Regret suggests feelings of sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness over something that’s been done, particularly when we feel we’ve missed an opportunity. It’s hindsight. Well, it’s true that hindsight is 20/20, and by definition, only comes after something has passed, so of course we can clearly see the better option or missed opportunity, later on. But at that exact moment, it wasn’t so clear! We can only do our best with what we know in the moment.
The thing about regret, for me, is it signals acknowledgment. I mean, if we don’t feel regret, then our choice is apparently in-sync with our values and intentions. There is no discomfort, no confusion and no second guessing.
To regret fully is to appreciate how high the stakes are in even the average human life; fully experienced, it turns our eyes, attentive and alert, to a future possibly lived better than our past.David Whyte
When our choice is incompatible with our values, we’re overcome with a horrible feeling and though it may sound wrong, this realization is wonderfully right! It means we’ve grown and we’re moving towards stronger values and higher standards of our behavior. This is a price to pay on our path of self-discovery and development. It represents inner-change, and this is something to celebrate!
It’s been said countless times and still worth repeating:
“When we know better, we do better.”
Here are a few ideas for managing regret on our journey of self-actualization, i.e., reaching our full potential.
1. Focus on steady progress. Progress is never an all or nothing scenario. Not a one and done, or a 180-degree turnaround. It’s normal to repeat behaviors and revisit emotions so we can fully understand them, get to the root of the problem and remove it, or like a weed, it keeps sprouting.
2. Claim it. Be brave and acknowledge what we feel. Journal it. Tell a friend. Claim exactly what we’re feeling. Honesty is empowering. Say it out loud, “I was selfish, mean, scared, weak, or angry!” Burying our behavior and feelings will only fester and disrupt our life down the road, and I’ve found it’s quite liberating to own it as soon as I feel it. It helps release the burden of negative feelings much faster.
Remember, when dealing with regret, it’s the difference between, “I did a bad thing” and feel “badly” about it, and “I’m a bad person”. In claiming our regret, we reduce its power to shame us. We declare we can do better, and this fosters hope. Check out Brene Brown, the pioneer of shame and accountability, who’s decades worth of research can help lead us through processing shame.
3. Capitalize on life-experience. Here’s a place of opportunity. Ask yourself, “Why do I regret this?” “What do I want to feel instead?” “What stands in my way for making change?” Stop beating yourself up and see this for what it is, a life lesson. When we know better, it becomes our chance to do better. This is the place to heal the regret and grow stronger. No, it doesn’t erase the erroneous choice, but it does elevate us to a higher level of understanding for future action. Life-experience is a building block of wisdom.
Acknowledging and working with regret moves us one step closer to living life as the person we wish to be and ruminating on our past errors only prevents us in making a better “today”, and most certainly blocks a brighter tomorrow. So, accept the life-lesson, practice forgiveness for who you used to be and try to show yourself the grace you deserve. Say, “I can do better”. And then try. ❤
Sometimes you have to make a complete disaster of your life in such an epic way that it will be absolutely clear to you what you’ve been doing.David Whyte
Keep it Simple,