Regret: A Powerful Motivator

I recently discovered that the musical I’d been working on for the past several years was no longer going to be viable.  Not because it wasn’t a good story, or even a good idea.  It’s because someone beat me to it.

I was surfing the web and discovered that not only had someone written a similar play, they had named it almost exactly the same and it was a smash hit!  Talk about a body blow.  I’d spent the last few years working on it sporadically, and now it was never going to see the light of day.  Even if it was determined that my creation was better – that wouldn’t matter.  The early bird got the worm.

Once I found out about this work, I went through a range of emotions….

Disbelief: What were the odds of someone having almost exactly the same idea as mine, and executing it in similar fashion?  As a musical, no less!

Anger: How dare they!  (And then the rest of the language used was somewhat coarse.  Somewhat.)

But the one I ended up with at the end of it all: regret.

I knew I could have had the piece done years ago had I focused on it a bit more.  I knew it was my own fault for being complacent.  The only professional aspect of how I handled this project was in the form of “professional crastination.”  Clichéd as it sounds; I needed a drink.

Wallowing in regret is not a good thing.  But what you should do when you begin to feel regret is a tried and true method of emptying your head.  Write it down.  Capture the wave of emotion as it flows through you.  Make a list of pros and cons.  Do whatever you have to do to get the feeling out of your mind (because it will linger if you don’t) and resolve how to avoid it in the future.  While you can’t escape regret entirely, you can certainly learn from it.

What did I learn?  Well, I learned that I still have a lot to learn about keeping GTD in practice. But I also learned that I desperately want to be a writer – a creative artist.  I’ve turned my feeling of regret into a motivator.  I don’t want to be upstaged or upset by my own inaction again.  Put off and delay and prepare to pay.

That’s why I wrote this article the same day I made the aforementioned discovery.  I’m a quick study.

Mike Vardy is a regular (eventually) contributor to GTD Times. We hope you enjoy his posts as much as we do!

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  1. Excellent post!! This is one aspect of GTD I think many of us miss at first. When we hear “Empty Your Head” we first limit this to the kinds of things we do during a weekday. Getting *everything* out of our heads, though, means paying attention to things like regret, anger, frustration, sadness, etc.. Once these more subtle aspects get captured we can look at them objectively, identify the actionable outcomes, and have an inventory of task that is more reflective of we want for ourselves beyond the workday.

  2. Whenever I hear stories like this and the word procrastination rears its ugly head, I am reminded of Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit.” I think it is absolutely true that there is usually some deeper fear going on underneath the procrastination, whether it’s fear of success, fear of failure, or fear of the project because we haven’t yet properly defined it. And although I now recognize these things, it is still an ongoing fight to turn around and face these fears. I have years of “la-la-la I don’t have time today” practice to undo.

  3. Mike, you have a way of making me laugh and educating me at the same time. I would say more nice things, but I have to get busy doing stuff I was professionally crastinating about.

  4. Todd:

    I find that journal writing really helps me capture my emotions and feelings. If I mind dump there, it keeps me both aware and gets me clear. The added bonus is that I’m chronicling my life for my kids and eventual grandkids! Thanks for your insight!


    As a creative artist, I find my head brimming with ideas. Like so many others, I’ve been a victim of my own inability to finish a project before embarking on another. I still catch myself (as evidenced by my article) falling down. “The Now Habit” is an excellent read and a refresher never hurts. Thanks for the reminder and the comment!


    Thank you for your kind words! I would have responded sooner, but it was Labor Day weekend – the weekend where “pro” crastinators do hard labor!

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