So here’s the thing: I really want to tell you how to live your life.
Lots of people will lie to you and say, “I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but…”, which is like saying, “I’m not racist, but….” So let’s just stop a moment to applaud my honesty.
And, obviously, I’m far from perfect. As evidenced by every “I once smoked crack” motivational speaker, sometimes the best person to offer advice is someone who’s been there and finally realized, through trial and error, how to stop digging and climb out of the hole.
So I’m going to write an occasional series that I’m calling Unsolicited Advice. I started to call it “Advice from a Logical Optimist” because I feel like that’s really who I am: I consistently take a long, unemotional look at the world and decide, ” yep, good things are coming my way.” But no one wants to listen to an optimist, so let’s call this what it is.
Jeff has a really astounding number of grandparents, and in all the time I’ve known him, he hasn’t lost a single one. In fact, he went so far as to “rediscover” one who he had lost touch with years before, bringing his grand total of elders to eight. I’m no slouch in the family department either, and for the first few years of our relationship, almost all of our relatives lived within 40 miles of each other, making holidays a logistical nightmare.
We were constantly watching the clock, apologizing and feeling guilty through the entirety of each visit because we regretted leaving early and arriving late. Plus, there was so. much. food. I liked the pie, but I hated the regret–always feeling like we were letting someone down, like we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One day I asked myself a question and followed it up with an ultimatum: “What’s the next thing you’re going to regret? Do it now.”
In my grandparents’ living room that day, the next thing I was going to regret was regret. Do it now meant being fully present instead of clouding my joy with thoughts of all the places I wasn’t. Do it now also meant leaving on time, even if that cut our visit short.
Now, whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, whether from the pressure of too many pumpkin pies, not enough time for my to-do list at work or an especially complex session in the kitchen, I stop and and tell myself the same thing: What’s the next thing you’re going to regret? Do it now.
This manifests itself differently in every situation.
At work and in other typical to-do-list scenarios, answering the question requires recognizing that some unfinished tasks carry more psychic weight than others, even if they are otherwise low-priority, like walking the dog or clearing your inbox. It also means identifying the tasks that will set off a chain reaction: Finishing a document so your whole team can start editing it; starting the bread so it can rise while you work.
I think “psychic weight” is really the key to this whole thing. Regret is heavy. Let a little of it build up and you will have a much harder time trying to climb out. Accept that there are things you are behind on, and instead of focusing on them, figure out what the next thing is and get out in front of it. By adverting the next crisis you build confidence and create space to circle back on the rest of your list. Or to enjoy the next slice of pie.
Obviously, it isn’t a cure-all, but I find the question itself calming because it signals that I am in control.
Does anyone else ask themselves a version of this question? Can anyone beat Jeff’s record of eight grandparents?