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We all have actions or inactions that we regret taking.
Maybe we chose to stay in our hometown instead of traveling to a foreign country or going to college in another state.
Or perhaps we kept putting off asking out that man or woman we’d been crushing on and now they’re getting married to someone else.
It’s possible we missed out on a huge chunk of our kids’ lives because we were busy working and now they’re older and our relationship is distant.
Everyone has something that they feel they missed out on.
Considering all the choices and decisions we face every day, it’s not surprising that sometimes we make the wrong ones and end up missing out on an opportunity or regretting an action. This usually leads us to wallow in regret. And depending on the situation, the sting of regret can be hard to recover from.
According to research, not only do we tend to regret the things we didn’t do (or missed opportunities) more than the things we did do, the regret of those missed opportunities stays with us longer.
It’s harder for us to get over the missed chance of a better outcome from our present reality. Maybe if I had asked out that great guy, we would have discovered we were soulmates and fallen in love.
If only I had ventured to New York to pursue my dream of being on Broadway. I could have taken the theater world by storm and won the admiration of millions of people all over the world.
We get on a cycle of woulda, coulda, shoulda that is difficult to get off of.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you move past the regret of a missed opportunity. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
Why Do We Keep Missing Out On Opportunities?
There are opportunities, big and small, all around us. It would be physically impossible for us to take advantage of every single opportunity that comes our way. A major reason we miss out on some opportunities is simply that we take them for granted and fail to recognize them when they appear.
We assume the opportunity will continue to be available and we’ll always have a chance to take advantage of it. Those types of opportunities—such as spending time with loved ones—we tend to miss once they’re gone.
And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
There are various other reasons why we miss out on opportunities that come our way. Some of those reasons include the following:
We are afraid.
The fear of failure or success keeps us paralyzed in indecision. When an opportunity comes our way, we may recognize it for what it is, but fear how it will change our status quo.
We’re afraid if we take advantage of the opportunity, we’ll fall flat on our faces in failure. Our fragile egos can’t handle that possibility, so we let the opportunity slide through our fingers. We assume it’s better for things to stay the same than to risk it all and end up looking like a fool.
We’re afraid that we’ll be a success and more will be expected of us. People will start demanding more from us and overwhelm us with their expectations. As their expectations rise, so will the pressure on us to do and be better. We’re terrified that everyone will discover that we’re imposters just pretending we know what we’re doing; when in reality, we have no clue.
Or the opportunity is pushing us past what we perceive are the limitations of our skills and/or intelligence. If we take advantage of the opportunity, we’d just be winging it. We may be lucky for a little while, but eventually, someone is going to discover we’re not as smart as we pretend to be and we have no idea what we’re doing.
It’s better to save ourselves all that shame and disgrace by staying put. Fear, time and again, causes us to miss out on new experiences and opportunities, leaving us yearning for unfulfilled goals and aspirations.
Procrastination can be the result of fears that have been left to run amok in our minds. These fears keep us locked in inaction and putting off work until the opportunity disappears. Procrastination can also be the result of bad work habits or an inability to prioritize tasks properly.
Poor work habits cause us to sleep, scroll through social media, or do some other mindless activity when we should be working on our goals or doing something productive.
The inability to properly prioritize tasks will have us checking our emails rather than working on the end-of-month report or doing some low-value task instead of working on a high-value one.
When we procrastinate, we put off taking advantage of opportunities until we completely miss out on them.
We say yes to the unimportant.
Some of us are people pleasers. We feel the need to say “yes” to every request, no matter how inconvenient.
When our colleague asks us for help in the office, we’re quick to assist, even if it means staying late to finish our own work. If a family member asks for a loan we know they will not pay back, we give it to them with little thought to how it will impact our ability to pay our bills at the end of the month.
We say yes to requests that negatively impact our ability to do what is truly important to us. Our saying yes to the unimportant forces us to say no to the important. This inevitably leads to us missing out on important opportunities that our busy schedules simply don’t have room for.
We don’t recognize the opportunity.
Opportunities sometimes come in packages that are hard to recognize. For example, perhaps your boss asks you to do a special assignment that’s outside the scope of your duties.
It will take extra time, energy, and effort. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re ready for a bigger role in the organization, you passive-aggressively delay working on it or reject it completely. “It’s not your job,” you think to yourself.
