Everyone experiences regret from time to time.
We make bad decisions, don’t live up to who we think we are, don’t do the things that we know we are supposed to do, or experience loss without resolution.
The result is regret – a normal and healthy emotion that causes us to reflect on our behavior and provides us a means to grow.
Regret can, however, be an unhealthy thing when we don’t have a healthy way to process it.
Instead of processing it and eventually letting it go, we can get trapped in a cycle of ruminating on our regrets instead of healing and growing from them.
How can we live with our regrets and turn them into a positive tool for healing? Here are 7 steps to take.
1. Take responsibility for whatever role you played.
Regret lives in the past.
There’s nothing you can do to change what is already done.
All you can do is try to repair whatever damage was done and work to not make the same mistake in the future.
Doesn’t sound very empowering, does it?
Sounds almost small with the scale and weight that comes with regret.
But don’t let that perception fool you.
Though it sounds small, it is one of the biggest things that you can possibly do, because it requires a degree of self-awareness and acceptance of one’s flaws.
After you’ve accepted responsibility for your role, if you have one, then you can start looking forward.
Moving past regrets requires shifting one’s focus to what’s ahead.
You have today to make better decisions, take right actions, and work to prevent the mistakes of the past.
Choosing to put your focus and energy into today means a better and brighter tomorrow for you.
2. Acknowledge that hindsight is 20/20.
An easy way to slip into the cycle of dwelling on regrets is to focus on what you would have, should have, could have done.
There are plenty of things that you would have, should have, could have done – but did you have the necessary information to make a different decision at the time?
Did you act in good faith with the information that you had to the best of your ability?
Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t.
And if you didn’t, that’s okay too, because you’re a human being.
No one is perfect.
What’s more, no one can predict how our choices will go. The best laid plans can be dashed to pieces by random events or the other people involved.
You can look back on any situation and know what you should have done, but could you have known when you were presently experiencing it?
What decision would you have made at the time, only knowing what you had known at that time?
In many cases, you’ll find you would have made the same choice because it was the best choice you thought you had.
3. Consider what was and was not your responsibility.
Regret is not always a solo thing.
Sure, you may have made some mistakes entirely of your own volition.
What also happens is that our relationships involving other people may not turn out to be the most positive or cleanest of situations.
Is what you regret your sole responsibility?
What role did other people play in the actions surrounding that regret?
Yes, you can regret a negative relationship you had with a person who wasn’t kind or good to you, but at least part of that responsibility is on their shoulders.
They could have chosen better actions, to strive to be better or not cause whatever harm they did.
Consider whether or not you are carrying the emotional load that belongs to someone else. If it’s not yours, then it’s time to set it down.
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4. Embrace failure and celebrate effort.
Anyone that tries anything is going to inevitably fail at it, sooner or later.
That’s just the way it is.
So why do we spend so much time and energy lamenting over that fact?
You can’t accomplish anything without some risk. And if you’re willing to take some risk, you’re already ahead of the person who never got off the couch or out of the dreams bouncing around in their mind.
You went out, you tried, and you failed.
Failure is really only a failure if you don’t learn from it.
Failing at something today paves the way for the success of tomorrow. You learn what doesn’t work, what you can do better, what elements make you who you are.
A relationship can flounder, a business can go under, we may not make enough time for our loved ones, we may not give enough time to ourselves…
…all of these things, while regrettable, provide greater insight into what we need to be successful on our next venture.
“Why?” is the question that needs to be asked.
Why did the relationship fail? Why did the business go under? Why did I not make enough time for my loved ones? Why am I not giving myself enough time for myself?
Start answering these questions and you can pave the way to your future success with the wisdom you’ve gained from past failures and regrets.
5. Focus on any positive outcomes that came from those regrettable moments.
Actions lead to reactions.
Sometimes the reactions that we experience can be far flung in the future or abstract.
Sometimes a regrettable action can put us directly on the path of a right action, allowing us to achieve a goal we were looking for or finding something we didn’t necessarily know that we wanted.
Did the situations that caused you regret lead to anything more positive down the road?
That may be something tangible, like finding a different job or meeting a great person. It can also be intangible, like becoming the catalyst for your own self-reflection and self-improvement.
Regrettable actions can lead us to positive growth and outcomes.
6. Let your brain go through its processes of coping with regret.
Rumination is the act of dwelling on negative emotions and continuously revisiting them in your mind.
On the other hand, avoidance is not dealing with the problem altogether.
The interesting thing about the human brain is that it is wired to process and let go of regret, if we give it the freedom to do what it needs to do.
That means feeling our emotions when it’s appropriate and giving ourselves the freedom to be sad, angry, and feel our regret.
Far too many people want to avoid any negativity at all.
As soon as it pops up, it’s a race to shove it out of mind or drown it in unhealthy coping mechanisms that do not give our brain the proper opportunity to deal with the negative feelings.
Mourning is a natural and healthy response to grief and regret.
Yes, it is bad to ruminate, to constantly come back to those negative emotions and sit within them.
In times like those, we need to break the cycle ourselves by not letting ourselves spend an excessive amount of time on them.
You can stop looping thoughts when they get out of hand by turning your attention to positive or funny things, like watching a movie you love.
7. Forgive yourself.
Everyone wants to be happy, and everyone has made decisions they regret.
Everyone you love, every person you walk past in your day to day life, your coworkers, your peers… everyone.
That emotional weight is an incredible burden to carry around with you as you move through your life.
Forgive yourself for being the flawed person that you are.
Allow yourself to be kinder and more understanding to yourself.
Do the best you can with your today and tomorrow, because that’s all you can do.
And it’s okay if things don’t work out. These are the stories that illuminate the human experience.