Regret is something we all experience from time to time. While regret has its advantages in growth and self-development, dwelling on the past for too long can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. There are various steps you can take, from changing your mindset to lifestyle, that can help you overcome regrets until you can finally forget them.
Method 1 of 3: Changing Your Mindset
Step 1. Understand the psychological side of regret
Regret is a strong emotion. To learn to deal with regret better, you must understand the psychological side of it.
- Regret is a negative feeling of guilt, sadness, or anger due to past choices. Everyone experiences regret at some point in their life, especially young people, but regret becomes a problem when reflecting on past mistakes caused havoc in your life, career, and personal relationships.
- Counterfactual thinking causes regret. This means, the easier it is for you to imagine a different and better outcome of a problem, the more likely you are to regret the decision. Regret is intensely felt when you feel you are close to achieving great success and missed the opportunity because of poor preparation or slowness. If, for example, you choose the same number in the lottery every year, and you do not participate in one year, the number you selected appears.
- Regret can have a negative effect on your emotions and physically. Regret can also lead to mental health problems such as depression and excessive anxiety. In addition, chronic stress caused by regret can lead to hormonal imbalances and a weakened immune system.
- Regret is felt differently for each gender. Women are more likely to break away from previous relationships and tend to regret their romantic experiences.
Step 2. Don't be too hard on yourself
Handling big responsibilities will increase your tendency to experience regret. Learning to reduce personal expectations and accept that there are many things in this world you can't change is a good protection against regret.
- When you feel trapped in regret and reflect on what you should have done, distance yourself from the situation. Ask yourself, “If my friends or family told me this, what would I do? Would I feel that regret like this made sense?”
- Consider the circumstances surrounding the situation or a decision you regret. Various factors beyond your control can influence your judgment. Are you under pressure to rush to make a choice? Do you have limited knowledge when making decisions? Are there stressors affecting your judgment?
- Suppose you are responsible for managing a charity. For future fundraising programmes, you have pre-booked popular hotel bars/restaurants. The hotel manager calls you a week before the event to let you know that the hotel was accidentally overbooked that weekend. Since your group is late in making a reservation from another group, the hotel manager takes the group's request first. You then panic and rush to find other options. You find nearby hotel bars/restaurants and local theaters that haven't been booked that weekend. Not having enough time to weigh the pros and cons required, you end up choosing a second hotel. During the event, it turned out that the hotel staff was very rude, the food was not well prepared, and the room was not spacious enough to accommodate all the invitees. In this scenario, you may regret your decision to choose that hotel and wish you had chosen the theater instead. But how much power do you have? You are put in a difficult situation due to circumstances and you have to make a decision quickly. Even if the event didn't go smoothly, it doesn't make sense to blame yourself.
Step 3. Accept the things you can't know
Regret, as explained above, stems from counterfactual thinking. To stop regret, we have to accept that this way of thinking is not good. There are many things in this world that we do not know.
- All our actions have a ripple effect. That is, our choices are influenced by something that cannot be calculated. Usually, the impact of our choices is only really visible years after the choices are made. Even if things look bad now, we have no idea what the future holds and a regrettable choice could be a minor setback for years to come.
- Remember, when you're dealing with “what if I…” thoughts, you're usually thinking under the assumption that the scenario you envisioned would be better than your current situation. In fact, this is not something you can know. Try to imagine scenarios like these that prove that the possible choice you made was indeed the better one. Take the lottery for example. What if you picked that number that week and actually won big? What if you quit your job, feel bored, and the wealth creates problems for you, such as gambling, drinking, or taking drugs to pass the time?
Method 2 of 3: Be Proactive
Step 1. Learn from mistakes
Regret feels like any other emotion, based on a survival instinct. Be open to accepting the productive aspects of regret to shorten its duration.
- Regret is how we learn to reexamine our actions. Self-development and positive change would not be possible without something that compels us to identify the decisions that lead to negative consequences. For example, drug addicts often rely on regret to motivate them to come clean again.
- Change your way of thinking about regrettable situations or decisions. Think of mistakes as opportunities to grow and change. Young people tend to deal with regret more easily, and that's most likely because they see these emotions as positive. They accept the fact that regret is the key to change and grow.
- Accept your own mistakes. Often, people blame external circumstances for their actions. This makes them choose the wrong decision and they regret it even more. For example, you are late for work because you stay up late and get drunk. You may blame the stress you felt that week or the pressure of your friends for these actions, and when you're about to have fun, you'll repeat the process again. If instead you think, “Staying up late was a bad decision and I've already faced the consequences”, you are more likely to be able to avoid such actions in the future. You accept the fact that you can control the situation rather than blaming external factors.