Your boss gives the project to another colleague, who decides to knock it out of the park. “Suddenly” this colleague starts getting assigned better projects, working with high-profile clients, and hobnobbing with executives.
When promotion time comes along, guess who will be celebrating their new role?
We’re not prepared.
Opportunity only comes to those who are prepared to take advantage of it. But we sometimes don’t have the knowledge, skills, or emotional intelligence to seize the opportunities that come our way.
For example, let’s say our crush is single and ready to mingle. We’ve been interested in them for a while and are hoping for a chance to ask them out. But we don’t have the social skills or confidence needed to ask them out, or we lack the emotional intelligence for a mature relationship. These skill deficits would only ensure that we miss our chance to be with our crush.
Missing out on opportunities is rarely the result of being unlucky. If you were to examine the opportunities that have passed you by, you might realize the reason you missed out is due to one of the reasons above.
Until you’re able to deal with the fundamental reason(s) you miss out on opportunities, you will probably continue to do so.
While there is little to nothing you can do about the opportunities you’ve already missed, you can take steps to heal from the regret of those missed opportunities.
There is no reason for you to let the pain of regret cripple you. Rather, use it to propel you forward.
How To Get Over The Regret Of Missed Opportunities
If only you had accepted your high school sweetheart’s marriage proposal instead of going off to college. You should have taken that job across the country instead of staying in your hometown. Maybe you should have held on to your shares in Apple instead of selling them for a quick buck.
We all have regrets about an opportunity we missed out on. Every so often, depending on when it occurred, our mind goes back to it, wondering what could have happened or where we would be if we had just made a different decision. We may even wish we could go back in time and change things.
Research shows that focusing on our regrets can inhibit us from taking action, ensuring we continue to miss opportunities in the future. It can also negatively affect our mental health.
According to Psychology Today, when regret turns into rumination and self-blame, it can hurt our minds and bodies. In fact, “this pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking is characteristic of depression.”
Regret can even lead to chronic stress and impede our ability to recover from challenging life events.
Regret is not an emotion that we want to let sit and simmer in our minds. Learning coping skills to deal with regret will benefit our overall health and prepare us to take advantage of the next opportunity that comes our way.
Below are some tips you can use to stop letting regret over missed opportunities take over your mind:
It is a good idea to seek professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com as professional therapy can be highly effective in helping you to overcome the regret you feel about an opportunity you spurned.
1. Understand everyone makes mistakes.
On average, people make about 35,000 decisions every day. Over 200 of these decisions revolve around food alone. It’s illogical to expect that you’d get every single decision right. With nearly 1,500 choices to make every hour, you are bound to make a mistake.
Regret over a bad decision or inaction that led to a missed opportunity is part of life. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means you’re human. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Understand that it happens to everyone.
You missed a great chance, accept it. Acknowledge that you feel sad about it. But don’t sit down and get stuck in your feelings about it. There’s no point in wallowing in regret over the missed opportunity, because it won’t change the past.
Move on, as hard as it might be.
2. Stop obsessing over it—reflect and learn from it.
Stop thinking about it. Stop beating yourself up about it. It happened. Yes, letting go is hard, but it’s not impossible.
Now it’s time to reflect on the missed opportunity and learn from it.
When reflecting on a missed opportunity, ask yourself the following questions:
What lesson can I learn from this?
There’s always a lesson to be learned from every mistake or failure we have in life. A missed opportunity is nothing more than a failure to act or a mistaken action that we took.
If you missed out on a chance for a big promotion at work, what lesson could you learn from the experience? Is there a skill that you lack or an area where you need development? How can you improve yourself to ensure when the possibility of a promotion comes up again you are the logical choice?
How could it have been worse?
A reason we find it difficult to get over missed opportunities is that we assume that, if we had taken advantage of the opportunity, our life would have been better. The “what-ifs” that swirl around our mind make us believe the outcome would have been positive. But what if that’s not true?
By asking, “How could it have been worse?” we look at the flip side of the opportunity and try to see how the situation or outcome could have easily been less favorable. This is referred to as downward counterfactual thinking.
For example, you may have missed out on the opportunity to ask out your crush. He/she is now engaged and set to be married. Sadly, that ship has sailed.
But what if you and your crush are completely incompatible? What if your crush is a manipulative and toxic person? Perhaps you want to have children, but your crush hates kids. What if your crush hates dogs but you’ve got two?
Suddenly, your crush getting married to someone else doesn’t seem like such a missed opportunity after all.
