The longer you’re around, the greater the chance you’ll experience regret. For one person, it could be never having finished college, and for another, accumulating too many student loans. It could be never having pursued that dream to dance on Broadway or not having told a loved one how much they meant to you. Regrettably, it may not be possible to avoid regret, but it is possible to liberate yourself from its heavy chains and walk the earth freer and wiser than before.
Those who are experiencing regret on a daily basis can take comfort in knowing that this is a common human condition (and emotion!) that can be dealt with constructively. It just takes a willingness to be honest and to practice reflection. By reflecting on the sources and causes of regret, we can, at the very least, strip it of its negative power and even transform it into something positive that will help us live a better life.
So don’t shy away from your feelings of regret, embrace them! Here’s how:
Writing down thoughts in a private journal is a safe and therapeutic way to explore the causes of regret. Although it sounds negative, reflecting on mistakes and accepting responsibility for them can actually be a step in the right direction. Only by acknowledging our errors and adjusting our priorities will we be able to move forward and make better decisions.
In every regret, there is a lesson, and it’s our job as seekers to learn it. Ask yourself why you want to get over this regret. Is it negatively affecting your relationships, keeping you from achieving your goals, sapping your energy, disrupting your family life? Knowing why you want to rid yourself of a regret can be a motivating force. You might say to yourself, “I want to get over this regret so that I can spend more time having fun with my friends and less time feeling guilty.”
Remember, while past mistakes can’t be altered, we can change our behavior in the present. If you regret not telling a loved one what they meant to you, start by changing that behavior today. Tell those you love how much you value them. Most of all, forgive yourself of the past and move into the now.
Sometimes the source of our regret is rooted in the expectations we have of ourselves, as well as the expectations others have of us. While it’s good to set your sights high, it’s also important to be realistic – by doing so, you might be able to avoid finding yourself in a regrettable situation. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Before tackling a major regret, start with a little one. Perhaps you regret never following through on lunch plans with a potential friend. Think about the circumstances (you were swamped that week). Consider whether or not it has any residual impact on the present (since then you’ve seen that person many times and the friendship has blossomed). Many small regrets that weigh us down from day to day are pointless – just extra baggage that gets in the way of our development. It’s time to let it all go. Use this newfound perspective to help tackle some of the bigger regrets in your life.
To never have a regret is to never live. Ironically, if we embrace our regrets, work with and learn from them, one day we’ll be able to say with all confidence, “I have no regrets.”
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