When you think of regret, what immediately springs to mind – and why?
This article will offer you some tips on moving past whatever it is you’re thinking about, as well as how to make better decisions in the future to live as free from regret as possible.
While it is normal to have some regrets, we cannot allow them to have so much power over us.
So use this article as a guide for self-reflection, and be honest with yourself about how you really feel.
While we cannot fully eliminate some regrets, we can find ways to live with them, healthily and happily.
What is regret?
We hear the word thrown around a lot, often over trivial things, but there’s a lot more to regret than it might seem.
Regret is often a combination of feelings. Something might leave us feeling upset and empty, angry or frustrated, or disappointed and resentful.
Regret is about wishing we had done something differently, and a lot of us will experience it in our friendships, jobs, and relationships at some point.
It might be wishing you hadn’t said something horrible to your partner that then caused a huge fight, or it might be resenting the fact that you quit your job because you now can’t find a new one.
Whatever you’re regretting, there are ways to move past that feeling and lighten the load.
Regret comes in two forms.
There are two main types of regret – regretting things we have done, and regretting things we haven’t done.
The first type might be things like regretting starting an argument, regretting going to a particular restaurant after you got food poisoning, or regretting getting too drunk at the Christmas party.
These things are quite painful to relive, as you can often remember everything that was said and done, and it feels horrible having that memory swirl around your mind.
The other type of regret refers to things we didn’t do or say – like not going to say goodbye to a loved one in hospital, not trying one last time to fix your relationship, or even something like not booking a plane ticket before they sold out!
There’s a huge range of things that never happened that we can feel regretful of. This feeling is also dreadful, as it often relates to lost hope, abandoned dreams, and love that never quite figured itself out.
How can you move on from past regrets?
Moving on from the feeling of regret is not something that happens overnight. It can take time to let go of something, and everyone will need to move at their own pace depending on what they’re experiencing.
Some of us may live with regret for the rest of our lives, but there are ways to lessen this feeling, and move on from the other regrets that are easier to let go of.
1. Be realistic about the ‘damage.’
You might be the kind of person who worries a lot about other people’s feelings. While compassion is a great trait to have, it can make you feel overly-responsible for how other people feel, and it can cause you to blow things slightly out of proportion at times.
Think about something you are regretting now – start with something small. Maybe you regret the comment you made to a friend the other day.
Your mind has hyped it up so much and you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve really upset them, and that they will now hate you and never talk to you again.
Where is the evidence for this? Have you spent sleepless nights going over and over the conversation, convincing yourself that they looked devastated, maybe creating a false memory of them crying due to the guilt you feel?
If that all sounds quite familiar, you are likely to be living with quite a lot of small regrets! It’s so tiring, and pointless – but there is a way you can let these go.
Be realistic about the impact of the thing you regret. Yes, you might have upset them, but it’s probably not ruined the friendship – a quick apology will most likely fix it.
Rather than getting worked up over the things you regret, take a moment to think about how ‘bad’ they actually are, who is actually likely to be that bothered, and whether or not it’ll all have blown over in a couple of days.
This doesn’t just apply to regret involving other people. The same principle can be applied to decisions you’ve made or things you’ve done that have impacted your life or well-being.
Look closely at the outcome that you are now experiencing and be honest about how bad it truly is. Perhaps the result of your action or inaction is financial hardship or a health problem or simply buyer’s remorse.
Are these things so bad that you can’t recover from them? Right now it may seem like you’ve caused yourself an insurmountable problem, but is that really the case?
Is there help you can seek or advice you can take that will provide a solution to the problem? Are there actions you can take to remedy or at least improve the situation?
Try not to blow things out of proportion. Things may seem dire, but they are probably not as bad as you think.
2. Let yourself be at peace.
Remember that you made the decisions you made at the time for a reason, whatever that reason was.
It can be painful, but by revisiting the mindset you were in at the time, you can start to find ways to let go of these regrets and move forwards – without resentment or sadness.
You might have acted out of fear, which is human! It is unfair to beat yourself up over a decision you made when you were scared, or felt like you had no other choice. This is normal, and we have all been in this situation before.
As your older, wiser self looking back, use your experience and compassion to forgive your younger self for the choices they made. They didn’t know everything that you know now, and they might not have had the right people to talk to about it.
You might have made the decision based on how someone else felt. It is natural to feel some resentment about this, especially if the other person didn’t appreciate what you did for them, but it is unhealthy to hold onto this.
You need to find a way to let it go and move forwards, otherwise you are living with those feelings every single day for no reason.
What is done is done, and you need to either confront the person who caused you to make a decision you regretted, or move forwards.
3. Appreciate the alternative outcomes.
Part of regretting things that never happened is the wonder of what might have been.
If you’d tried to get back together with an ex, would it have worked? What would your life have looked like? If you hadn’t quit your job, would you have been promoted by now?
These questions bring up feelings of lost hope, and can make us mourn a life we never got to live.
While these emotions can be very intense, one of the ways to move on from them is to focus on what did happen.
You might not have rekindled a romance with your ex, but you might have met someone new – or you might have discovered how much you love being single.
Maybe things would have been different if you hadn’t quit your job, but you left for a reason and you’re so much happier now!
By focusing on the unexpected outcomes that you did get, rather than the things you didn’t get, you can start to move forwards from a place of gratitude and acceptance.
Try to remember that life rarely looks exactly how we thought it would – and that’s okay! Embrace the outcomes of your decisions and keep going.
4. Make amends where necessary.
Some of us have made choices that have negatively impacted those around us, and we might carry that feeling with us all the time.
It is exhausting to feel guilty about something we said or did, and regret can lead to other feelings, such as shame, low self-esteem, and worthlessness.
Whatever you did, you can try to fix – or at least better the situation – by making amends.