Downward counterfactual thinking helps stop our negative thinking by letting us see other possible negative outcomes of the opportunity that we missed.
What are my regrets telling me?
Analyze your regrets. What caused you to act or not act in the way you did? Was it the fear of failure? Fear of rejection? Fear of success?
Were you distracted by trivial things rather than being focused on what’s important?
Do you have low self-esteem? Are you suffering from imposter syndrome, certain you’re going to fail?
Drill down to figure out what caused you to miss out on the opportunity so you can identify the insecurities or fears behind your actions or inactions.
By reflecting on your missed chance, you can draw a positive lesson from the experience. The lessons you learn will put you in a better position to take advantage of the next opportunity that comes along.
3. Have a positive mindset.
One of the adverse effects of missing out on opportunities is that the experience stops us from taking action on future opportunities. We doubt our instincts or our skills and get locked into inaction.
Sometimes, we get so focused on beating ourselves up for missing the opportunity that we strip ourselves of our self-confidence. If the opportunity comes around again, we don’t believe we’re capable of taking advantage of it.
Whenever you think of the missed opportunity, identify any negative thought patterns you have concerning the experience. Then reframe the negative thoughts.
For example, you didn’t miss your child’s first word because you’re a bad mother who neglected her child to go to work. Instead, you’re a mother who made the difficult decision to take the steps to provide your child with financial stability so they can have a better life than you did.
You can also view the missed opportunity as evidence that what you want is possible. For instance, let’s say you missed out on getting hired for your dream job at a company you’ve always admired. At least now you know that your dream job exists and you have a clearer picture of what you need to do to get it.
Have a positive mindset concerning missed opportunities. There’s always something to learn or something positive to gain from the experience.
4. Cut yourself some slack.
A number of us have very high standards for ourselves. We expect a high degree of perfection that is difficult, if not impossible, to attain. When we fail to meet those high standards, we beat ourselves up.
As has already been established, with the number of decisions we make on average each day, we’re bound to make a mistake or let an opportunity slip through our fingertips. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It is impossible to make the right decision every single time. It is unlikely that you won’t regret an action or inaction sometime during your life.
Cut yourself some slack for being human. Show yourself some compassion for being fallible. You may have made the wrong choice now by your action or inaction, but you’ve had some successes in the past. You’ve taken advantage of amazing opportunities that passed your way.
A disappointing loss often causes us to diminish our accomplishments, past and present. For example, just because you didn’t get the promotion, doesn’t mean you didn’t do a fantastic job on the project.
Or you may feel as though you missed out on the opportunity to go to college. But you still managed to build a successful career and take care of your family and responsibilities without higher education.
Celebrate your successes and accomplishments.
Practice self-compassion. Treat yourself the way you would a friend who came to you, filled with regret and feeling disappointed. You would do your best to cheer them up by highlighting all the things they were able to do. You’d remind them of the different ways they succeeded in the past that they’d forgotten about.
Do the same for yourself.
5. Avoid people who remind you of your “losses.”
We often keep friendships past their expiry dates. For sentimental reasons, which have nothing to do with our mental well-being, we maintain relationships that should have ended years ago.
The unfortunate reality is that sometimes we just outgrow people. As we grow up and mature, we change. We become different people with new ideologies and goals.
Forcing a relationship with someone who knew us when we were children or in college is not always the best decision for our mental health.
Who we were in our youth is likely vastly different from who we are now, and in another twenty years, we will have changed even more.
As we grow, our paths in life will diverge and we will go in different directions.
Even familial relationships need to be scrutinized to ensure they support our emotional and mental well-being. With family members though, you may not be able to go no contact outright. But you can reduce the amount of interaction you have with certain relatives.
The challenge with keeping relationships that don’t grow as you do is that they tend to remind you of who you were and what you’ve done. When you’re trying to move forward and be a better person, they remind you of the messes you made or the losses you suffered in the past.
They can’t move on from your joint past and they won’t let you move on either. Avoid these people.
Avoid those who remind you of your checkered past or who you used to be. You’re a different person now. Or at least you’re striving to be.
Their constant reminders will keep missed opportunities front and center in your mind. Instead of focusing on the lessons you learned from the experience, you’ll be thinking about the loss you suffered.
6. Stay open for the next opportunity.
New opportunities are always around the corner. Just give it time.
