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The art of playing at the brink

Do you regret your Action or Inaction? Let’s learn the art of playing at the brink.


Regretting one’s own action or inaction can not only be distressing in the short term but a recurring regret can potentially lead to mental illness such as Depression.  In this article we shall look at whether it is possible to develop the ability to work positively to make right choices and thus reduce the chances of regretting our actions. Let’s start looking at certain examples. How many of us prefer to sit in a car driven too cautiously or dangerously? Surely, not in both the cars as one leads to frustration and another to fear. The person who drives too slow all the time and keeps missing his appointments is likely to regret and the guy who is too rash and ends up in an accident would regret too. An efficient driver has the skill, patience, confidence and the presence of mind to drive well. By doing so he reduces the chances of making consequential errors in life of being too cautious or being too rash. Similarly, in business, how often do we hear of someone who risked too much money to invest and lost it all only to regret or someone who played too safe on stocks and regretted having missed the chance to buy stocks which have skyrocketed. Surely these regrets hurt the person considerably.  We shall now imagine a football field. I really find it very fascinating watching international football where the players often display a predictable and time tested strategy to enhance the chances of scoring goals. They often play the ball at the edge of the field to either create a corner or a sharp angle to shoot towards the goal, just as David Beckham would bend the ball. A novice may tend to play it too safe within the field and hesitate to play it at the edge for fear of losing the ball outside the line. However with some sincere practice he would have developed the skill and confidence to literally play the ball at the brink and create amazing opportunities to score goals. I bet this player would surely be enjoying it the most and perhaps not regretting, as he is no more too cautious or reckless. If we think of it, he carefully cultivated this apparently risk prone skill while still playing within the defined limits of safe zone. So why is it relevant? It is so as in my several years of psychiatric practice in varied healthcare settings such as the UK and Singapore, having treated several patients, with either Acute Stress Reaction, Adjustment Disorder or Major Depression, one factor that tends to present often is Regret, for having acted or not acted the right way. Furthermore, recurring regret can lead to depressed mood, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and perhaps more importantly a sense of failure. The good news is that experienced mental health practitioners such as psychiatrists can effectively treat these mental health conditions with medications and appropriate counselling and psychotherapeutic approaches. I would advocate that one should develop the ability to gradually train oneself to masterly balance risk and caution, thereby enhancing the chances of measured success in their endeavors and minimize the chances of regret. To cite an example, a person may do the necessary calculations to know the safe limit to which he can stretch himself to take manageable repayable loans and learn to never exceed that limit, unless personal circumstances have become more favorable.  To follow this strategy, naturally one has to sincerely do all the homework looking at:1) One’s own personal strengths and weaknesses.2) Study the situation well.3) Form judgment.4) Make a clear decision, and, most importantly 5) Learn to stick to the decision and see it through.These can be done as a self-driven exercise or with the help of a therapist. Once the homework is done, the person should learn to stick to the rules of the game, and be consistent and confident in that approach. He may see failures at times but is more likely to succeed in the long run. Importantly, the biggest psychological benefit is that he stays well mentally, as he has learned to be emotionally balanced. Such a person is more likely to back himself or herself in testing times and be proud that he or she tried to their best of ability by being sensibly adventurous. A more advanced practitioner of this method is one who learns to detach himself from the results of these well-made efforts. In the Bhagavad Gita such person is called a Sthitaprajna!

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