Reward is the Enemy of Regret

Have you ever been in a situation where you know it is a disaster waiting to happen, but you’re convinced you can alter the outcome? Usually when you approach your friends for advice or perspective, their first response is “run away.”

Perhaps at work you’ve headed into a meeting as the sole dissenter. Or the excitement of a new romance has flirted with your hopes for companionship. Or you’re approached to help with a project labeled “Doom.”

It would be awesome to change the minds of the executives around the boardroom table. Lay out your logic, your virtuous assessment of the needs of the organization, and lead them to the right course of action.

It would be a sexy story to convince this new potential love you are the answer to their problems. If you could just get them to know you, they’ll commit. Show your true feelings, express your needs and they happily oblige. Their baggage will be tossed off the train car as you ride the steam engine straight into the sunset. They’ll let go of their past and embrace you fully.

It would be a tremendous success story to claim you were a significant part of turning the project around. They were disorganized, but you saved the day. Their hamster wheel of strategic plans are finally brought to action with your leadership. The team sacrificed their personal priorities for the sake of the mission, making progress more efficiently and faster than ever.

Yet, your gut and your friend’s gut tells you, “Run away.”

And you do. You’ve dodged a bullet. And you feel great…right? Well, you do feel good initially. And then your mind spins and cycles through the what-ifs and you think letting go means you’ve failed.

I’ve been fascinated by the times in my life when I couldn’t feel good about dodging bullets. How do you feel good about your co-workers not liking you? How do you come to terms with the new potential mate’s lack of enthusiasm for you? How do you say no to projects, even if it means their failure is definite without you?

Reward yourself. Dodge the bullet. But then continue to dodge it, over and over again. How? By filling the time you would have spent pursuing the unattainable with actions devoted to ideas you value. See, time is a finite resource. And thinking you can change others is a waste of time. You’ve spent it and received no reward. You’re operating with a deficit.

Make a conscious decision to avoid the danger signs, and then invest your time on creating something. Or invest your time on someone who already likes you, loves you, or respects you. Devote your time to projects that make you happy. For me, it’s writing at my piano. Writing my blog posts to express my thoughts. Those who care will listen, and they will read.

The best part is when a stranger discovers your thoughts, your words, your art, your beliefs. They needed you to express these thoughts, these feelings…they were trapped in their mind, unable to be expressed. Suddenly the success you sought, the reciprocated love you sought, the acknowledgement you sought…is happening out there in the universe. Not only did you dodge a bullet, you may have helped someone else dodge a bullet. The time you saved and re-allocated has an exponential positive value. Regret is the exponential negative value of wasted time.

Aren’t you happy you ran away? Good. Now go reward the universe.

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