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21 Ways to Deal with Regret

Photo by Oliver Mercader
Never regret yesterday. Life is in you today and you make your tomorrow. ~L. Ron Hubbard

If only.

If only you could turn the clock back.

You’d probably wind the hands right off the clock face, wouldn’t you?

You’d probably do a lot of things differently, right? You’d correct every mistake you ever made and take all the chances you regret never taking.

Oh boy, they say not to wish your life away, but I spent nearly twenty years wishing mine back to do totally over.

If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably disgusted with yourself because you failed to take action, didn’t speak up and lived a life that just hasn’t panned out the way you wanted it to.

A Toxic Cycle

You know, shame and guilt are awful companions, yet they tag along with you day after day. They have no mercy. I felt them berating me constantly for the same mistakes — actions I did and didn’t take.

That’s why regret hurts every day. You’re caught in a toxic cycle that’s poisoning your happiness. That’s a mean trick from life.

Regret leaves you forever imprisoned in that time and in that situation, perpetually caught up in your own “failings.”

That’s a truly horrible place to be.

I was trapped in exactly that place for the longest time — feeling like a crazy person, unable to move on from each and every time I disappointed myself. I watched myself continually act the same way, because my thoughts were so pinned in that groove, I had no capacity to change my habits.

Living a Half-Life

It got so I started to think that’s who I was: the person who couldn’t act, who wouldn’t stand up for herself. The one whose life was going to pan out exactly as it stood in front of her, right there:

  • No excitement
  • No achievement
  • A nobody
  • A half-life, at best

And that’s when I got angry. Screaming rage angry. Furiously, dangerously angry. That phrase punched me in the face so hard — “a half-life.”

Well, a half-life wasn’t worth living with the pain of regret. It definitely wasn’t worth sweating and stressing through life. Two choices: Lay down and refuse to get up, or tackle being consumed with regret once and for all.

I chose to punch my regret right back, super hard.

Get Out of & Fill In the Rut

Behavior patterns can be tricky to change — let’s be honest. That groove is so deep, so familiar that we often don’t recognize we’re even numbly plodding along the same old rut.

I realized I needed to consciously watch my step to avoid that treacherous pitfall.

Thank the stars I truly ached for a full life — a proper, worthwhile one — so badly I was able to look at my behavior analytically. I pledged to be on a 24/7 self-appraisal and learned a whole heap about not only how to climb out of my groove but also how to fill it in behind me as I sped forward.

Forward. Not backward. Living in the now. Not the past. LIVING.

Now that’s a great place to be.

I’d love that to be the place you’re in. You deserve to wipe the slate clean, to move on, to enjoy life. But how?

1. Set Fire to Your Regret

Write out the events around your regret, and include all your attached emotions. Then take a match to the paper — stand back and see your regret and the pain it caused go up in smoke.

I found this not only a cathartic experience but also a strong statement that I was rejecting regretful thoughts.

2. Ask a Different “What If” Question

Stop asking yourself, “What if I had never done this or that?”

Instead, ask yourself, “What if I keep wallowing in regret for the rest of my life? Will it change my situation?”

3. Realize Regret Only Begets More Regret

Understand that continuing the cycle of remorseful thinking is adding another regret — that of spending all your life regretting.

Use this as a catalyst to break the destructive pattern. This was a powerful trigger for me whenever I found myself sliding into old habits — there was no room for any more regret!

4. Make Your Regret Known

If you regret the way you acted or what you said to someone, make a video explaining yourself and apologizing, and send it to them.

5. Ramp Up Your Resolve

Whatever you regret, resolve not just to act differently next time, but also to act DOUBLY different. For example, if you regret never having learned a second language, learn one now. But don’t just get by — be fluent.

My disappointment in myself for spending years spent trailing through mindless, future-less jobs became strong enough to fuel my courage to speak up enough to scale up — head held high this time.

6. Stop Thinking the Whole World Cares

Focus on the six billion people who don’t care what you did or didn’t do, not the few who might. See your actions in perspective.

7. Give Yourself a Second Chance

You can do today what you failed to do before. For instance, if you regret never having stood up to bullies, support an anti-bullying campaign today.

8. Use Your Regret to Help Others

Support others in achieving something you regret not doing. Say you regret failing to secure a degree — sponsor a child here or abroad through college to give them a chance.

9. Rebuff Your Regret

End every regretful thought with a statement of closure. For example, “But that was in the past. It’s done and finished with.”

Reprogram your thinking over time. I found this worked really well when said out loud if possible. It shot my unwanted thoughts a super powerful message.

10. Realize You’ve Changed

Physically and mentally, you are a different person than the one who caused the regret.

11. Learn To Live In the Present

Try meditation or yoga, and find out how to live in the now. Leave the events surrounding your regrets in the past.

12. Atone When it’s “Too Late”

If you regret not ending a feud with a family member or friend before they died, end it now. As atonement, do something in their memory that they would have loved.

13. Find the Faults in Broken Relationships

You might find yourself looking to past failed relationships and imagining everything was perfect. But it rarely was.

Instead of living in an imaginary past, decide to find out why the relationship went wrong. You’ll have an easier time getting over it, just as I did.

