Regret, the agonizing emotion we feel when we wish we’d done something differently or made a different decision, can haunt us for a very long time. It has the potential to render us helpless and mired in the past, preventing us from making progress in our lives. This isn’t an inevitable outcome, though. Dealing with regret is a formative experience that can aid in self-improvement, personal development, and the development of a more robust character. Here, we’ll look at several proven methods for overcoming remorse and moving forward with a happier, more satisfying existence.
Regret: What Is It?
Regret is an unpleasant feeling based on the conviction that a previous event may have been altered to yield a more acceptable result.
It’s a form of “counterfactual thinking,” in which you consider alternative outcomes to your life’s events. In other instances, it may imply dwelling on feelings of disappointment or regret for having missed out on a potential calamity.
By definition, regret is a dreadful emotion because it suggests that there is anything you could have done, chosen, or taken that would have resulted in a better outcome or prevented a bad one.
Why Do People Feel Regret?
Any time you have to decide between two options, you run the risk of being unhappy with your final pick. Have you made the best choice possible? Would a different outcome have been possible? Do you wish you had made a different decision now?
These second thoughts might range from the inconsequential (should I have had the soup or the sandwich for lunch?) to the profound (should I have chosen this career or this spouse?).
But why do some choices bring about remorse while others don’t? Researchers have shown that opportunities play a significant effect.
You are less likely to experience remorse if the decision was made for you or is heavily affected by factors outside of your control. This is because your brain uses mechanisms like cognitive dissonance and rationalization to help you subconsciously absolve yourself of the blame for the situation.
Knowing you can’t return an item makes you more confident in your purchase decision. Researchers have shown that many of the regrets we experience in our daily lives are either forgotten or distorted by us without our conscious awareness.
You are more prone to second-guess your decision when you have more options to change it, such as when you may return an item and select a different one. The opportunity principle, as it is known in the academic community, states that more choices result in greater regrets.
Two ways to feel stuck
Basically, there are two ways to feel regret: One is the “action path,” as researchers refer to it, and the other is the “inaction path.” In other words, we may regret the actions we took or the inactions we engaged in.
According to research, even though they are upsetting, action-related regrets help people get past their mistakes and learn from them. Regret over the route of inaction, however, is more difficult to address. This form of regret is more likely to result in anxiety, depression, a sense of “stuckness,” and a longing for what may have been.
Avoiding, denying, or attempting to squelch regret doesn’t work, just like with other undesirable emotions. These strategies just make your bad sentiments worse in the long term and lengthen the time you have to deal with them.
How Dangerous Is It to Feel Regret?
A new, deeper, and often lethal sort of regret is born from a life unlived. Regret is more than just a feeling; it’s also an understanding of the path not followed. This can lead to an unhealthy spiral of self-blame, remorse, and disillusionment. It’s easy to become stuck thinking about the choices you made in the past rather than the opportunities that lie ahead of you.
To what exactly does it come down? Toxic remorse stems from a disconnect between your actions and the things that would bring you the most satisfaction. When you see the misalignment and realize your decisions aren’t aligned with your genuine self, toxic regret takes over. When you start thinking negative ideas like “I’m worthless,” “I made all the wrong choices,” “this ruins everything,” and “my life is over now,” you start a hazardous looping pattern that traps you in negativity.
Effective Ways for Dealing with Regret
1. Learn to Accept Yourself
It’s crucial to recognize and embrace your emotions. When you can embrace yourself and your emotions, you may see that your worth isn’t based on your past mistakes or setbacks.
Just because you’ve learned to accept yourself and your emotions doesn’t mean you don’t want to improve or make alterations. Simply put, it indicates an awareness of one’s own capacity for development and growth.
2. Don’t Waste Time Regretting the Past
Do what you can to gain insight from a choice you made in the past that turned out poorly. You can’t improve your decision-making skills for the present and the future if you keep beating yourself up over the past. Thinking about your mistakes over and again can only bring you down. Take this chance to educate and motivate yourself to make different and more positive decisions in the future.
3. Forgive Yourself
Finding methods to forgive yourself might help alleviate some of the bad feelings connected with regret, as regret often includes elements of guilt and self-recrimination. Choosing to forgive oneself means letting go of negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and resentment.
Forgiveness involves accepting your shortcomings, but it also requires self-compassion. Instead of being hard on yourself, try showing yourself the same compassion and understanding you’d give to a close friend or family member.
