There is no pill to stop you from doing or saying something stupid, but you can reduce your chances of doing something you’ll regret if you pay attention to the mood you’re in. There are two moods that promote actions you will almost always regret: anger and fear.
Acting from anger
I’ve regretted almost every action I’ve taken in anger, or in related moods like envy, impatience, indignity, hurt, irritation, annoyance, frustration etc. These are reactive, defensive moods that make you do and say things that damage relationships and detour from ambition. That’s why it’s important to resist the urge to take the bait and not say what’s on your mind.
In particular, hurt and insults to dignity often breed moods of vengeance which lead to retaliation and a cycle of return fire that can result in more than just damaged egos.
Acting from anger and its ugly cousins almost always paint you as an arsonist, and that’s why you’ll regret them.
Practice the pause
But knowing the danger of acting from anger won’t stop you from doing something you’ll regret.
Because angry and frustrated people don’t often think before they act.
Your only chance of not doing something you’ll regret is to learn to create a space between something happening to you and your response.
Basically it’s learning not to react.
Restraining your first reaction is no guarantee that you won’t still take a regretful—but perhaps better planned, Dr. Evil—action, but it does increase your chance of avoiding figurative martyrdom as the pause can give you time to reflect on the long-term consequence of the action your bad self wants to take. You’re more likely to see how you or people you care about may suffer as a result.
The pause can give you time to transform your mood and remind yourself of what’s really important.
The place to start your pause-practice is with your moods; start noticing them and from there start resisting the urge to react i.e stop immediately responding to bad things that happen to you.
It’s like putting your video player on pause; think; then (1)take considered wise action—which may mean not responding at all, or (2) do what you wanted to do in the first place and punch that a…hole in the face. Practicing the pause at least makes (1) possible.
Not taking action because of fear
While anger prompts immediate unwise action, fear does the opposite—it inhibits action. Fear often paralyses, or promotes avoidance. Fear has it’s obvious evolutionary purpose, but our reflexive response to fear often lacks perspective, and we deal with the prospect of minor social slights and survivable business failure like a seal spotting a great white. We are so afraid of a negative outcome that we choose to either run away, or stand still till the threat (opportunity) goes away.
As a young teen my fear response couldn’t tell the difference between starting a conversation with pretty girls and bungee jumping with a chain. I still kick myself when I think of girls I had a crush on who it turns out liked me back, but who thought I was uninterested; arrogant even. I was just terrified of rejection.
the rocking chair question
When you’re afraid of acting because of risk to finance, status, health etc. try this exercise: imagine you’re in the last years of your life, sitting in your favorite rocking chair and reflecting on your life. Will your old self regret not taking this risk? What will the old geezer regret worse: the sting of trying and failing, or not trying and always wondering how life would have been different if you tried and it had worked out?
I think it’s better to console yourself with having given it a shot v. s. not even trying and wondering how your life might have been completely different if it worked out.
“It is not the critic who counts, not the ONE who points out how the MIGHTY stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly;
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”