Step 2. Allow yourself to feel disappointed
Sometimes, when things are really unfriendly, we have to experience sadness. Letting yourself feel down for a while can help you get your spirits back up again.
- Sadness is like regret; sadness is a negative emotion but it will be useful to us as a species. Feelings of sadness encourage our minds to become more focused so that we can evaluate problems and find out how to get through the difficulties in life.
- Responding to negative situations with sadness is common. Avoiding those feelings can prolong the time of regret and frustration you feel. After a hard failure, give yourself a week to grieve over your loss and feel the disappointment.
Step 3. Evaluate the relationship
Often, the most regrettable moments stem from bad relationships with friends, family, and lovers.
- If you are in trouble, so you feel sad and sorry, do your friends stand by you? Who gave you support and love and who turned away from you?
- Identify people who don't support you emotionally and who have dragged you into deep trouble in the past. Continuing to maintain interpersonal relationships in the long term is something you will regret. Cut ties with people who don't support you and approach people who are always there for you.
Step 4. Decide what you have to do
As already explained, seeing regret as an opportunity to grow keeps you from making the same mistakes again and again. However, you must be prepared to act. Find out what you have to do to overcome the regret.
- Was anyone hurt by the decision you made? Will the consequences of your actions have an impact on your family members and friends? Maybe you should call or write a letter. If necessary, take the time to apologize.
- Write down all the feelings you are experiencing. "I'm sad because of X, Y, and Z". "I'm angry because of X, Y, and Z". Go back to your list when you're done and evaluate what led you to your current mindset. What can you change? What causes these emotions to arise and how can you get rid of them?
Method 3 of 3: Changing Your Lifestyle
Step 1. Practice being mindful
Mindfulness is a mental state that makes you actively aware of what is happening in your life. Mindfulness-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been used and successfully treated depression caused by chronic regret.
- Being mindful means that you are observing your thoughts from a distance. You can evaluate your past and your mistakes objectively, thus making you wise about the impact of regrets on your life.
- Basic meditation can help with this mindfulness practice. Focus on your breathing or on a word or phrase. Let your thoughts enter your brain and hold your judgment as you experience them.
- Pay attention to any sensations in your body, such as itching and breathing. Pay attention to all your senses, such as sight, smell, hearing, taste, and taste. Try to experience each moment with full awareness of your surroundings and your feelings.
- Experience emotions without judgment. Allow yourself to experience sadness, fear, anger, and pain without trying to erase or suppress those emotions.
- If it works, mindfulness keeps you focused on the moment that is happening. This keeps you from succumbing to past thoughts and decisions. Focusing on what you can control, namely the present, can reduce negative self-judgments because of past decisions or moments. Mindfulness therapy is quite helpful for elderly patients who have chronic regrets about their lives.
Step 2. Strive for abstract goals
Often, disappointment and regret are associated with failing to achieve certain goals. Changing the way we think about goals and accomplishments can help us deal with regrets and accept the situation in the present.
- Connect long-term goals with abstract achievements. For example, “In five years, I want to be happy all the time” rather than “In five years, I want to be at the top of my career.” This way, you feel achievement related to your mindset, which you can control, rather than aspects of your life that are often beyond your control.
- Research shows that concrete gifts usually make a person less happy than abstract gifts. People who are motivated by money, fame, possessions, and career success will be less happy than people who strive for abstract things like happiness, positive relationships, and intellectual goals.
Step 3. Talk
Having a support system is invaluable when you are dealing with disappointments that trigger regret. Talking about your feelings can help you evaluate the disappointment and gain understanding from the other person's perspective.
- Discuss the disappointment with a friend or family. Allowing your disappointment to worsen can make it worse over time. Choose someone who has had a similar experience and can give you insight.
- If you're having trouble coping with disappointment, consider therapy. The therapist can offer an objective third-person perspective on your situation and offer advice on dealing with negative thoughts.
Step 4. Assess the present moment
Sometimes, regret is caused by thinking about a choice you turned down. Appreciating the current moment and accepting the positives can help reduce feelings of regret.
- Regret is usually the result of an imbalance in thinking. Holding on to certain decisions interferes with your ability to judge your life realistically because your focus is locked on the negative.
- Write down all the positive things in your life, such as family, friends, work, and the successes you've had so far. In fact, every situation has its benefits and drawbacks. The problem is, when we regret, we only see the flaws. Receiving benefits in the present is a good way to reduce regret.