How to Deal with Regret

Regret sucks.  Big time.  It’s a difficult and painful thing to sit with.  But it happens.  Regret can feel all consuming, and it’s natural to want to get rid of it as quick as possible. However, regret isn’t as straightforward as you think. So today, we’re talking all about how to deal with regret.  Watch below to learn what it is, why is happens, and how to cope when regret just won’t go away.

So you made a decision, and now you wish you would’ve done something different.  You made a move, and it feels like the wrong one.  If you could do it over again, you would. And you can’t help but feel a pit in your stomach.  That difficult, nagging feeling?  That’s regret.  And it sucks to sit with. 

People often forget that regret is an emotion.  It’s “a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” It’s easy to talk about emotions in terms of good and bad, but that oversimplifies things. There are no bad emotions.  There are uncomfortable and painful emotions, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad.  Emotions are important pieces of information. They tell you a lot about your experience. And regret is no exception.  It’s painful and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of it.  In fact, this might surprise you, but sometimes regret isn’t just important; it’s healthy.

For example, imagine that you flaked on a friend.  You weren’t there when they needed you. You cancelled in a time of need. And you hurt their feelings.  In this case, sadness and disappointment make sense.  You weren’t there for someone you care about. And you regret it. Or let’s say you made a decision to quit school.  You weren’t doing well. It was hard. And you decided school wasn’t for you.  But now it’s been a few years, and you’re unhappy at work. You realize school would’ve been a more satisfying path for you.  You’re disappointed you left.  You wish you would’ve stayed.  And you feel regret about leaving. In these examples, regret makes sense.

Emotions are important pieces of information.

Regret is often a cue that you’ve made a decision that isn’t in line with your values.  It’s a reminder that you’ve made a decision you don’t want to repeat. Sadness, disappointment, and repentance are reasonable emotions when you mess up. They can be healthy responses to complex situations. In short, it’s ok to feel regret.  It’s ok to wish you would’ve done something different.

The problem, however, is when you allow regret to take over.  To swallow you up.  The issue is when regret turns to shame.  When you go from, “I did a bad thing” to “I’m a bad person.”  Regret becomes toxic when you blame yourself, believing that you “should’ve” known better.  This is when regret becomes unhealthy and unhelpful. So if regret is turning to shame, if you’re feeling weighed down by your regret, it’s time to act. It’s time to deal with regret head on, and these three simple steps will help.

1.Acknowledge what this regret can teach you.  Remember how your elementary school teacher told you to learn from your mistakes?  This totally applies to regret.  Acknowledge how what you did wasn’t in line with your values. If you responded too quickly to an email and came off rude, learn to wait an hour before pressing send.  If you didn’t call a friend on her birthday, and it hurt her feelings, learn from this. Remember that your friends have different love languages.  And if you can learn from your regret, then it’s served a purpose.

2.Watch out for hindsight.  Remember, when you made the decision, you didn’t have all the information you have now.   When you left school, you didn’t know how much you’d hate your current job.  When you turned right instead of left, you didn’t know a car would come out of nowhere.  You know that now, but you didn’t know that then.  So if your regret is saying, “I should’ve known better,” remember, you didn’t have all the information you have now, then. (PS: Learn why the word “should” is so dangerous here.)

If you can learn from your regret, then it’s served a purpose.

3.Know that it’s over and done.  Unless you’ve got Hermione Grangers’s time turner, you can’t go back in time.  You can’t change what’s already happened.  Use your self-talk to remind yourself that whatever you’re regretting, it’s over and done.  You can’t get a redo.  Be gentle and kind with yourself, just like you would with a friend who messed up.  Beating yourself up won’t help anything. It’ll just give the regret somewhere to camp out.  So try saying this: “It’s over and done. I can’t change what’s already happened.  But I’ve learned from it, and that’s the best I can do.” (PS: Sound too simple? See why self-talk is legitimately a thing.)

Regret is painful and uncomfortable.  And it can be hard to know how to deal with regret. But it’s a powerful and important emotion. And it can teach you a lot if you’re willing to listen.  Allow yourself to feel regret if the situation calls. But don’t let your regret camp out.  Don’t let it take over.  Use these three steps to help yourself feel, deal, and then move forward from regret. 

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