14. Rectify the Regret with Some Creativity

Realize it’s never too late. Even if you can’t rectify the exact situation, you can get as close as possible.

For example, if you regret not spending enough time with your kids and it really is too late, you could join a program like “Rent a Dad, Mom or Grandparent,” and help other kids who don’t have a parental figure around.

My partner and I foster rescue dogs, giving them a wonderful loving home for as long as they need. This has helped heal my regret at not being with our beloved, darling labrador in his last hours.

15. Create “Regret-and-Glad” Lists

Like a pro-and-con list, first list everything you regret in life, and then list everything you’re glad you’ve experienced and everything you’re proud you did.

Be honest — no false modesty. See how much time you’re losing dwelling on such a small percentage of negative events compared to the positives? Redress the balance.

I wrote out the 27 years Mark and I have been together, with all that we’d tried, seriously fallen down on and also achieved. We had no idea that our perspective had been so negatively skewed until we saw all the positives running into so many pages.

16. Give Yourself a Break

Don’t treat yourself worse than a common criminal. Punishing yourself for your imagined or real mistakes forever is inhuman.

Decide that you’ve done your time and deserve to wipe the slate clean.

17. Change Your Name

If your life really is one long regret, sometimes radical action is the only effective answer. If [insert your name here] is responsible for all those mistakes, kill him or her off and reinvent yourself, regret free.

Start off by changing your name, and move on from there.

18. Build a Store of Self-Forgiveness Quotes

Collect all those that resonate with you. Let others’ wisdom help you acquit yourself of your perceived past mistakes or failings.

I love these to dip in and out of and of course, the best stay firmly in my thoughts.

19. Write a Regret Manifesto

Write out a statement of the error, failing or mistake you regret, immediately followed by how you are devoting yourself to wiping your slate clean.

20. Get Mad at Regret

Don’t be angry with yourself; be angry with regret by seeing it as a separate entity. Realize how much time and peace of mind it costs you.

Resolve to allow it no more. Make it personal this time. I can absolutely testify to this – rage annihilated my regret. (P.S. I’m super calm now!)

21. Take Yourself Out of the Equation

If you can’t find it in you to wipe the slate of regret clean for yourself, do it for your friends and your loved ones. Understand that anyone consumed by regret is hard to live with.

Focus on how much better you will be for the people around you if you move on — the people who love you need you in the now.

When I realized who I’d become and how much even I didn’t want to live with me, my new behavior pattern was way easier to stick to.

Wipe your Slate Clean

Regret’s held your life captive for way too long. But that could all be over.

Imagine liberating yourself from the pain of regret. Just like that — it’s gone. You’ve forgiven yourself. Imagine how peaceful you’d feel.

That could be your life, but only if you start living in the now. Let the past be what it is. Let yourself be who you can be, not who you were.

Breaking free from regret takes small, simple steps. Try the strategies above, one or a few at a time. Have a little patience.

Wipe your slate clean of regret and wake up smiling, eager to roll out of bed so you can enjoy spending more time with yourself once again.

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About the author

Laura & Mark Tong love people, pizza and positivity. They are on a mission to help you rid your life of stress, strife and regret. Download their Resource Guide: 5 Free Mind Decluttering Tools that Simplify Your Day and Make You Excited to Roll Out of Bed in the Morning

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14 thoughts on 21 Ways to Deal with Regret

  1. Really useful post Laura and Mark. I think regret is one of the most distressing and pointless emotions, and (though I don’t always succeed!) I try hard not to have any regrets. Once a situation is done, it’s done – it’s about moving on and trying not to make the same mistake again (which I definitely don’t always succeed at!). Great to have a bunch of practical tips to handle this when it comes up. Thanks for sharing your story and some really inspiring writing.

  2. Thank you Laura for sharing. I like you have spent most of my adult life regretting things I should and shouldn’t have done.
    Even though I knew I couldn’t go back and change I continued until I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of living that way.
    I am now learning to live in the present and working hard to turn my life around.
    Thanks again for the post.

  3. Quinn Eurich

    Hi Laura,

    Good list! It’s so easy to feel regret and not know how to release it.

    Thanks you too for the reminder that we’re not the same person as we were when we did what we did!

    Warmly,
    Quinn

  4. Ann

    Great post-Laura,

    I like wiping the slate clean…good advice right there.

  5. Valerie Leroyer

    Great read. Regrets are what makes us very human, but if handled the wrong way, it can be disastrous. Thanks for reminding us what to do!! Number 11 is one of the best, actually.

  6. And no matter how much you regret doing stuff, when you try to help your kids avoid the mistakes you made….they won’t listen :(. I guess everyone has to make their own mistakes to regret

  7. Most enjoyable and insightful read Laura.
    Number 6 I find particularly powerful. That attitude can help in a multitude of ways. Just taking my own social anxiety, realising that people really don’t care or have even considered that I once muddled some words up or my hair was a little out of place e.g. etc. When one realises that an awkward silence between two people speaking is down to both people, not just the one with social anxiety is certainly a burden and weight lifted!

  8. Absolutely Alex. Thanks for your kind words. The truth is the person opposite you is usually equally or even more anxious than you are.

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