To Regret or Not to Regret

To Regret or Not to Regret
Photo credit: © Melpomene –

Regret is often seen as a negative emotion that we should strive to avoid. We are told to live with no regrets and to make every moment count.

That’s certainly what I used to think. Those who know me as a therapist, workshop leader, or speaker have likely heard me talk about regrets and that I don’t believe in them. I’ve said that I have no regrets, and I believe that everything that I’ve gone through and all my experiences have been of some value in my life. My past has brought me to this day and is a part of who I am. I’ve also said that I trust that I made the right choices at the time with what knowledge or skills I had.

Yet as I continue to learn and grow in my life, my beliefs about regrets have evolved.

Regrets are a part of life

Everyone has regrets and that is okay. Though they bring sadness or disappointment, they’re part of being human and trying to live life to the fullest by taking some risks or making important decisions. Regrets are a sign that we care about the choices we make.

We will all make mistakes and take some wrong turns, especially as we’re moving forward in life, and this may be an opportunity to learn. On the other hand, if we’re overly cautious and play it safe to avoid regret, we may hold ourselves back from experiences and accomplishments.

Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in regrets. You might think about all the things you could have done differently, or all the opportunities you missed. But it’s important to remember that regrets are just that: regrets. They’re not reality. We can’t change the past and when we move to a place of acceptance, we are able to minimize dwelling.

Regrets are also an opportunity to use self-compassion. The key is to learn and grow from regrets and appreciate their value. Look for what you could have done differently (if anything), using that wisdom to make different choices in the future.

Here are some tips for dealing with regrets:

  • Feel: Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Don’t try to bottle them up or pretend they don’t exist.
  • Express: Talk to someone you trust about your regrets. This can help you process them and move forward.
  • Appreciate: Focus on the positive. Think about all the good things in your life, and be grateful for them.
  • Plan: Make a plan for the future. Decide what you want to do differently, and take steps to make it happen.
  • Forgive: Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s okay to forgive yourself for yours.

I don’t dwell on my regrets these days. I have a couple of regrets I care about and I’m working on accepting these while I proactively make the necessary changes. I’ve flourished in my productivity this year, so I know I’ll make my share of mistakes as I take some risks. I like to keep myself from being stagnant and will learn from my mistakes—maybe before they become full-blown regrets. But if they do, I won’t deny them; I’ll follow my own suggestions.

Regrets can be a powerful force for good. They can inspire us to help others in a more supportive way. So let your regrets motivate you to make changes in your life, and appreciate the good things you have.