A recent American study found that men were suckers for regret. From lost romantic opportunities to poor career choices, we reach a certain age and mourn them all.
The good news is: it doesn't have to be like that.
Regret is a normal human emotion, and a little of it is no bad thing. But nobody wants to reach 40 or 50 and be weighed down by the things they could have done better, the things they should have done differently, or the things they shouldn't have done at all.
Here are five common male regrets, and what you can do to make sure you're looking forward to what could be, and not back on what might have been, when your 20s and 30s are over.
Regret: bad behaviour
Men regret all sorts of actions from their younger, more headstrong days. Brawling and bullying are two eternal male regrets, and so is treating girlfriends badly. Break up with your first love in a callous fashion and it could come back to haunt you.
And that's because, for all our macho posturing, most of us don't like to hurt people. To avoid a spirit-sapping regret that can catch up with you sooner than you think, treat all women whether girlfriends or flings with the respect they deserve, even if you don't want to be with them anymore.
"It comes down to being courteous," says relationship counsellor Elly Prior. "You have loved this person, spent time with her and shared personal information be respectful, at the very least. The way you end the relationship will have reverberations for how they (and you) feel and conduct themselves in future relationships."
Regret: not staying in touch with friends
You really can't have too many close friends, because friends are good for us. "The friendships of both sexes tend to promote health, even though they differ in style," says Dr Terri Apter, a social psychologist and co-author of Best Friends
Yet many of us lose touch with even best mates when we move to different towns or cities, or when the pressures of a demanding career or a young family get in the way. It's something many of us come to regret.
The simple answer is to make an effort to stay in touch in the first place. Set a reminder on your phone to text the mate who moved away once a week. Remember that it only takes an occasional meet up (once or twice a year) to keep friendships alive.
If you've already lost touch with friends, modern technology offers lots of pain-free ways to get back in touch. Send them a message through Facebook or Twitter. Text them. Heck, you could even give them a call. Whatever you do, don't end up regretting a lost friendship because you were too lazy to pick up the phone or turn on the PC.
Regret: not exercising enough
It's simple to get the exercise habit when you're young. It's much more difficult when you're a wheezy, unfit 35-year-old man. Many middle-aged men regret not keeping up team sports or taking up running when doing so was easy.
So join a gym, pound the pavements, or join the office sports team. Make sure exercise becomes a habit and not a fad by choosing something you enjoy.
The best motivation might be knowing just what getting the exercise habit now will help you avoid in future. Exercise can reduce the risk of stroke by 27%, diabetes by 50%, high blood pressure by 40%, colon cancer by 60% and Alzheimer's disease by 40%, to name just a few.
Regret: not spending enough time with children
This might not be an issue for you now, but it may well be a few years down the line. The problem is, many of us start families at exactly the time our careers are in overdrive. And because we have extra mouths to feed, it's easy to prioritise work over family.
It's a tricky balancing act, but nobody ever reached old age wishing they'd spent less time with their young family. According to John DeFrain, a family life researcher from the University of Nebraska in the US, "families benefit from shared time because it eases loneliness and isolation, nurtures relationships and creates a family identity."
If you don't spend plenty of time with the kids, all those negatives increase, for you and them. Experts suggest nurturing quality time by making sure the family eats a meal together once a day, limiting TV time and playing instead, and remembering to celebrate birthdays, Christmas and other important dates together.
For now, remember that if your career seems like the most important thing in the world, it won't or shouldn't when a child comes along.
Regret: spending too long in the same job
Too many of us get into our mid-30s still in a job that doesn't challenge us, hold our interest or reward us in the way we'd like. If you're going to make a career change, best to do it when you're young and footloose. Leave it too late and the opportunity may be gone forever.
But how do you know you when it's time to change your working life? Career experts say you need to research your dream career. Ask people who already do it what it's really like, and investigate what qualifications and experience you might need to get started.
If you're still keen, make a plan. According to Catherine Roan, the managing director of Careershifters.org, you should list the pros and cons of a new career in detail, and then take small steps to make it happen, like doing a relevant course or volunteering in a relevant role. And don't be impatient. Roan reckons the average career change takes two or three years.
In the meantime, you could always, "consider being freelance, having a portfolio [multiple] career, or going part time," she says. If changing career sounds a bit daunting, remember how much more daunting spending the next 30 years in a job you hate seems.
So whether it's work, romance or health, act now to avoid regrets later. Perhaps the key thing to remember is that you always have options. Exercise them wisely and you'll have nothing to feel bitter about in 20 years' time.
Share on Facebook: Share