Friday, October 17, 2008

Choice and Change V: Regret

Seems like every post ends here, doesn't it? I'm writing and writing, and come to regret, and stop, uncertainly. Mostly it's because I feel every thread leads here, that it might be the most important bottom line I have, and I'm scared to screw it up. Scared to regret screwing it up later, one might say.

I had to return my library book o' fame, so there will be no quotes from it here. If you're sick of the regurgitation, I guess that's good news.)

The question is, would I post what I feared was a terribly written post on regret if I knew that I were going to die tomorrow? Probably not, if I hadn't written it yet - I'd want to spend my last hours doing other things, other insanely fun things with terrible consequences that I would never do otherwise (more on that later). But if I had written it? Still, probably not. I wouldn't want people to remember me by a last, stupid, journal entry, instead of a more well-written earlier one.

I'm not sure whether to call that a form of anticipated regret or not. I would think that I'm rational enough to know that I can't feel regret when I'm dead, but the reasoning goes the same way as it would go if I assumed I would be alive: 'don't post this. it's silly. people will laugh. you'll regret exposing your thoughts so early on in the process instead of waiting for them to mature.' It's still the same: not doing anything feels better, somehow, than doing something stupid, even though doing something stupid might be a more fun thing to do in the moment and nothing else but the moment matters because, hell, you're about to be dead.

It may seem obvious to state, but the people who are going to worry more about regret are the ones who know that they tend to fixate on the past. I am one of those people. I do the if-onlies all the time, and project onto my future self the if-onlies that she will project back onto me.

Seems like clouds of over-worrying and all sorts of fluffy, substanceless shit like the above totally obscure any sort of action at all, even though experience has shown me (and statistics have shown others) that people are more likely to regret what they haven't done than what they have. Knowing this (and I do think we know it consciously), there's got to be some other reason we refuse to take action, that we are frightened to take action. Fear of failure, of course, but if we were thinking straight we'd realize that failure is imminent with inaction.

We are not thinking straight. Something is preventing our thinking straight. I guess what I'm in the market for, is what that something is. I thought I was heading towards regret, but I guess I'm not, or maybe that something is tied in with regret, inexorably - that something is hidden within regret that makes us unable to predict what we'll actually regret, even as we logically see it, have empirical evidence for it, have personal experience with it, and talk about it with authority.

I touched on that briefly in the last Choice and Change installment - that we are terrible predictors of what we'll want in the future. Perhaps we are even worse predictors of what we'll regret in the future. But we blindly try to predict it anyway. And the more we're wrong, the more we see we're wrong, the more scared we are of regret, because we see that regret happens despite our best efforts to avoid it. And the scared we are of it, the more wrong decisions we make in order to avoid it. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, but more than that, because it builds as it grows, like a snowball. It snowballs. You know, to be succinct about it and all.

People do emerge unscathed from the frost though, and I have a feeling it has to do with that something, which is either perfect foresight (unlikely) or the ability to just not give a fuck what their future self thinks about anything.

In other news, I dreamed that I was driving towards Santa Monica from the Malibu, and I was going home, but it was a sixties urban sprawl, or a seventies, and it was getting bombed. We had to lay in the crevices of gutters atop buildings to survive. Not past or future perhaps, but another way an alternate universe could have gone.


Dan R said...

It's easier to regret what we haven't done because there's so much more we haven't done according to our overwhelming list of choices.

Making one choice could mean discarding five opportunities. If we regret everything, we'll regret not doing something five times more.

Becca said...

what would you do if you had only one day to live?