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Has Regret Taken Over Your Life?
7 pieces of advice for taming those negative voices and getting on with your life
During my brief stint as an NLP therapist, I encountered all sorts of requests for change. For example, many folks had the desire to stop smoking, or lose weight.
The most frequently mentioned problem?
How to move on with life after a divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one.
In most cases, my clients weren’t talking about the event itself, but how they felt about it — even years later. It’s called regret, and it’s a serious demotivator, keeping you from feeling and being your best.
The Symptoms of Regret
Regret can be identified by experiencing bad feelings about something you did or didn’t do. And while we all have those kinds of feelings, most of us find the courage to put it behind us and move on with our lives.
But how do we handle those feelings when there’s a lingering sense of guilt or remorse that continues to influence our daily lives?
The good news is just about anything short of your own death, is usually something that can be resolved and put into perspective.
One of the common misconceptions of those who suffer from regret overload is they believe they’ve been subjected to more than their fair share of suffering, and they’ve had to endure hardship that’s beyond what most people have been forced to experience. As a result, they believe they’re entitled to display their burdened life to anyone who cares to take a look.
What they don’t understand is the person they’re hurting most is themselves.
So how do you move on — leave the regrets behind and create a better life?
There’s no right answer for everyone, but I found the following steps extremely helpful in beginning a transition away from regret and toward living a full, satisfying life:
1. Realize that some regrets are justified - If the mistake was yours, take responsibility for it. If that means offering an apology, do it. If it means offering to make financial restitution, do it. And if it simply means promising to be more patient, forgiving, appreciative, then do it without limitations or conditions.
The regret you feel is simply your conscious mind telling you it’s time to repair the damage. While it’s true the restraints of time and circumstances may not allow you to repair the actual damage — and others may never forgive you — you must arrive at a point in your life where you can forgive yourself.
2. Recognize and appreciate others who have suffered more - If you look, you’ll easily find someone who has endured more hardship, been treated more unfairly, or been subjected to more wrongdoings than you. Yet, eventually, they emerged from their trials ready to live a rich and rewarding life.
We often read about people we think would be fun and exciting to trade places with — to have the money, fame, and power of the rich and famous. But for a change, try reading about someone who makes you thankful for the life you’ve lived.
3. Determine the source of your regret - What is the outcome of what you did or didn’t do? Is it really that serious? Were others affected by it, and if so, how do they feel about the situation? Have they moved on or do they still hold you to blame?
If so, what can you do to restore the relationship? You’ll be surprised how far a small gesture can go in repairing the damage of past events.
4. Let your regrets serve as lessons - Rather than letting regret weigh you down and prevent you from getting on with your life, learn from what happened and resolve never to repeat the same mistake.
Just knowing you’ve committed to not allowing yourself to experience the same situation again can be the very key to releasing the guilt and remorse.
5. Give yourself credit for doing the best you could—at the time - Sometimes we make poor decisions. We all do. But at the time, based on the information we had and the pressure of the situation and circumstances, we made the best decision we could.
Granted, if we’d had more time to consider the alternatives, we might have come to a different or better decision. But that’s life.
Beating yourself up over having done the best you could do at the time accomplishes nothing. In fact, it’s twice as punishing. You paid then, and you’re still paying now.
6. Recognize that your regret hurts others, too - The others in your life—your spouse, kids, parents, friends — deserve the real you, without the influence of negative events that should have been left in the past. Don’t cheat them out of the happiness you can both share when you bring yourself fully and emotionally intact to the important relationships in your life.
7. Admit it, get over it and get on with it - It’s your life, and it’s playing out right now, with no rehearsals or timeouts.
Don’t waste it fretting over events and circumstances from the past. Even the difficult times are an adventure. Do your best with the talents and resources you have by living one day at a time.
If you’re wrestling with negative feelings over something you did, or you’re depressed because you didn’t act when you should have, it’s time to eliminate that emotional baggage. And sometimes, that means simply letting it go.
The middle ground is a special kind of hell reserved for well-intentioned failures who continue punishing themselves with the lingering memory of regret.
The good news? You always have a choice. You can take steps to repair the damage, or accept the fact that it can’t be changed — and move on. But dwelling on it — trying to imagine what might have been — is a devastating waste of time.
Don’t be foolish with your most valuable asset: Your life.
Thanks for reading,
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.