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How to Deal with Regret

Photo by Simón Pais-Thomas

The last time I felt a true sense of regret I was careening off the side of the road into a 30-foot ditch. For a split second I thought I might die.

That day there was a downpour, the road was collecting water, and, while I was going the speed limit, it was too fast for the conditions. I wanted to get to the next business destination.

Suddenly I could feel the car hydroplaning, and I struggled to keep the car straight. I’m guessing I kept the car on the road for 50 feet or so, before it caught enough ground to veer to the right, over the edge of the embankment.

I was eight weeks pregnant, and my daughter was 20 months old. It was a frightening experience, yet my feeling of fear paled in comparison to this powerful sense of regret.

Clear in my mind was the mistake I made (going too fast), and for one speeding moment it was possible I could take two lives and leave my daughter without a mom, and my husband without a wife.

Yet as quickly as I felt regret, it was replaced with relief. My car bottomed out in a wide ditch, nose down, but not excessively. I sat in the car, shaking, and made a few phone calls, then calmly got out and climbed to the edge of the road. I had lots of time to think, both at the edge of the road and for months afterwards.

It was in those months I realized regret is a wasted emotion. It is a draining, low-vibrating feeling based on action, which can’t be changed. As with any life altering moment, I’ve learned from it, and haven’t felt regret since that day. I hope you consider the effect regret may have in your life, and can take steps to eliminate it for good.

Regret. It almost always occurs when something wrong happens which you cannot fix. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as grief caused by the want or loss of something formerly possessed.

I believe regret goes even deeper than that. It is grief from the loss of something because you made a mistake. If you lose something, yet did everything right, you might feel anger, sadness, or frustration, but you won’t feel regret.

It is the irreversible mistake, which holds such power. Mistakes can include wrong words (or not communicating), careless behavior, or unthinking actions. Have you ever lost a relationship with a lover or friend? If you feel regret around it, you probably remember the mistakes you’ve made.

But that memory, and your feelings around it, can affect your happiness right now. Here are four lessons I’ve learned on how to deal with regret and the necessarily steps to overcome the experience of regret.

4 Lessons: How to Deal with Regret

1. Learn to Forgive

Regret happens when you don’t forgive yourself. When your mistake feels final, like going too fast on a highway, it is too easy to feel regret. However, forgiveness is a powerful catalyst, and is one of the most loving actions you can take for yourself. While regret holds you back in the past, forgiveness helps you to move forward.

Tell yourself, “That was part of who I was then. I didn’t know any better or I would have made a different choice. That mistake helped me to grow into who I am today. I forgive myself and resolve to move forward.” Believe what you tell yourself.

2. Let Go of Negative Feelings

Send negative feelings about your actions into the past, where the action occurred. They don’t do you any good now.

Visualize moving those pent-up feelings from your body back to the moment they occurred, with the more innocent version of yourself. (Here, you can forgive both yourself and those feelings.)

3. Find the Lessons

Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” When you make a mistake, there is ALWAYS something to learn.

Learning equals growth. It is more difficult to feel loss when your focus is on gain, and on bettering yourself.

My main lesson from my accident wasn’t simply to slow down; it was to listen to my intuition. It told me to slow down before I slid, but in my rush, I didn’t listen. I learned my lesson.

4. Letting Go of Old & Creating New

That person or thing you lost – what did it symbolize for you? What feeling did you enjoy (or wish to enjoy)?

Did your ex-spouse provide comfort and personal connection? Did a foreclosed house symbolize accomplishment and success for you?

Move feelings of comfort or success away from something in the past, and connect them to something new. Focus on new accomplishments and connections so you can move forward, away from memories, which no longer serve you.

Parting Words on Regret

The common thread in each of these lessons is to let go of the past, and create a better future. When you do this, there is no longer room for regret, for it serves no active purpose.

Concentrate on now. Put your passion into a new relationship, a new skill or a new adventure. Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move forward with a clear conscience.

