Language in Bloom

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Make the better choice: Don’t let the fear of regret keep you from moving forward

No regrets. That’s an expression I’ve thought a lot about over the years, and it was called to mind again recently as I was talking with a friend about choices and regrets in life. Some people are lucky enough to say that they have no regrets, that every bad decision, every mistake, they consider to be a learning experience that has shaped who they are. To some extent, I believe that — we are the product of our past choices — but I still regret some of the more notable bad choices I’ve made. I obviously can’t say for certain what my life would be like right now if I had not made those mistakes, but I think it’s a possibility that my 20s would have been a much happier decade if I had not spent the majority of those years in graduate school. Of course, I benefitted in many ways from my time in academia, but not enough that I think it was really the best choice for me.

So, while I regret the choice to continue on to the PhD after I completed my Master’s, I don’t dwell on it. Instead, I call back that regret in order to reflect on how I’ve changed, so I can make better choices in the present. Instead of the idea that regret can hold us back and keep us stuck in the past, I believe that regret is a powerful learning tool, and should not be feared at all. The fear of regret can easily keep someone from making decisions, and more importantly, from achieving his or her goals. I am sure at some point in your life you’ve questioned a decision you have to make, or a decision you recently made, wondering if it was the right or best choice.

Every day we’re faced with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of choices of how we can spend our time. From the moment we wake up and look at our smartphones (sure, sure, we’re not supposed to do that, but we do it anyway), to the moment we fall asleep reading our Kindles, we have an unlimited number of choices of how we can spend the free minutes we are not performing some obligation like working or taking care of our families. Here we have the main problem that can kill off our best intentions to make progress on whatever project we’re working on: we have limited free time with unlimited choices of how to spend it. We’re suffering from choice overload. We have been suffering from this affliction for some time now, actually, and it can have a seriously detrimental effect on our productivity and wellbeing.

Option overload is apparent even in our entertainment and leisure options. Have you ever scrolled through Netflix and not been able to find a single show or movie you wanted to watch? Do you really think that’s because there was nothing available, or was it more that you didn’t want to pick something that you didn’t know for sure you were going to like? You couldn’t be certain that one particular option was the best, so you ended up just scrolling through your options, over and over. I know that happens to me, and it’s simply ridiculous that I have so many options to choose from and can almost never decide right away!

The idea that there is ONE right choice, the BEST choice, can keep us from making a perfectly fine choice that likely won’t really have any negative effect on our lives at all. And the idea that the best life is a life with no regrets can just perpetuate a stagnant state of indecision. Regrets are just mistakes that you wish you hadn’t made, and mistakes can be left behind.

When it comes to productivity, option overload, fear of regret, and indecision can sabotage your progress. If you’re having trouble starting a large project or setting out to achieve a significant goal, it could very well be that you just aren’t sure of where to start because you are anxious about making the right choices.

Instead of stressing over choosing the right first step or of making the best plan possible, adjust your expectations a bit by focusing on a smaller range of choices. Following is a three-step process to get a handle on option overload and just get started on whatever you have to do.

Step 1: Determine which is your number one priority for the day. I know everyone’s got a long list of priorities, so think about it this way: what would you be most proud of accomplishing at the end of the day? What’s the one thing that would ease your overall level of anxiety?

Step 2: Take a couple of minutes to visualize the end result. Write out answers to these questions and post them somewhere you can see them:
Today my priority is to ___________
When I reach this goal I will feel _________
In order to reach this goal I will __________
Try to limit your action items to no more than 5.

Step 3: Get to work and cross those action items off your list. When you’re faced with a choice about where to shift your focus, (let’s say someone is calling you on the phone), ask yourself: 1) is it urgent (a call from a child’s school, for example) and if not, 2) will this phone call help me achieve that one priority for today? If the answer is no to both of those questions you know that answering the phone call is not the better choice.


If your goal is to learn a language, focusing on a smaller number of priorities and action items can be especially helpful to get you going, since when you start out the sheer volume of new concepts you have to cover can be really overwhelming.

Stop thinking that there is just one right way to learn a language, or to get a project done. You have lots of options, and the truth is that many of them are perfectly fine. If you stop focusing on picking the “right” choice, you’ll get a lot farther than if you just spend all your valuable time and energy weighing your options. Limit your choices. Then choose one to start with. Get going. Adjust as necessary. Get things done. Make progress. No regrets fear of regrets.


Written by

Tammy Bjelland
Language lover, teacher & coach.

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