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Advice About Regret from a Former Astronaut

April 12, 2020

Not long ago, I was supposed to travel to a conference that ended up being canceled due to the coronavirus. Or rather, the in-person part was canceled – the event still happened online. This included a speech by former astronaut Mike Massimino.

 

 

He shared lots of interesting stories, ranging from the many attempts it took him to get into NASA… to his experience in space… to being a guest on the show The Big Bang Theory. But one part, in particular, stood out to me.

 

His comment about regret.

 

It caught my attention because, in mindful eating, we often prefer to talk about regret instead of guilt. Guilt carries a lot more judgment with it, implying that you did something wrong, whereas regret is the feeling that you could have done something differently. But I hadn’t quite thought about it the way Massimino did.

 

Limiting Regret

In the presentation, Massimino talked about going up to the Hubble telescope to do some upgrades and repairs, and as you might have guessed, not everything went according to plan. He and the others were trying to get a door open, so they could access certain equipment, and they were having a hard time with it. 

 

Massimino felt the pressure, knowing that if they didn’t get in, the people counting on him and the rest of the team would be let down, and the Hubble wouldn’t be able to record all the information it would have otherwise. He regretted not having approached the situation differently.

 

But he didn’t let that regret last.

 

He said that he’d been taught to allow himself to feel regret, but only for 30 seconds. For those 30 seconds, he could feel as miserable as he wanted and be upset over the situation. But once the time was up, he had to let it go so he could focus on finding a solution to the problem.

 

Applying to Mindful Eating

That idea made a lot of sense to me, and not just for work as an astronaut. I think it also applies to mindful eating.

 

While regret is a gentler emotion than guilt, you can still get stuck in those feelings. You can spend a lot of time rehashing and analyzing situations from different angles until you lose sight of the real goal.

 

Learning from the experience.

 

That’s why I liked the idea of giving yourself a certain amount of time to feel regret before moving on to thinking about what you could do differently moving forward. You can take longer than 30 seconds – at least with eating, you’re not worrying about your oxygen supply running out! – but give yourself a set amount of time and stick to it.

 

During that time, maybe a few minutes, allow yourself to truly experience the feeling. Expressing it in some way can also help, if that’s an option, like doing something physical, or turning to a creative outlet.

 

But once you’ve given yourself that chance, stop and think about what you could have done differently, or what you plan to do differently for your next snack or meal. 

 

This way, you’re not denying your experience or the regret you feel, but you’re also not letting it take over.

 

Starting Over

The other nice thing about this approach is that you’re allowing yourself to start over. You don’t have to beat yourself up forever for one mistake, and it helps you remember that you’re not doomed to do the same thing over and over. 

 

You can make a different choice next time.

 

Spring is the perfect time to remember this, when the natural world is starting over again. And in these times of uncertainty, it helps all of us to remember that even when things go wrong, we can find a way to start anew.

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