Regret-Free Business

Regret-Free Business

Regret is the kind of word you never want to hear, and the kind of emotion you never want to feel. We go through life trying to avoid it. Most of us don’t want to remember the things we could have done, should have done, or perhaps shouldn’t have done. It just doesn’t feel good. In fact, in some cases it can feel like carrying a huge boulder around with you wherever you go, and business regrets are no different.

Yet, most of us carry at least some regrets along with us as we walk through life. Some of us even like to dwell on those things that could have been but weren’t. There is a sense safety in that space that doesn’t require us to look ahead to the unknown, and let go.

But is it a worthwhile space to be? Most would agree that it isn’t.

So how do we move past regret? How do we get on with our work (and life) without fearing it?

Change your perspective

As Julie Beck points out in her article Regret is the Price of Free Will the very essence of regret is that we only regret things we feel we have control over – “regret ends up being the emotional price we pay for free will”. If we felt that our circumstances were out of our own control, we wouldn’t have regrets, because there wouldn’t have been anything we could do to change our situation.

Looking at it that way, it almost feels like regret is a gift, or a privilege. Something that accompanies agency and our freedom to make choices in our work. Inevitably in business  sometimes we will make what feels like the wrong decision. Sometimes we will wish we had done things differently, better even.

But here is the thing to remember: we always do the best we can with what we have at the time. It is rare to find someone making decisions and choices that they may later regret doing so with that outcome in mind. Sometimes we wish we had taken an alternative route, but at the time we didn’t know it was a possibility. As they say, hindsight is 20/20!

Embrace the learning & take action

The key to minimising your list of regrets is by being open to making mistakes, and learning as much as you can from them. Whenever we can learn something from a bad situation and use it to grow, we make the most of it. We won’t ever make the “right” decision 100% of the time in business or life, so acknowledging that, being forgiving with ourselves, and taking as much from our mistakes as possible, is the key to not carrying that regret around with us in the long term.

When we know better, we do better. If however, you refuse (or you just aren’t ready) to take the lesson from a bad situation, chances are you will repeat that same mistake until you do. It may take many different forms, but what you need to learn will remain the same.

If you can master being open and embracing the learning, suddenly that bad choice can become a lesson in business improvement instead. I’ve worked with many a client who encountered the same kinds of problems over and over with difficult clients of their own. Many times these clients would expect work far above and beyond the scope of what was agreed to. Sometimes timelines were miscommunicated and deadlines missed, often costs blew out and it was my client who ended up taking the hit. This had happened multiple times for most of these clients, until the frustration, indignation and regret gave way to open them up to the lesson they’d been avoiding.

With new, clear and fair boundaries in place and communicated up front, in ways that their own clients could easily understand, they discovered that the majority of these repeating issues could be easily eliminated. The result was that everyone was happier, even when things didn’t run perfectly.

When we can see frustrations or unexpected outcomes merely as feedback we are in a better position to move forward in a constructive way. If we get stuck, wallowing in regret, we perpetuate the unwanted experience and become powerless to learn from it. We begin to resent the people who we believe contributed to what we’ve judged as a negative outcome, instead of taking responsibility for our role in the situation and taking action.

Hijack regret with The No-Lose Decision

In her best-seller Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers introduces the concept of a No-Lose Decision, and how to make one. The essence of the no-lose decision is that whatever the outcome of any decision, we still have much to gain as we handle it and learn from it even if it isn’t what we wanted. So, if you happen to make a decision that results in a monetary loss you are presented with the opportunity to learn how to handle that loss in a productive way, which has the potential to be just as valuable as the monetary gain you’d hoped for or expected. It’s not as simple as I’ve put it here, and the author provides recommended steps in the book, but it illustrates that if we are open to learning from our choices there really are no bad decisions and as such, no reason for regrets.

Expect that your business will stretch you

Part of growing as humans, and business owners, is learning how to handle ourselves. Much like parenting, a business is likely to find each one of your hot buttons and push them often! As far as personal growth goes, few other experiences compare. We run into problems when we resist that growth and prefer to stay where we are most comfortable. But what if the biggest possible regret we could find ourselves carrying was not taking the myriad opportunities this experience brings to further our development?

What if being closed to failure and mistakes creates a culture of fear and stagnation within your team as you try to stay safe? Consider the opportunity cost of never innovating or improving what you do.

Is it really worth it just to potentially avoid an outcome you might regret?

It’s definitely food for thought.

Until next time,

P.S. This kind of stuff is why business owners have so much to gain from having the right conversations. Working it through with someone who can help you gain perspective and plan the next step in a judgement free zone is the!

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