What part of yourself will you forgive in order to move on?

What are your hopes and dreams? What part of them exists right now (the seed to them coming true)?

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Leigh Harris
About the author

Leigh Harris is a happily married mother of two, currently writing a book about metaphysical parenting, and always learning. More of her thoughts and insights are on her blog, Metaphysical Mom, and she can be reached at her website, http://www.leigh-harris.com.

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9 thoughts on How to Deal with Regret

  1. Wow. This really spoke to me. I appreciate you having shared your personal experience with us in this venue.

    Point #3 really made me personally think about listening to my own intuition more. I’m sure we’ve all had those ‘ignore-your-intuition’ moments before, and never really stopped to think nor care that our intuition is just trying to protect us, not just ‘cramp our style.’

    Anyway, thanks for this post; I really appreciated it! :)

  2. Thanks for the great sharing. In my experience it is indeed often the “letting go” that is difficult and a challenge for many. It sure helps when people are determined to move on and have something positive to focus their attention and energy on, rather than keep dwelling in the past negative experience and emotions. It is often a journey. Thanks again for the sharing.

  3. Jennifer

    I fully understand what you are writing about but I can’t get past the feeling that ok yes, you learn from your mistake and move on, let go of the negative feelings and look forward but it still feels to me if I forgive myself for what I have done (and it was a doozy!) then it’s like “Oh well, that’s done, time to move on”. It just seems too glib and shoulder-shrugging. Maybe there are things in life you shouldn’t forgive yourself for. Perhaps that’s the penance you should pay for actions done in the past, like “paying the piper”.

  4. Great post, Leigh! So glad your story turned out the way it did!

    I think the most important thing we can do to get rid of the emotional drag of regret is #3, “find the lessons.”

    Learning from our mistakes is really what makes our mistakes so valuable. It is sad when people waste perfectly good mistakes on worry and regret and guilt and shame … without taking the steps to learn from the wrong choices made.

    Moments of regret, I suppose, are inevitable. But to get stuck at regret and never move on and follow the steps you outlined here, is to fail to make use of some of life’s greatest tools for teaching us how to live it closer to its potential.

    But then again, I regret not having written this post myself! ;)

  5. Good post Leigh! Regrets are really draining and the last thing we knew is that we’ve attached ourselves too much that oftentimes we feel sorry about ourselves.

  6. Great post!

    Regret is a wasted emotion. I cannot agree more. It is only after you have learned the lesson, that he has some value.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. canali

    there is nothing wrong with having regrets…it’s natural for us all…they’re signals to us that we could have acted in different ways but didn’t… I scoff at people who ‘boast’ that they ‘have no regrets’…yeah, sure BS yourself but not me.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    @Luke – yes, I agree. We all ignore our intuition at times. I believe it will speak loudly when something is important enough, but when intuition is a small voice, listening to it helps our life flow more smoothly.

    @Lawrence – Yes, letting go is tough, and part of our life’s journey. You make a key point – we need to be determined to move on and focus on the positive. Thanks for sharing your insight.

    @Jennifer – I don’t think forgiveness is ever too light-hearted. It is the love you give yourself. It is the permission to learn from mistakes and apply those lessons to the future. If someone just shrugs their shoulders and moves on, then perhaps they didn’t feel true regret in the first place, and may even make the same mistake again. What are your thoughts on that?

    @Ken – You say it so well! And, funny, I’ve read articles and had the same “regret” myself! :)

    @Christy – So true. These emotions can be tough to release, can’t they?

    @Marc – Thanks, and you are welcome!

    @Canali – You are correct. Regrets are natural. What is important is what we do with those feelings after the event, such as learning from them. Thanks for your insight.

    After hurricane and flood-filled weeks here on the East Coast, I’m glad to connect with you all. Our family was fortunate. The communities immediately surrounding us – not so much. I hope they will have the opportunity to eventually move past the regret that will no doubt hit them. Hugs to all.

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