for those who love and support me, no matter if I am in a beautiful lakeside home or living out of a suitcase.

We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, and that is exactly what happened. There are thousands who aren’t as fortunate as I. If you would like to help those affected by Hurricane Florence, please contact the American Red Cross.