Is there anybody in this world who has not regretted a decision they’ve made or a path they’ve taken? I doubt it. Yet, how people respond to their regrets varies considerably.
As you may have guessed, the best way to deal with regrets is to acknowledge what you did wrong or didn’t do well, then learn from the experience. This is best done by treating yourself respectfully and kindly. If, in contrast, you disrespect yourself (what an idiot I am, how cowardly I was, how could I have done what I did), you will learn little as you will be too busy beating yourself up.
We all make mistakes. The best of us learn from them, becoming wiser, stronger and better in the process. Interested in following that route? Here are a few guidelines for you:
1. Reflect on what happened.
Consider the circumstances surrounding your mistake. Were you feeling pressured to do what you did? Were you lacking in important information at the time? Were there stressors that impaired your judgment? Were you feeling vulnerable, without support or love? Were your actions emotionally driven, rather than well thought out?
As you take the time to answer these questions, you’ll realize how complex seemingly simple decisions may be. An example: Julie’s personality had two distinct sides: she was a rebel and a pleaser. The pleaser part won out when she married the first guy her parents approved of. It wasn’t until 3 years later that she recognized that the ‘right’ guy for her parents was the ‘wrong’ guy for her.
2. Reflect on how you can move past your mistake.
You may not be able to undo your mistake, yet you can still take appropriate action. If someone was hurt by your decision, you can apologize and make amends. If that’s impossible, you can do good in this world to make up for what you did wrong. Good actions often have a ripple effect, expanding beyond the moment.
An example: Mike was drinking that awful night. The crash came so suddenly, he didn’t even remember it. He just remembered waking up in the hospital, aching in every part of his body. But that pain was nothing compared to the pain he felt when he learned that he had killed his best friend. How could he go on? No way could he undo that night. It was. It is. And it will always be.
After Mike got out of the hospital, he had to find out how to live. First, he tearfully asked for forgiveness from his friend’s family. Then, he had to forgive himself. He decided the best way to do so would be to dedicate his life to helping others as a penance for his grievous mistake. Over time, he did good in the world, not as a penance, but because that was the type of person he had become.
3. Use your regrets to grow in a new direction.
If you feel stuck, believing that there’s nothing you can do to change matters, let things be. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a step forward in a different direction. Doesn’t matter how big that step is, just take it.
Since he was a little kid, Rick’s family expected him to go into the family business after high school. And he did. Now 15 years later, he’s earning a nice income but he doesn’t believe it’s been worth it. Rick says, “Many days I wonder what I would have become if I didn’t take the easy way out.” If Rick wants to explore who he could have been if he hadn’t followed in his father’s footsteps, he doesn’t have to quit the business. Instead, he can consider how to use his creativity to take the business in a new direction. Or to blaze a new trail in a different area of life. Or to use his free time to take up creative endeavors, like writing or painting.
Now what about you? If your regrets have taken up residence in your brain, you know it’s time to let them go. Yes, there’s a time to regret. A time to learn from your regrets. And a time to let your regrets go. A time to reflect on the past. And a time to move forward, making better decisions, finding deeper meaning in your life.