You can achieve this by acknowledging your role in the events that transpired, apologizing for your mistakes, and taking corrective measures. Although you can’t undo the mistakes you’ve already made, you can start fresh by making plans for improvement.
4. Don’t romanticize your other options
The optimist believes that the opposite side has better conditions. Even though this saying has become a cliche, there is some truth behind it. The “other road” we didn’t take is always the one we imagine to be ideal and problem-free. It’s dangerous to wax nostalgic over missed opportunities; it’s better to keep your eyes on the ground beneath your feet.
5. Allow Yourself Some Time to Recover from a Past Regret
If your remorse stems from a critical life choice you made in the past, you need to give yourself time to recover. Ruminating and dwelling on it will only serve to perpetuate your negative emotions and thoughts. Spend your time and energy on things that will help you unwind, nurture, and recharge. The bad feelings will start to fade with time.
6. Practice being mindful
By being mindful of your emotions, you develop the ability to tolerate any uncomfortable side effects that could be present. In particular, if you find it difficult to take responsibility for your past mistakes, mindfulness is a great method to control anxiety-related feelings.
7. Admit Guilt and Make Apologies
It may be useful to apologize to anyone who may have been negatively impacted by your actions, even if you have already forgiven yourself. This might be especially helpful if your regrets revolve around interpersonal disputes or other sources of emotional anguish. A genuine apology can show the other person that you understand their pain and regret what transpired.
8. Get Your Mind Off It
Put your efforts toward something that will make you happy when you’re done. Do something you enjoy with people you can be yourself around. It is less likely that you will dwell on your mistakes if you are preoccupied with something pleasant in the here and now.
9. Convert your previous mistakes into present steps
Think about writing down everything you regret, including what you did and didn’t do. Write down what you did to fix your actions and prevent similar regrets in the future next to each regret. Whether you’ve already done anything about it or not, try to think of one more thing you could do to avoid having this regret in the future. For instance, I feel bad that I had to skip a beach trip with my family because I was so swamped with work. Although I still feel this way, I have started going on all family vacations and even trying to plan more of them. Think about how you can avoid making the same mistakes again and again.
10. Accept your own transience
There is no permanence in this world. We may not enjoy the consequences of our actions, but they serve as a timely reminder to savor the present moment to the fullest. Even if we live perfectly, we can never know for sure what will happen.
Keeping active is good for our mental health in general and has been shown to lessen feelings of anxiety and depression. Getting moving can help if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut of shame and remorse. Maybe you should start going for runs or hitting the gym.
11. Ask yourself the question, “Will I regret it?” frequently
Try to anticipate which option is more likely to leave you feeling remorseful before making a final selection. According to the data, inaction is more commonly felt than its counterpart, action. It’s best to minimize the chances of having regrets later in life by saying “Yes!” to experiences as often as possible.
12. Talk to an Expert
A professional’s assistance may be necessary to break the destructive cycle of constant self-criticism and pessimism. Think about seeing a therapist.
Age’s Effect on Regret
The things we’re likely to regret as we age may shift over time. A college student, for instance, could be more likely to dwell on past romantic missteps or social faux pas. Later in life, however, people are more likely to question the wisdom of their earlier academic and professional decisions. This variation probably just reflects the different sorts of choices we make at various ages. The priorities of a young person may lie in their personal relationships, while those of an older person may lie in their professional life.
Thankfully, as we age, we tend to feel less regret than we did when we were younger. Perhaps this is due to a decline in available options. We may become more rooted in our careers, homes, families, etc., and have fewer available love partners as we age. There may be fewer major life-altering decisions to be made, and hence fewer opportunities for regret.
One possible reason for this decline in regret with age is the wisdom gained from having previously experienced more regret. Our desire to have fewer feelings of remorse in the future motivated us to alter our actions. We learned from our past mistakes and won’t repeat them.
Finally, accepting and working through regret is a challenging but necessary aspect of life. Keep in mind that you are not alone in feeling regret and that you can choose how you react to your mistakes. Regret may be transformed into a potent instrument for personal growth and self-discovery if we face it head-on, accept it, and use it as a catalyst for good change. Instead of letting regret weigh you down, view it as an opportunity to become the best version of yourself. Always keep in mind that you can make a fresh start and build a better future for yourself at any time.