What can regret teach you?

Even though I am not a competitive rider, I have found some real gems — for riding and for life — in the work of Coach Daniel Stewart. In his latest book, Pressure Proof Your Riding, he talks about the role of regrets in making us stronger and more able to cope with whatever challenges our ride offers up.

It seems that it’s how we choose to deal with the things that haunt us that makes the difference between getting better or growing bitter, to paraphrase Dan’s trademark quipiness. For those of us not running for the roses — or ribbons — but merely trying to ride as well and as often as we can, many if not most of our regrets center on missed opportunities, mistakes that cost time, money, or quality, and shortsightedness that, in hindsight, looks like pure and embarrassing stupidity.

So with all that stuff continuously stowing away in the saddle bags of our psyche, its no wonder our confidence starts to drag right along with our energy and our will to do better, be better and find our own version of greatness.

Here’s where Dan offers up a little hope. In learning to mine our regrets for motivation, we can actually open up pathways to change: “Positively perceived regrets are those that make mistakes memorable enough to motivate you to make a change,” Coach Dan says. “Regrets give you the “I’ve had enough!” moment that drives you to make what ever change is needed to fix the mess you’ve gotten into.”

I decided to take Daniel at his word and see how his 5-step process for regret liberation might work on my own persistent regret of letting work overflow my riding time. (Because yes, I am bitter and want to get better instead!) This same process will work for all riding regrets, Dan says; pick one of your own and give it a try!

First I reviewed the situation causing regret: 
On more days than not, when it came time to pack up and leave my office for some solid horse time on the way home, I let that “one more thing” steal my opportunity to ride. It always makes sense in that moment of choice to just get the time thief du jour “out of the way.” The 5-10 minute thing generally turns into another hour, and by the time I get into my car I realize my barn time will be minimal and it just makes more sense to go home and feed the humans. In a nutshell, “losing” opportunity to enjoy my horse time was filling me with regret that was deep and wide. 

Then I registered my ownership:
As much as I wanted to blame someone or something for this situation, the ownership of it was all mine. I was the one making that choice to stay at work instead of hightailing it, Fred Flintstone style, when that 5:00 whistle blows.

Next, I replaced the choice I now owned with a solution: 
In addition to packing my “barn bag” the night before, I set an alarm in my phone 30 minutes prior to when I wanted to leave. That alarm would tell me when it was time to begin winding up my day, and if something popped up, I still had time to whack that mole on my way out the door.

Then I rehearsed my solution: I visualized hearing the alarm, turning it off, packing my computer up, clearing my desk, and walking out the door. 

At last I was able to release

that regret — take a few deep breaths, thank it for teaching you something important, and let it go. And, while this may sound like a simple exercise, it is actually quite difficult — and may take some practice to find its full power. 

Coach Stewart advises his competitive riders to follow this process every time they catch themselves holding onto whatever regrets are keeping them from their own greatness. It doesn’t seem to matter what the size or shape of the regret is — what matters is that you allow it to become your teacher.

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