The trick is to stay open to the opportunities, in whatever form they may come in. Often, we close ourselves off to new opportunities because we are hyper-focused on our lost ones.
For example, perhaps you lost the love of your life by being emotionally unavailable or by taking your partner for granted. Instead of working on yourself and learning how to be a better partner, you focus on the demise of your relationship.
You might try fruitlessly for months to win them back. Or maybe you retreat from the world and nurse your broken heart in solitude. You refuse to move on and close off your heart and mind to the possibility of love from another person.
You might even close yourself off to love that doesn’t look exactly like the relationship that just ended.
Let missed opportunities inspire you. Let missed opportunities motivate you to be more mindful and present so you can recognize when a new one comes along.
Be sure to keep your eyes and mind open for opportunities that come in ways we least expect or that don’t look exactly like what we envisioned.
7. Prepare for the next opportunity.
An opportunity is not going to just fall into your lap. Yes, opportunities will always come around in life. But they only come to those who are prepared.
Most times, it’s your preparation that enables you to be able to recognize the opportunity.
For example, perhaps you’ve always wanted to have your own business and be your own boss. You’ve taken courses on business development and management. Maybe even worked closely with entrepreneurs to learn how they manage and grow their business ventures. Your network is filled with business owners that you interact with regularly and learn from.
Because you’ve put in the time and energy to develop yourself and work toward your business-owning dream, you are more likely to be able to recognize and seize a business opportunity than someone who just wishes to one day start their own business.
The opportunity you missed is gone, and there’s no way to reverse the hands of time. What skills or knowledge did you lack that caused you to miss out on it? Update your knowledge and address your skill gap. Get ready for the next opportunity.
Stop making excuses and take action to make sure you are ready for when an opportunity comes your way. Be prepared to take advantage of the next opportunity.
Don’t let it slip through your hands again.
8. Take calculated risks.
As scary as it seems, we have to take some risks in life. We can’t expect to live life to the fullest while playing it safe all the time. The life of our dreams is outside our comfort zone.
The only way we will be able to step outside of our comfort zone is to embrace and take some risks.
However, taking risks in life doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and make questionable decisions. Don’t just quit your job to start a business with no money or plan as to how you’ll start it. Don’t sign up for a marathon without getting the “all-clear” from your doctor, especially if you haven’t run one before.
If you have a goal you want to achieve, look at the risks involved.
Is there anything you can do to mitigate those risks? What’s the worst that could happen if the risk materializes? What can you do to cushion the blow?
Take calculated risks that push you out of your comfort zone but don’t put you or your livelihood in danger.
9. Look at the big picture.
In the grand scheme of things, how does this missed opportunity really fit in?
Yes, you might have missed the promotion, but how will that ultimately affect your life? Especially since this is not the only promotion you’ll ever be up for.
Yes, your crush found someone else and is now in love. Does that mean you’re doomed to die alone? In a world full of billions of people, you’ll probably find someone else to love and who loves you back.
The sting of the missed opportunity feels overwhelming now. But rather than focusing on what you’ve missed out on, let it fuel your future actions and decisions.
Do you feel as though you missed out on better career opportunities because you didn’t go to college? Make plans and take steps to attend now.
Do you feel you missed out on the chance to travel when you were young? Call up a travel agent and book a trip. You are not too old to go to Paris or Italy.
Look to the future and see how you can make up for the opportunities you lost in the past.
A final word: Let regret fuel you.
Remember the study cited at the beginning of this article that found people tend to regret their inaction more than their action. We regret not taking that job across the country. We regret not traveling. We regret not telling our crush our feelings.
Essentially, we regret playing it safe.
The good thing is that, as long as you are alive, you can still choose to stop playing it safe and be open to opportunities that come along.
You can stop wallowing in regret and choose to move forward to create the life you truly want.
Remember, any time you spend chasing past missed opportunities is time you could have put toward taking advantage of and experiencing the next opportunity. It’s time you spend closed off from a new chance at what you lost.
Don’t let regret continue to take from you. Let it fuel you to do and be better. Let it motivate you to take advantage of the next opportunity.
The next one will come. But the question is, will you be able to recognize it? Will you be able to seize it? Or will you let it slip through your fingers like the last one?
Still not sure how to stop regretting missed opportunities? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
Speak to a therapist rather than a friend or family member. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to look objectively at the chance you passed on and offer tailored advice to help you deal with the regret you feel about it.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.