I was working in my leased office on the west side of Colorado Springs on Wednesday around 4:15 when I heard a noise over my noise-canceling headphones.
It was a young woman playing the clarinet on the patio outside my office window. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.
That surprise immediately turned to annoyance, however, because this office building is my place of business — and my work takes focus. I told myself it was the end of the day, I was only going to be there for another 15 minutes, it was probably a one-time thing, I’m probably starting to get a reputation as the woman in the building who’s always yelling at people to be quiet (but seriously, who uses a speakerphone anymore???) … and I talked myself out of going out there to talk to the clarinet player.
I turned on a white-noise track and attempted to finish my work.
After a minute, I started hearing the clarinet over the white noise and my noise-canceling headphones. My annoyance turned to anger.
I ended up leaving the office early because I was losing my mind.
It would have been a funny story if that’s where it ended — a clarinet player chased me out of my office.
But for the rest of the day, and then the rest of the night, I couldn’t stop obsessing over this. My brain just chewed and chewed and chewed on it — kind of like Sienna with her toys while she’s teething.
The next morning, when I went to the (blessedly quiet) office, this article crossed my inbox: The psychology of regret: how inaction affects our sense of self, by Dr. Hannah England.
“The regrets that will trouble us the most are not the mistakes or errors we made, but rather the actions we failed to take.”
It turns out, choosing not to speak up when the clarinet player was bothering me triggered some interesting psychology.
I have anxiety. There’s no two ways about it — I’ve had it my whole life. But I’m aware of this, and as an adult I’ve found many ways to manage it, avoid situations that trigger it, and get through it when it flares. What I didn’t realize until this week, however, is that not doing something trips my anxiety every time, without fail, and it’s hard to shake. Anxiety over something I did will go away relatively quickly if I am actively managing it — but anxiety over something I didn’t do is really, really hard to calm.
That article is what led to this realization, but it also pointed out that it’s perfectly normal.
“The study showed that whilst 24% of participants regretted the things they ought to have done, 76% regretted things that they could have done, but did not.”
Yesterday afternoon at 4:15 sharp, the clarinet player showed up again.
This time, before she even had a chance to sit down outside my window, I went out there and talked to her. The conversation was great. Turns out, she’s the daughter of the massage therapist who works across the building from me, and she’s a really sweet young woman.
Did I say everything perfectly? Absolutely not. But am I going to ruminate over it? Also, absolutely not — because I chose to speak up this time, and apparently our human psychology likes that.