Regrets? I’ve certainly had my fair share and even though I know looking back into the past at things I wish I hadn’t done or said isn’t healthy, it doesn’t stop me from doing it. I can’t magically change the outcome, no matter how much I might want to, so instead I find myself dwelling in that negative space and focusing on the things that can never be fixed.
Giving any amount of attention to regret is a time-suck of epic proportions.
When we look at things with regret, we tend not to look at ourselves and our actions with newfound compassion; but instead, we feel that mix of sadness, anger, frustration, and helplessness all over and over again.
I tend to regret the things that I didn’t do over the actions that I did. I can easily pull up the litany of regrets I have such as: Not doing sports in high school, not speaking up sooner when there were problems in a relationship, or not fully researching other options before I sold my house.
I’m not alone in my regrets—everybody has them to varying degrees, but not everybody gives regret the same amount of emotional real estate that people like me do.
Everyone has their own idea of what regret means to them. Rachel Dash-Dougherty, The Grounded Therapist, says that regrets are choices we can’t let go of and she encourages her clients to accept the choices they made in the past since time-traveling isn’t a viable option and we can’t undo our decisions.
That’s the thing about regrets, they stay exactly the same, never changing, cemented in the past. The best thing you can do is to let them go, but that’s not always so easy. Holding on to regrets but not processing them doesn’t work either. Avoidance doesn’t make those feelings go away, it allows them to fester and to cause more damage to you later.
When you let go of regret, you forgive yourself and you’re able to move on. No longer are you stuck going over your mistake repeatedly until it becomes as fresh as if it just happened. You give yourself the gift of freedom when you release regret and its chokehold over you. You feel lighter and as if you can see things clearer and with a better perspective.
Instead of focusing on regret and remaining in the past, Dash-Dougherty says, “You can choose to ride your emotions like a wave, the start powerful and intense but roll gently to the beach and recede.”
You can handle your regret like any other emotion and so that instead of it controlling you, you control it and how it makes you feel.
Here Are 10 Tips on How to Let Go of Regret
Look at the why
Sometimes the reasons we feel regret aren’t obvious, so take the time to think about why you’re having a difficult time letting go of this incident. Did you do something that you generally try not to do? For example, you may be someone who puts a lot of value on the truth, and if you told a lie and got terrible results, it might make the whole incident more painful. You not only betrayed your own values, but you still failed—it’s a double-whammy. Once you discover the why of your regret, you’ll be better able to come to terms with it and let it go.
Understand that regret is a strong emotion
Regret isn’t a feeling that’s easy to brush off. In fact, it can be full of self-reproach, anguish, disappointment, and misgivings to name just a few of the complicated emotions that fall under the regret-umbrella. You can’t just tell yourself to snap out of it; if you could, you would have done so by now. No, you’ve got to process those feelings the same way you would any other powerful emotion and that can be a painful and difficult process.
It’s not hard to give a concept such as acceptance lip-service, but it’s more challenging to put it in practice. Not one of us is perfect, nor do we always do things well. If you can get to a point where you accept not only all your wonderful qualities but your abhorrent, stanky ones as well, you’ll be able to focus on something other than your deep regret. You sucked, you failed, you made a huge error in judgment, but it happens. Your failures, missteps, and mistakes are just as much a part of you as the color of your eyes and your brilliance at social media, so embrace them all.
Remind yourself of all the things you do right
There are times when we need a reminder about how many things we get right every day and all the times when we have exceeded expectations. I don’t know about you, but I don’t praise myself nearly enough. So, give yourself a compliment even if it feels strange or braggy. You have to be your #1 supporter and make building your self-esteem a life-long project. Think of your entire day and all the awesome things you did.
Show yourself some kindness
While we’re on the subject of being incredible, how about you take some of those good feelings and show yourself some care and kindness. The truth is that we don’t just need nourishment for our bodies, we need it for our souls. What are some activities that make you feel good and that help give you the ingredients you need to live a happy and satisfying life? They can be simple things such as spending time with your partner or having an expensive spa treatment—whatever sparks some joy, then make some time for it. You’ve earned it.
View it as a life lesson
“We all have regrets at various times for various things,” says Dr. Gayle Carson. “People who live there [in a state of regret] are the ones who go nowhere, live in the past, often get depressed, and don’t move on. People who don’t, use regret as a life lesson.
No matter how big or how small, there’s a lesson somewhere in that regret. What can you learn from it, and how will that knowledge will change how you do things in the future? We know that repeating the same actions over and over again will not change the result. So instead, implement a plan to incorporate what you learned into your future actions and mix things up a bit.
Let it motivate you
Some people look at their regrets as failures, but failure doesn’t always have to mean game over, it could mean that you weren’t ready to act before or that you didn’t have all the resources that you needed. Now, you do, so instead of wishing you could have a do-over, go ahead and do it again, only this time you can use the experience to prove to yourself that you aren’t someone who gives up, defeated. You may fail, but you didn’t let your mistake crush you which is huge.
Talk to someone
One of the best ways that we can help ourselves with a problem is to talk about it with another person, whether it’s a friend or a healthcare professional. They can help you to see your regret from a different perspective. Erin Brandel Dykhuizen MA, MSW, LICSW believes the best way to get over regret is to work with an uninvolved party, like a psychotherapist. “We often tell ourselves things about a situation that aren’t true, and a therapist can help you change the story you tell yourself about the thing you regret.”
You don’t have to follow any established ceremony but do something that helps you to have a clear vision of letting go of that regret. It could be writing your regret down on a piece of paper and tearing it up into tiny pieces, or picturing the regret as a thing and putting it in a boat and wishing it well on its travels away from you. Anything that helps you put a distance between yourself and your regret so that it no longer feels as if it’s at your fingertips ready to be evoked.
Practice some self-care
You never need a reason to practice self-care since taking care of yourself is a must when it comes to being healthy. It’s much better to turn to self-care when you’re upset about something, especially something that happened in the past that you may feel powerless over, then to do something self-destructive such as self-medicating or any other kind of self-destructive behavior. Nurturing and taking care of yourself are empowering and put you in charge of your well-being.
Your struggle with regrets may not be logical, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t real and don’t need to be processed. Even if your heart and head don’t agree regarding your feelings of regret, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore them. Regret is a difficult and complicated emotion and one that can last for a long time. It’s so powerful that it can prevent you from moving forward and living your best life.
Don’t let regret derail you from achieving your goals and dreams. Deal with it, let it go, and get on with your life.