What Do You Regret?
Show me one person who has never done something that they are prone to regret and I will show you a liar. We have all said or done things to ourselves or others that we wish we hadn’t. Although it may seem like a small topic, the power of regret over our lives is very huge. A lot of us, whether consciously or unconsciously feel the pain of regret, it is very brutal. In fact, regret is one of the most felt but least discussed emotions.
The ability to realize your mistakes is the greatest powerful tool that any human being can ever possess. However, obsessing over those mistakes is one of the weakest traits that anyone can ever have. Use your mistakes as stepping stones not drowning holes to sink you along the way.
Regret is the negative cognitive/emotional character of blaming ourselves for a bad outcome. Feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what we might have been or wishing we could undo a previous choice that we made. Regret, contrary to positive past reflection does not result in any positive outcomes such as refocusing and taking corrective action or pursuing a new path. Rather, it leads to chronic stress that damages the mind and the body.
Scenarios when regret is more likely to surface
1. Mostly in women than in men
Women tend to put greater value on relationships and find it more difficult to disengage attention from past relationships. Hence they regret more past/lost relationships than men.
2. In people with an internal locus of control than those with an external locus of control
People with an internal locus of control tend to regret more because instead of looking outside to find things to blame for their misfortunes, they believe they have control over their own life courses and therefore they are responsible for everything that goes wrong.
3. It differs between young people and the old
More young people tend to regret more of the things they did whereas old people tend to regret more of the things they didn’t do. Young people regret action whereas old people regret inaction.
4. Different timeframes
Over short periods of time people tend to regret more than over long periods of time. Over short time periods mistakes made are overemphasized because they are still fresh or residing in our conscious mind whereas over long periods of time regrets are mainly repressed and kept in our subconscious mind.
5. Different issues
Relationship issues are more to be regretted than other life issues. Love issues are one major area that most people regret in life and hardly recover from, lost love opportunities, relationships that were not valued/ less valued until they were lost, etc.
6. Ability to focus on the future
People who cannot think further for solutions regret more because to them the lost past opportunities are all they could get and the future seems bleak for them whereas people who can find solutions, look forward to the future regardless of the past.
7. Proximity to the attainment of the desired outcome
Close proximity leads to more regret than distant proximity. For example, if you miss an opportunity that was so close, you regret it more than if it were a bit further away from your reach.
8. Risk aversion and risk-takers
Risk-averse people tend to regret more than risk-takers.
9. Current situation
When the present is not so good and your life is currently not going on so well, people tend to regret the past a lot. It’s hard to let go of the past especially when you are not in the position you want. When people are satisfied with their lives they hardly dwell on regrets because they are too busy enjoying the present but as soon as something weighs them down, their minds in trying to get solutions may get fixated on their previous mistakes.
A lot of time is wasted in regret. It is okay for you to feel remorseful about what you did wrong, those are actually qualities of a good heart but regret is not gonna solve anything. If you did something wrong then the best thing you need is not regret but action to make sure that you will not repeat the same mistake. We have all made mistakes in our lives and that is what makes us human.
Reasons why regret never works
- You cannot change the past. Regret will not solve anything, regret will only waste your time. Instead of regretting wake up and do something. There is no point in beating yourself up about something that you cannot change. There is no point in focusing on the past that you cannot change. No amount of regret is big enough to change the past. The past remains what it is, the past and it cannot be changed!
- In most cases, if you look closely, you had no other choice at the time you made that mistake so you may as well accept the situation because you made the best of it given the knowledge you had at that time, now that you know better, you can do better. Life makes us all learn in hindsight.
- Regret has damaging effects on the mind and body. Repetitive negative, self-focused thinking leads to depression and mental health problems. It can result in chronic stress which affects hormonal and immune system functioning.
- Regret prohibits one from moving forward in life and the ability to recover from negative life events by extending and in more cases exaggerating your emotional reaction to life experiences.
- It leads to fear. Most people have not tried a lot of things, relationships, careers, hobbies, etc. because of the fear of regret. Fear of regret leads to stagnation, it makes us stick with the status quo as we are afraid to try new things for fear of the outcomes. We keep hanging on to things we realize are not working, convincing ourselves that change may be worse. Fear of regret has the same emotional/neural strain as the regret itself.
- It inflicts more severe punishment on ourselves than is necessary. It robs us of our inner peace and boosts our stress hormones.
Success is living a life that at the end of the road you will look back and say, you know what? I don’t regret anything! Unfortunately, regret doesn’t go away by itself, you consciously have to work on eliminating it.
How to eliminate regret
- Regret like every other emotion needs to be managed. It is there for survival purposes so you need to harness its functional aspects. It is our brain’s way of telling us to reflect on our actions and their consequences which can be a good thing if managed properly.
- Learn to let things beyond your control go. Regretting will only lead to damaged self-esteem and chronic stress. You cannot change the past, but you can make choices today that will change the future so, let it go!
- A lot of times we fight hard to be able to forgive others to the extent of forgetting that we too, need forgiveness. Forgive yourself too! You deserve it!
- It’s good to take the blame for things that go wrong in one’s life, it shows accountability but too much self-blame will not help you in any way. In most cases all the decisions you made previously were in tandem with the limited knowledge that you had at that time so, give yourself a break!
- Take action so that you don’t later regret your inaction. Tell those you love exactly how you feel about them before it’s too late. Change that career before it’s too late. Apologize before it’s too late. Start that business before it’s too late. Don’t let the fear of regret hold you back. In fact, don’t let the fear of regret make you regret. The worst regret that you will have one day is the failure to become your ideal self so whatever a man can be, he must be.
- Find ways to shape your present life and improve the areas you are likely to regret most about; mostly the areas that mean a great deal to you but maybe you didn’t do so well with them in the past. If you are more focused on building your life and you are satisfied with it, you will have less time to spend regretting the past and your regrets will diminish. Let the past through reflection make you learn from your mistakes but do not obsess over them, focus on moving forward.
- Reconcile with your past. If you don’t reconcile with your past, you will be emotionally unstable and your present reactions to issues and scenarios will always be exaggerated.
- Stop fussing over assumptions that your life would have turned out better if you had done certain things. You don’t know that for sure, maybe it would even have turned out to be worse than it currently is. There is just no guarantee the outcome would have been a best-case scenario.
- Have self-compassion, and forgive yourself. The fact that you are even reflecting on your mistakes means you are better than them so do not let them define you.
Not regretting doesn’t make you a self-justifier because everything can be viewed from a different perspective. The moment you realize you are not perfect, the easier you live your life. We are humans, we are not perfect, do not hold yourself to some unattainable standard of righteousness.
Today is your day to begin living a regret-free life
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