Use regret - and other tough emotions for courage

Don’t waste this painful but useful emotion

I was stunned.

I was in Italy, at my first (male-dominated) robotics conference – watching in shock as a young woman presenter was publicly bullied, tag-team style, by two senior men.

It was horrible to watch. I kept expecting someone to stop it. No one did.

Afterwards a couple of male colleagues agreed how awful it was, shaking their heads.

I deeply regret not defending that young woman.

“I regret nothing!”

We often hear people saying they have no regrets. I’ve said it myself. Donald Trump appears fond of the phrase.

Why do we deny regret? Why is it so uncomfortable?

  • Does it feel like we’ve made a too-costly mistake?
  • Does it feel like an admission of wrong-doing?
  • Does a mistake-admission feel tantamount to an admission that we are a mistake?

Regardless of the reason we are reluctant to own our regret, if we do so, we are wasting an extremely valuable emotion.

As American researcher Dr. Brené Brown discusses in one of her several books – to live without regret is to live an unexamined life. Regret can motivate us to make better choices – ones more in line with our values.

My decision

I felt awful about what happened to that young woman, and decided the next time I witnessed bullying I would not be a confused, silent bystander.

The next time was at a domestic-abuse seminar.

I was horrified by the female presenter for two reasons. Firstly, she didn’t understand the psychology of abuse. The second reason she appalled me was her ‘man-bashing’ (the abuse of women will not be stopped by the abuse of men). So I stood up and protested.

While the speaker was defensive, afterwards two senior counselors – one female, one male – thanked me for speaking up.

Regret = “I wish I’d had the courage”

The woman counselor said she wished she’d had the guts to speak up too. The man – one of the finest counselors I know – said, as a man, he felt he couldn’t speak up.

I asked this gentle, skilled man how he tolerated this outrage. He shrugged and said he was used to it. It was the price for being able to work at the (voluntary, female-dominated) organization. This man saved lives.

Brené Brown found most people’s regrets involved failures of courage or kindness.

I doubt I changed the minds of the domestic-abuse presenter. But I don’t have to live with the regret of failing to speak up again, and – importantly – courage, and maybe regret, is contagious.

The shift from confusion to courage

I’m confident the female counselor who thanked me for speaking up, will be next to shift from silent, appalled bystander to courageously stand up and intervene.

As I’m focusing on habits – please practice the habit of not wasting perfectly good regret.

Pre-planning helps. Decide now what you will do next time it happens – that thing you regret.

Whether a personal kindness or political courage – all that is required for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.



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“I must say I have been using [Rebecca’s procrastination-busting] technique for 2 days now and they have been my most productive in months! It has taken the focus away from what is most pressing and moved it into just getting things done.”


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Further Reading:

Trump, Hitler, and Me: How bullies are physiologically motivated to bully – my Huffington Post favorite!

Bring it! How I learned to be fearless – A short read, where I’m not really advocating for the absence of fear – as nice as that would be sometimes – more not allowing fear to be our decision-makers.

I’ve gotta write some funnier articles. Fun is still allowed – even helpful – during grim times. Soon.


What do you think? I’d love to read your comments below …

2 Responses

  1. Tania Koolen

    How’s the book going, I pre purchased this a few years back when I met you in a hypnotherapy class. You were working on publishing a book for adhd. As my son is very this way, I was keen to here and read what this was all about. I never received the book and just wonder if it is completed and published as yet.

    • Rebecca Stafford

      Hi Tania, great to hear from you. The book is not yet published (I had to cancel the pre-orders, but you’ll be able to see from your credit card statement that you were never charged for it).

      BUT you may be interested in a free ‘Habit Freedom’ Facebook group I have set up. We cover mental habits such as ADHD, stress and anxiety also, and here’s the link:

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