“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.” are the words famously sung by Frank Sinatra.
Unfortunately, I don’t think most people can confidently say the same.
- A third of Americans regret major life choices.
- 66% of Americans have regrets about their college education.
- 76% of Americans have at least one financial regret.
- 63% of millennial homeowners have regrets about their purchase.
And research shows that most people regret not making choices that would lead to becoming their ideal self.
Not to mention the smaller regrets of day to day life choices. That’s a whole lot of regret.
So if you have a regret (or a few) that are weighing you down, you are not alone.
Luckily there are some ways to turn regrets that you can’t bear into ones you might call “too few to mention.”
Here’s how to deal with regret:
1. Look for the Positive (Really Look)
There’s usually a silver lining to most situations, even if it’s really really thin. So whatever your regrets are, look for it.
I went to college for four years to receive a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, but I’m not using it at the moment. This is something I regret a lot, especially recently. I dedicated four years of my life to it, took out loans, and now my work is unrelated.
But – those four years of my life helped shape who I am and involved amazing experiences. I learned about a subject I’m passionate about and a field I can hopefully work in in the future. And having a degree in general still helps with getting other jobs.
Focusing on the positives of any regret can help make it less overwhelming.
2. Turn Regrets Into Lessons
So you messed up, there are two choices you can make.
You either give up and dwell in regret, or you learn from your mistake and grow.
Regrets become a lot easier to deal with when you learn from them, and no matter what your regret is, you can learn something from it.
Regret can help you better understand who you are, identify your morals and values, and learn how you want to act moving forward.
Some of the most successful people in the world have failed the most, and if they had dwelled in regret instead of moving on, we wouldn’t have some of the world’s most famous books, art, and technology.
3. Write Down Your Regrets
When we are faced with regrets, it’s normal to wonder why we didn’t act differently or why we didn’t act at all.
Writing down our regrets, asking why, and writing down the reasoning can help ensure that you don’t make the same regretful choice again.
If you snapped at your partner or roommate or family member right when you got home from work, maybe it was because you’re stressed after work and need a few minutes to unwind before talking to others.
Or if you didn’t put in the effort to get your dream job or dream apartment, maybe it’s because you don’t feel like you deserve it, and it’s time to reassess your self-worth.
4. Start Building Self-Compassion
Like I said before, there are usually two ways that regret pans out.
It can turn into the weight that sinks you, or it can be used to spark the fire of motivation that leads to self-improvement.
Researchers from Berkely found that the difference between these two outcomes is self-compassion.
Self-compassion increases our ability to embrace regret, learn from it, ensure we don’t repeat the action that caused the regret, and instead improve our lives.
To practice more self-compassion in your life, start by treating yourself the same way you would treat a loved one. You can also:
- Write yourself a letter about your regret, from a compassionate perspective.
- Challenge critical and negative self talk with a positive counterstatement.
- Listen to guided self-compassion meditations (try playing meditation music in the background of these).
- Remind yourself of all your positive attributes (and don’t be modest).
5. Don’t Let Regret Hold You Back From Doing More
If you think about the regrets in your life, you probably think about things you’ve done. These regrets can lead to developing a fear of doing other things, to avoid more regret.
But what about the things you haven’t done?
Research shows that the regrets that hurt us the most and linger the longest, are not the things we do, but the things we don’t. Especially when those things we don’t do, keep us from becoming the best version of ourselves.
So if the fear of regret is keeping you from doing the things that matter, remind yourself that while taking action involves risk, it’s just as risky to do nothing.
6. Make Amends
If your regret involves someone else that you’ve hurt, stop wallowing in regret, and apologize sincerely.
It’s never too late to apologize, and even if your apology isn’t accepted, over time, the sentiment will mean something to the other person.
It takes a lot to apologize, sometimes it involves a huge effort in putting the ego aside, but if you’ve done something you’re sincerely sorry about, you’ll feel so much better once you express it.
Apologize in person, write a letter, send a text, or give a little gift. And most importantly, strive not to hurt them again.
But once you’ve apologized, move on, rectify the situation, and stop beating yourself up over it.
7. Try to Live in the Present
No matter how few or many mistakes you make, the past is still the past.
And while it’s important to acknowledge your regrets, and accept them so that they can be used as lessons, there’s no point in dwelling on them.
Regrets are a part of the past; they can’t be changed. So once you’ve given them a constructive amount of attention, bring yourself back to the present. Research shows that being present increases self-resilience and effective coping.
Being present is a big component of mindfulness, and many believe it’s the only way to live a happy life. But if you’re always anxious about the future or stuck in your past regrets, being present can seem like the hardest thing to do. So start small.
Here are a few ways to practice being present:
- Meditate – Even if only for a few minutes.
- Immerse Yourself in Nature – It’s easier to be calm and present in nature, so get out there.
- Practice Breathwork – Inhale and exhale through the nose, and repeat until your mind is calm.
- Detach From Your Thoughts – Practice acknowledging thoughts, but not hanging on to them. Your thoughts and your regrets don’t define you.
- Take a Break – Turn on some music and dance like no one’s watching, go for a walk, make a cup of tea, and focus on only your break, even if just for a few minutes.
- Repeat a Mantra – Research shows that repeating a mantra reduces self-judgment and other negative self-beliefs. Your mantra can be as simple as “everything is going to be okay.” When you feel overwhelmed by negativity, repeat this mantra to yourself or out loud until your mind becomes calmer.
8. Forgive Yourself
Chances are, you haven’t done anything unforgivable, so forgive yourself. As long as you learn from your past actions and strive to be better, there’s no reason not to forgive yourself.
Research shows that forgiveness, stress, and mental health are deeply interconnected. So by forgiving yourself, you can also reduce stress and improve your mental health.
Regrets Don’t Have to Be Bad
Regret never feels good, but it also doesn’t have to be an awful feeling. It’s all about how you deal with regret and what you take from it.
So take a good hard look at your regrets, accept them, and use them as fuel to become the best version of yourself.