• The Magical Power Of Regret

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    "Non, je ne regrette rien!" Good song that.

    Zoe would probably be very good at shoaling. She seems to have worked out what a ludicrous scam gym memberships really are.

    They’re sold at an obscenely high rate -especially in January- to people who somehow think shelling out every month for two years will miraculously drop them down three dress sizes.

    Yes, exercise extends your life but I rather think Zoe nailed it in her subheading: “This dressing up of vanity in the sackcloth of good health obscures the basic fact that exercise won’t make us thin – just hungry.”

    Even if you disagree, definitely read the article. The potted history of the gym movement alone is worth your time. (Though she left out the scary pre-Nazi roots of the modern gym that conflated vigorous outdoor exercise for leisure and fierce nationalist pride. It’s a rant for another day, hopefully.)

    Now I’m sure there’s at least one gym freak among us so I want to be clear that I’m not attacking the idea of gyms. Been a member of a few, myself, over the years (it was cheaper than buying my own sun bed). Folk can do whatever you like with your leisure time. For instance, I’d rather staple my cash to a frisbee and fling it over a rainbow than pay for a golf club membership but apparently some people see it as money well spent.

    To its credit, golf -unlike going to the gym- doesn’t paint itself as a lifesaving moral act. That’s the author’s point; she’s not anti-exercise; and I would suggest she makes it well.

    So Zoe would be good at shoaling because if she wanted to lose weight she wouldn’t:

    • Enchant for ‘willpower’. We already know this is a bad target.
    • Make rash promises to the universe about the regularity of gym attendance.
    • Spend -in the long run- thousands on something she doesn’t use and outfits for a place she never visits. (£90 for a yoga mat??? I’ll kill you!)

    Instead, she might:

    • Magically and naturally suppress her appetite.
    • Magically and naturally stimulate her thyroid. (Which is responsible for your metabolism and is a butterfly-shaped gland conveniently located right where your throat chakra sits.)
    • Enchant for the right weight loss plan for her life and then stick to it.
    • Meditate and consciously remove stressors from her life to improve the likelihood of reaching her goal weight.

    This is all very good target selection.

    Something she may not have tried, however, is to make herself feel bad.

    Use regret when you have goals

    Goals typically require sacrifice.

    • You may be trying to save money for something.
    • You may be studying for a particular qualification.
    • You may be writing a book.
    • And, to continue the example from above, you may be trying to lose weight.

    Whatever it is -and whether you are using magic or not- having a goal implies that you are undergoing some sustained form of privation -be it of your leisure time, your disposable income or indeed, the food you eat.

    The word ‘sustained’ means that you are going to be depriving yourself of something over a longer period of time. Which means you will receive periodic visits from the temptation gremlins.

    It might be your friends inviting you out for a drink when you know you should be studying/writing. It might be Marks and Spencer’s new salted caramel sauce. It might be a piece of homeware that you can convince yourself is an ‘essential’ expense despite your budget. (If your last saucepan melts then definitely replace it but I remain unconvinced that that terrine dish is critical to the running of your kitchen.)

    At times like these, the received wisdom is to fortify your reserves by picturing yourself in that cap and gown, or at your book signing, or looking amazing at your brother’s wedding. (My brother got engaged on Christmas Day. Basta… I mean congratulations to the happy couple!)

    Regardless of what is tempting you away from your necessary privation, you are supposed to banish it with thoughts of how great and happy you will feel when you achieve your goal.

    Except it turns out that is the sucker’s road.

    What you should do is picture how bad you will feel for falling off the wagon. Visualise how unpleasant it was the last time you swapped the grilled chicken and carrot batons for a whole pizza. Think of how guilty you will feel justifying your terrine purchase to your partner.

    According to a 2004 study, anticipating the regret subjects would feel if they skipped a gym appointment proved more effective than visualising how good they would feel after they had been to their spin class. A 2009 study of Greek school kids got similar results.

    This broadly ties in to how we understand human motivation. Avoiding discomfort is more powerful than the promise of more comfort.

    So when temptation strikes, don’t try and banish it with happy thoughts… Go straight to the bad cupboard and get out your regret.

    Incidentally, you can wield this weapon against others as well. A very dear and apparently treacherous friend of mine wanted to catch up for some new year drinks. I’m not drinking (Dukan diet rules) so she agreed to meet for a diet coke. The second we get to the pub she grabs the menu and says she is having a burger even though she told me she too is dieting/not drinking. And then she starts insisting I should eat too.

    Using these findings, I ask how she is going to feel on Saturday when she is in Portsmouth visiting friends on the weekend and will be well and truly off the diet. I tell her you will regret eating this burger now when you are eating all that terrible food on the weekend.

    She puts the menu away and says that she’ll have a burger on the weekend after “being good” the whole week. (This is apparently how Sandra Bullock lives her life. Extremely healthy all week, eats whatever she wants on the weekend. I’m basically the exact opposite which might explain why nobody has told me recently how much I remind them of Sandra Bullock.)

    Last word

    So there you have it… Anticipated regret. Proven to be the most effective weapon in the fight to achieve your goals.

    It should be pointed out that anticipated regret should only be deployed within the confines of a finite project with a fixed goal. Trying to avoid regret is an absolutely terrible way to live your wider life. (Much better to fuck it.)

    And with that, I will leave the last word to Saint McBeal (“Ally” to lawyer friends):

    “It’s better to regret the things you do than the things you don’t do”.


    London-based occultist and pseudo-pseudohistorian. Messes about with sigils. Travels a lot but is otherwise extremely lazy.


    2 Responses to The Magical Power Of Regret

    1. January 9, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      It’s weird that you chose now to post about this, as I’ve just recently started using regret to kick my ass into doing things that need to be done. I’ve had a sort of “everything will work itself out without my help” attitude for far too long, and as happy as it made me at times, damn was I useless. Great post.
      Pallas Renatus´s last blog post ..On Omens and Wishful Thinking

    2. January 10, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      Great post.

      I’m glad you finished it with: “It should be pointed out that anticipated regret should only be deployed within the confines of a finite project with a fixed goal.”

      Otherwise you end up creating a guilt complex/demon. Parental control via guilt is a terrible thing… “The bulb in the living room blew, but don’t worry about your poor mother sitting in the dark – you go out and enjoy yourself drinking with your friends”.

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