Your feelings are not your friend – the first step to living a life without regret.

Let’s play a little game.

Stop what you’re doing and clear your head. For the next few minutes I want you to remember the three most significant mistakes you’ve ever made in your life. (And just in case you’re wondering this isn’t a sadistic post bent on ruining your day, so please bear with me). To clarify we aren’t talking about life’s big misses like not going out with the cute guy in accounting, losing her phone number, or turning down that job in Milwaukee. These are the really bad life choices – the ones you can’t forget – the ones where, if given the chance, you’d go back and do them differently. These are the choices you deeply regret, like the one-night stand during a conference  that led to the end of your marriage or the shady business deal that cost you a career. No, these are the choices that ultimately turned your life upside down.

© by Aimanness

After you’ve thought about it and if you can I want you to now consider the circumstances surrounding them –  paying particular attention to your emotional state at the time. Do you remember what motivated you look behind door number one instead of two, three, or four? Were you feeling lonely when that stranger sat next to you at the hotel bar? Were you envious and felt one big sale was all you needed to make the higher-ups on the 11th floor notice you?  Was it revenge that pushed you to say things she would never get over or was it really arrogance speaking when you said to him you could do better? In other words, what were you feeling when you did what you did?

This exercise was a bit unsettling yet very eye opening. As I brought to mind my own regrettable life choices I couldn’t help but register how emotional I was at the time I made them. While refraining from the details I can easy recall feelings that included nasueating pride and insecure jealousy. And as I contemplated further, I discovered the ensuing regret I suffered had less to do with the painful consequences and more to do with having the knowledge that I knew better  – yet I did so anyway. It’s like knowing that fire will burn me but I stick a hand in the flame anyhow. And it was this introspection that I started to become aware that making decisions based solely on feelings is like taking advice from a schizophrenic.

Lets consider a one night stand, often a major regret for more than one person. Even as the conversation wears on and assumptions and rationalizaitons formulate there is something within each saying this isn’t natural. We’ve all seen the part of the movie where the man looks up at the ceiling wondering what just occured while the woman silently lays with her back to him as tears stream down her face. With their fickle passions temporarily satisfied they’re now left to wallow in a spiritual agony of their own making while beating themselves up for knowing better.

Our feelings are excellent liars but even better cheerleaders and use numerous tactics to justify bad choices at their coaxing. I’ll often experience an internal tug-o-war as my feelings try to convince me of one thing while my conscience tries to point me in a drastically different direction. Yet our feelings can be forceful often appearing from nowhere. One minute all is right with the world and the next I have feelings of anger or dread for no valid reason, and as I try to think it through my feelings will throw up every possible justification for their existence. I now understand why it’s called ‘that still small voice’ – our feelings demand while our conscience gently suggests.

© by Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha

From reflection and experience I now abide by a vitally important life lesson – never trust your feelings. They are insatiable monsters when left unchecked will wreak havoc in our lives. Listen to them and you’ll eat too much, spend too much, drink too much, and worry too much. And they have little regard for differences between right and wrong and see consequences as irrelevant.

Those who doubt need to look no further than teenagers for unmistakable reminders of this principle in action. Living life completely on  how they feel from moment to moment they give little consideration for the bigger picture and seem oblivious to any potential aftermath – leaving the parents to ask, “what were you thinking?”

Whether we care to admit it we know there is truth to this principle, we’ve even coined a phrase “I let my feelings get carried away” as a defense for those time when our thoughts head off in odd directions and lead us to make strange choices. Yet while we understand this truth so few of us do anything about it, choosing instead to go about life allowing emotions to lead the way even as we wonder why we make the same poor choices over and over again never grasping that we are the lone common denominator.

God gave us feelings, but he also gave each of us a brain. We’d do well to use BOTH because life is full of choices and regret-free living is one of them.


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23 responses to Your feelings are not your friend – the first step to living a life without regret.

  1. MamaJesse

    So true.  One of the biblical verses that convicts me often is 2 Corinthians 10:5, in which Paul tells us  to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  Take.  Every. Thought. Captive. –  This is  not an easy thing to do, especially as I find I am ruled by my emotions more often than not.  I’m trying to teach this to my thirteen year old, as well, but she doesn’t yet understand how those decisions hastily made in the heat of the moment can change your life forever. 

  2. Great post.  The only good thing that may come from regret is that regret tends to make you wiser…but only if you listen to that still, small voice.  Feelings do like to rule.

  3. Anonymous

    Very good post.  But I disagree a bit.  Those surface emotions like fear, anger, shame, etc, all mask deeper feelings that we DO need to listen to.  That way we can DEAL with the problem(s) really bothering us rather than reacting to the raw emotion that comes from suppressing and avoiding them.

  4. Great post, Papa. Definitely brought up some cringe-worthy moments when I reflected on past mistakes. I recently attended a conference with Dr. Henry Cloud, and one concept he taught is to “play the movie forward” – to look at how this action plays out not just in the moment, but in the days, weeks, & months ahead.

    atable4three makes a good point, but regardless of the issues we’re dealing with, we all have these “moments of truth” where we can ride the wave of emotion, or stay on the beach.

  5. Yes, feelings and emotions can totally wreak havoc on one’s life
    especially when we allow the brain to vacay. Too bad more people don’t
    realize that. Nice ChopperCouture. Hope I win.

  6. “Our conscience gently suggests.” Yes, that’s it. Often the best practice is to withdraw and wait until the noise dies down, which is so easy not to do.

  7. Great post again.  Wow.  And you’re absolutely right.  I think that in this day and age people forget that while feelings are valid, and it’s important to be able to recognize and express them, it still doesn’t change the fact that there is such a thing as right or wrong.

    Thankfully I don’t have so many regrets.  I have them, but I’ve locked them up in the attic because looking at them messes with my mind too much.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this!

  8. Fascinating exercise. I come to the opposite conclusion, or possibly, an adjacent one. I’ve learned that I MUST trust my feelings, or what I sometimes refer to as my “gut.” My worst mistakes occurred were when I ignored signs, signals, feelings… and did what I thought I was supposed to or was expected to.

    I live with a reasonable balance of analysis and emotional awareness, but when in doubt, I go with my gut.

  9. Anonymous

    Don’t really have anything to add except that this was a very good post. Nice job!

  10. BLW, we all have basic instincts which provide navigation through life however that navigation system only works if it isn’t battling our emotions to do so. Approaching life decisions absent feelings of pride, anger, resentment, or vengeance helps our instincts works for us, otherwise we end up in Topeka when we wanted to go to Albuquerque. 

  11. Here’s to you spending time in your own attic. Eventually we all must climb those stairs. 

  12. I am familiar with Dr Cloud. I think his concept is a play on a verse (or several) in Proverbs. I would take the time to dig it out but you probably know it far better than I. 

  13. I think you have misunderstood my point. We clearly must face our own demons, however we when we don’t, we allow those surface emotions caused by those devils to cloud our decision making. 

  14. I wouldn’t say regret makes you wiser, its the consequences of those decisions, and the pain caused by them, that makes you wiser. The memories. 

  15. I can understand your challenge. The quickest way to move away from being ruled by our emotions is to one – realize we do it and two – start to ask ourselves are we making this choice based on our emotions or something else. It is a very difficult thing to accomplish but can be done. 

  16. Feelings are a bitch, there’s no doubt about that. I think the trouble is when feelings conflict with rationality and then win out.

    Someone told me recently, it’s that moment when you say to yourself, “fuck it” that defines it all. That’s the point of no return. The point when feelings take over and rationality goes out the window. Avoid actions that start with, “Fuck it”. 

    “She’s hot and I’m lonely and horny… but I’m also married…. Ah, fuck it.” See what I mean? 

  17. That’s an excellent way of putting it, because it is so right. When you go there, there’s no turning back. 

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