That means owning up to the mistakes you made and finding a way to right your wrongs.
That might be apologizing to your sister for the argument you had a year ago that led to you both not talking anymore.
Yes, the apology will be hard and you may need to let go of your pride to do it, but that difficult phase will be so worth it for the possibility of a) re-establishing your relationship and b) no longer feeling so much regret over the incident.
While you are not guaranteed a happy outcome (such as a rekindled romance from a partner who accepted your apology, for example), you will be safe in the knowledge that you have done your bit.
Once you have exhausted your options and said you’re sorry and tried to make things right, the ball is no longer in your court. There is nothing else you can do but wait for the other person to decide how they feel.
While it can be hard to wait for someone else to make their decision, you can at least let yourself relax, knowing that you have done everything you can.
That feeling of relief, of airing a wound and doing all you can to heal it, can truly ease the pain of regret and guilt. Now all you can do is wait.
5. Remove the blame.
Who is holding you accountable for the actions you regret? Who else has been affected by them?
As we mentioned above, if there is someone specific involved, you can try to make amends with them.
But if you are the person who is blaming you, you need to find a way to remove the blame and set yourself free.
That means making peace with your past decisions, and accepting that you are the only person truly affected by them.
You might regret not seeing a loved one while you still had the chance. Who is making you regret it? Think about it – your loved one would know how you felt, and would know that, if you could be there, you would have been.
They would know that you weren’t there because you physically couldn’t get there, or because it was too hard to see them in that way. They will not be holding onto that resentment – so why are you?
There is no need to blame yourself for every single decision you make – especially ones that are incredibly hard and emotional!
How can you avoid future regrets?
Now that we’ve looked at ways to let go of the regrets you already have, how can you move forwards to live a life without new regrets?
1. Get better at making decisions – especially big ones.
In order to avoid that feeling of regret, try to make more informed decisions. That means not rushing into things, and letting yourself be a bit more selfish where you need to.
Snap decisions can often be ones we regret, as we act based on our feelings, not our thoughts or logic.
Taking someone else into account too much can also affect our judgment, and cause us to make life choices we might then regret.
To avoid that horrible feeling, take your time and focus on what you really want, and what will work for you both now and in the long run.
By becoming more confident in our decisions, we are also less likely to then regret them later down the line.
Those of us who are indecisive or anxious often find ourselves wondering if we made the right choice, or if we will regret a decision in the future. That’s normally because we’re not confident enough in ourselves to stand by what we think.
Try to practice this by making small decisions for yourself throughout the day. Choose what you want to drink instead of letting your partner just pour you whatever they’re having; actively choose what outfit to wear instead of getting dressed on auto-pilot.
Spend a week making your own decisions without texting a bunch of friends for advice, and you’ll start to feel a lot more confident in your ability to do things that are right for you.
Have conviction in your choices, and you are less likely to question them later down the line.
2. See the positives and the lessons that come from your disappointments.
Disappointment is the precursor to regret. When we focus our minds on something that disappoints us for long enough, we harden it and turn it into a regret.
Which is why addressing your disappointment straight away can help you to live free from regret.
One way of doing this is to identify the lesson you have learned as soon as you can and to take this as a positive that you can more forward with.
Think of the lesson as a tool that you can use to make better decisions in the future. Each disappointment can help you avoid future disappointments if you let it, and that is something to be grateful for.
3. Remedy the situation sooner rather than later.
We’ve spoken about making amends earlier in the article, but taking action as soon as possible is key in preventing something from turning from a short-term pain into a long-term regret.
You can avoid weeks, months, and years of hurt by finding a way to improve the situation you find yourself in as soon as it happens.
In fact, it’s often easier to make things right straight away.
If you spoke poorly to someone, a genuine apology now is going to do more for the relationship than that same apology in a month’s time.
If you purchased something and you now wish you hadn’t, could you return it and get a refund? This might only be an option for a short time, so act with haste if this is the case.
Did you miss your best friend’s birthday to go to a concert and are now feeling guilty for it? Arrange to see them as soon as possible and turn it into your own special occasion.
The longer your leave things, the harder it becomes to make them right, and so regrets are more likely to form.
4. Take appropriate and well-considered risks.
The regrets we have about not doing something are often those we hold onto for the longest. So, to avoid these kinds of regrets, we must take action.
And this action will often involve an element of risk if it really means that much to you, emotionally speaking.
That risk could be financial if you choose to start your own business. It could be emotional if you express your love for someone and face the chance of rejection. It could be risking discomfort by travelling solo despite being shy and having to interact with people without the comfort of someone you know being by your side.
To avoid those ‘What if?’ moments in future, be prepared to actually answer that question by taking the action.
Of course, the key here is to really consider the risks carefully before taking them and ensuring your safety at all times.
But do not over-analyze the potential risks and downsides too long or they will prevent you from doing the thing.
5. Consider how much influence you really had over the situation.
Some regrets involve something entirely of our own making, but others we have far less control over.
Perhaps you moved jobs only to find that the new company was not in as healthy a position as you thought and you got made redundant 6 months later. Could you really have known the ins and outs of the company’s financials? Could you have predicted the economic shock that led to the company’s ultimate failure?
Maybe you bought a house, carried out all the due diligence to check there were no nasty surprises hidden away somewhere, but still something happened to cause damage and disruption – a storm, subsidence, a rash driver crashing into your front room!
Sure, you may be very upset or annoyed that you lost your job or that your house got damaged, but could you have prevented either of these things from happening?
If not, can you really regret taking the job or buying the house? You were acting with good faith and there was no warning that these bad things were going to happen.
So don’t take responsibility or feel regret for something that you had no or little control over.
Look at the situation rationally and decide if you really could have acted differently to avoid the pain you now feel. Chances are, you couldn’t have done anything.
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