Regret is a fickle thing. We all harbor some. Even those of us who live with no regrets, still have small moments or words we wish we could take back. But we can also learn how to deal with regret in a healthy way.
I regret some of my choices like opening credit cards at 17, not being grateful to my parents as a teenager, and even being too lazy to get things done last week that I have to rush around to do now.
No matter how much you know the truth, regret follows you. Yes, if I didn’t make some of my bad choices when I was younger maybe I wouldn’t have met the love of my life and been so happy this year. But you always wonder if you would be stronger, more successful, or better off if you did something differently.
It is human nature to wonder. But, when you let that regret eat away at you instead of living in reality and looking ahead, that is when regret is a real problem. So, how do you deal with regret?
[Read: 5 life altering lessons you can learn from regret]
How to start dealing with regret
I’m sure that you already know how regret can impact your mental health. That could be why you came looking for this article.Feeling regret about something, anything, can occupy your mind into an obsession. Focusing on what you can’t change is beating your mind into a negative space with no way out.
You may have regrets about things you did do or about things you didn’t do, but either way, a time machine has yet to be invented. If it were, us laypeople probably couldn’t afford it, so we have to live with our choices.
I know, easier said than done. Sitting with your mistakes and allowing them to control you is a messy game. This gives your regrets power over you.
[Read: Be your own hero: What it means and how to take control of your life]
Before you can deal with regret in a healthy way, you need to be able to look your regret in the face and own up to it. Whether it was something you could have prevented or not, it is done and it can’t be undone.Later we’ll talk about changing what you have control over and releasing what you don’t, but for now, admit that whatever it is that you regret was done in the past, and dwelling on it will not change the outcome.
[Read: How to take the next step toward success]
How to deal with regret
Regret comes with so many negative thoughts. “I’ll never do that again.” “I have to do that next time.” “I was so stupid.” These things don’t help us to move forward or to deal with our regret. This only leads to more instances of regret and negative self-talk.
When facing regret, you need to work through it and face it rather than let it control you.
#1 Mistakes happen. Regrets of all sizes come with the idea that we will never do them again. We say the negative outcome and make a promise that it will never happen again, but if this is a pattern, it likely will happen again.
I told myself I’d never again fall for a certain type of guy or that I wouldn’t charge unnecessary purchases on my credit cards, but I didn’t live up to those promises. That only made me feel worse. I knew I regretted it before, yet I did it again.
Can you see how this doesn’t help? Instead of promising to never do something again like stay out all night drinking or reaching out to your ex, think of useful and practical ways to achieve what you hope and avoid those regrets in the future.
Instead of just saying, “wow I’ll never charge up a credit card again”, I now take the time to work on a budget and let myself splurge on certain items.
#2 Look to the future. Regret is all about the past. We wonder what would have been. We think back at what we could have done differently. But, releasing all that energy on thoughts that make no true difference won’t help you deal with the regret you’re facing now.
Look to the future. What can this regret lead you to? Can it teach you something? Will your past choice alter your future ones? How? [Read: 20 positive ways to live in the now]
#3 Break your patterns. Regrets are often caused by patterns or bad habits. Maybe you regret something you did when you were drinking but continue to only do those things when you’re drinking.
Break that pattern by paying attention to your behavior and what leads to regret. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must quit drinking, but give yourself a drink limit. Have a friend remind you to take it easy, pace yourself, and drink water. If you know you’re emotional or at risk of doing something you’ll regret, think about how this is your chance to change.
#4 Own up to it. So many people claim they have no regrets. That sounds all good and well, but it is rarely true. Many people regret spending too much time working or acting out too much in their youth.
These are things we tell ourselves were purposeful. Someone might say, yeah, I missed all my kid’s baseball games but I worked hard so they could go to college without debt. Even so, it doesn’t mean they don’t regret spending so much time at the office.
Admitting to those regrets and facing them is what pushes you forward to make better decisions. Acknowledging your regrets is what makes you a better person. [Read: 15 things everyone must know to lead a truly happy life]
#5 Be realistic. As I said, just because you have a hangover and say you’ll never have another drink doesn’t mean that will happen. You’re not perfect. As people, we are always learning and growing. We have weaknesses, and we fail and try our best and sometimes we fall short.
Don’t expect to never have another regret by working through your current regrets. Realize that as you keep moving forward, other things happen and they could lead to regret too, but you’ll face them as they come.
#6 Control what you can. Regret is so powerful because we feel like we’ve lost control. Something happened, we wish something else has happened, and we can’t turn back time. We have no control over the past.
But, you can deal with regret by controlling what you can. Maybe you can’t change the past, but you can make things better. You can apologize to someone and work on being more mindful of others. You can take care of yourself more carefully.
#7 Let go of what is out of your hands. This is the hardest part of learning how to deal with regret, but is the most vital, if you want to live in the moment and accept reality. Regret prevents you from moving forward by pulling you into the past.
Letting go of what has happened is how you move forward and focus on the present. [Read: How to stop ruminating: Leave your past and live your future]
#8 Retrain your brain. Your brain is trained to regret. As kids, we are put in time out to think about what we did. We are grounded, punished, etc. These things all push us to think about our past mistakes and feel bad about them.
Instead, we need to retrain our brains to learn from those mistakes rather than dwell on them and punish ourselves.
[Read: 10 self-reflective questions to stay true to yourself]
Learning how to deal with regret and face reality in the present takes time and adjustment but can be the best thing you’ve ever done.
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