You catch yourself thinking that thought again, like a blade turning over and over inside of you. That's just how regret works. It's something I've struggled with for a long time until fairly recently, when I started to fully assimilate my disbelief in free will. It's human nature to regret the past, and to regret mistakes that we've made, but it's also incoherent.
For the first half of 2015, I was consumed with regret about how I treated my ex-girlfriend. I behaved in a way that I'm ashamed of, and when the consequences finally came to bear, I was blindsided by a sudden horrific realization over what I'd done.
I finally managed to move past this by really focusing on assimilating my disbelief in free will. After reading books like Sam Harris's free will, as well as books like The Nonsense of Free Will, I was able to let go of the shame and regret that I held over my past actions. I've achieved a peace with my prior self - a decision to withhold condemnation, and to grant myself compassion. Now that I'm no longer hung up over this, I can experience the catharsis of writing about it in the past tense.
Letting go of yearning, though, is a different kind of skill. It's always a struggle to control your emotions - it's a Herculean, practiced effort, but occasionally missing someone can be a good kind of pain, an addictive kind (that's why people like Adele songs, who I generally can't stand). One of the more toxic mental loops you can find yourself in is imagining what your life would be like together with the person you're pining after. It's a destructive thing, a projection of fantasy that is as unhealthy as it is unrealistic, and I'm sure it's extremely common after bad breakups.
And yet, what if there's some truth to it?
There is an interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that basically states that every possible outcome will be realized in an infinite array of universes. Colloquially referred to as Multiverse Theory, it's a bizarre, but theoretically possible state of affairs.
In practice, then, this means that the mental fantasy you've constructed of you and your ex-lover living happily ever after together - it's a real thing. It's something that exists, not in this universe, but in another one. And every happy little detail that you've imagined is a real feature of this alternate world. If you've conceived of it, that means it's possible, and in the infinite multitude of universes, every potentiality is realized.
Thus, all that could have been becomes something that is, something that really does exist, but in a world that is not our own.
Although it's a beautiful sentiment, it's also disturbing, since presumably this entails that there's a universe where you knife your mother to death over a minor argument or joined ISIS because it seemed like a good idea. The multitudes of possibility include both the extraordinarily good and the horrifically bad, and both being realized feels like an absurdity, but I digress.
Your past is outside your control: a fixed, immutable thing.
Years ago she told you she wanted to marry you, the sun leaking through the cracks in her blinds, white light landing on her porcelain chest. You smiled and didn't say anything, frozen by her sincerity.
And if it doesn't happen, she said, then maybe in the next life.
In life, sometimes you have these critical moments where you're faced with a tough decision: do the thing that's hard to do - what you know is the right choice, or wither away under the fear of the moment, shirking from right action. The latter is easy, the former takes willpower, strength, and courage.
Today, unexpectedly, I faced such a moment. I've been preparing for it for a long time, but it came when I was unprepared. I was destabilized, struck with anxiety, and I didn't make the right call. I took the coward's way out, and I really regret it.
But then I remembered that I no longer believe in free will - that in that exact moment, that exact point when my life could have diverged into another road: I did the only thing that I could do, the only thing that my brain's neurons were capable of doing in that moment in time. Not only did I take the coward's way out, but I couldn't have done otherwise.
In the words of Marcus Aurelius, "it was woven into the pattern from the beginning."
Why then, regret?
Why then, shame?
Will is at once everything, and nothing: everything, because it determines how hard you strive after what you want in life, and nothing, since the will itself is simply the terminal effect of a long chain of causation stretching backward toward the beginning of time.
When I bitch out of things I should've done, I like to get philosophical.
I really didn't think he would be able to do it, but he went and did it: Conor MacGregor, the brash young Irish contender in the UFC's featherweight division (technically the interim champion, but that's largely a meaningless title), went out and absolutely starched Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, knocking him out with a single punch as Aldo rushed in aggressively within the opening frame.
After processing the shock over how quickly this contest came to an end, I couldn't help but admire MacGregor's borderline absurd level of self-confidence: the man has been predicting that he'd become champion for years, and when he fights in the cage, he's probably one of the most confident fighters I think I've ever seen. After getting smashed by Chad Mendes on the ground for several minutes in their interim title fight, he simply got out and went back to acting like none of that had ever happened.
MacGregor often talks about the Law of Attraction, which is of course total nonsense, but I think there's a deeper lesson here: that confidence is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for great success. I remember watching an interview with Will Smith who said something along the lines of "before anybody else believes it, you gotta believe it." The power of confidence to affect real world outcomes occurs through multiple channels, but most impressive is its ability to affect others around you, projecting a reality distortion field that ripples outward.
Aldo looked nervous in the cage prior to the bout starting, and that's no doubt due to the full year of head games that MacGregor has been playing with him. But ultimately, the foundation of this form of psychological warfare has been MacGregor's unremitting self-belief, which strikes me as a type of religious, almost mystical faith that the man has in himself.
And the truth is, it's inspiring.
But the flipside of this is that it's inspiring because he won. If he lost, we would we be mocking him for it. So when a brash, confident person rises quickly and attributes their success to their confidence, are we simply suffering from a survivorship bias where only the confident winners attract attention and are remembered as such? Where are all the Steve Jobs that failed? What are the real lessons to be imparted?
Let's say you want to accomplish something. Of course, anything worth accomplishing is difficult, so you can expect great difficulty and obstacles along the path. As you go about your quest, your mind essentially sets an internal "confidence level" that places a ceiling on what you're capable of doing.
The problem comes when your internal confidence level lies below your actual, objective ability. So if, in reality, you're genetically capable of running a hundred meters in 12 seconds, but you think you can only do it in 13, you're never going to really hit the ceiling of your capability. Better to irrationally believe that you can run a hundred meters in 11 seconds, and fail, but reach your genetic potential by covering that distance in 12 seconds instead. Of course, running is just a platonic example of any type of task. Having the error skew towards overconfidence has a lower cost that having it skew toward underconfidence.
Beliefs can be judged on their objective truth, but they can also be judged by their utility as well. In this sense, overconfidence is a rational approach to many things in life (where the price of failure is negligible).
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis