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How To Deal With Regret: The Expert Guide

Is it impossible for you to move forward? Regrets don't have to hold you back. Here's how to deal with them.
by Rob Gillham | Jan 4 2023

You can easily see how one decision can have a significant impact on your life when you trace it back to a previous one. Afterward, it’s only natural to wonder, “What if you chose differently?

If you hadn’t turned down that opportunity or acted differently in your relationship? Would you have a better career trajectory or perhaps still be happy with a former partner?

A highlight reel of social media, and the tendency to compare your life to someone else’s, can lead to real regret. In order to overcome the regret, you need to reframe your thoughts about yourself as well as the regret.

It isn’t surprising that people sometimes feel regret over both their decisions and their untaken paths in life.

Regret can be one of the most painful emotions in the world. Even though such feelings are rooted in regrets, disappointments, guilt, or remorse for bad things that have happened in the past, they can have a profound influence on your life today.

As a result of regretting past choices or mistakes, you might sometimes miss out on the joys of the present.

Read on to learn what regrets are, why they occur, and how you can deal with them.

How Does Regret Work?

An aversive emotion, regret, refers to a belief that some past event could have been altered to produce a more desirable outcome.

It is a type of counterfactual thinking in which you imagine how your life might have turned out differently. At times, counterfactual thinking involves appreciating your good fortune in avoiding disaster, while at other times, it involves regret or disappointment.

Regret is awful because, by its nature, it implies that you could have done something, made a choice, or taken action that would have made something good happen or avoided something terrible.

Some experts suggest that regret can have a positive effect if you are able to cope with it well and use it to help you make better choices in the future.

It is widely believed that regret is a waste of time and energy, hence the mantra, “No regrets.”. Everyone from social media influencers to celebrities to self-help gurus touts this philosophy.

It’s 100% wrong, according to psychologist Daniel Pink, author of “The Power of Regret.” According to Pink, regret can even be healthy. In Pink’s view, regret can serve as a valuable source of information. In the future, it can guide, motivate, and inspire you to make better choices.

What Is The Most Common Regret People Have?

Research published in 2008 analyzed archival data to determine which areas were most likely to trigger regrets. Education, career, romance, parenting, the self, and leisure were the six most common regrets.

Following those top six, regrets focused on finance, family, health, friends, spirituality, and community. Inaction is often more regrettable than action, according to research.

You are more likely to regret not choosing a certain career or not asking out someone than to regret choosing the job and partner you did. As a result, actions not taken are more susceptible to imagined outcomes. 

Although the consequences of the actions you took are evident, the ones you did not take seem like wasted opportunities. You’re more likely to regret missed opportunities due to the perceived gains of the choices you didn’t make rather than the actual consequences.

Regret and Its Impact

Regret can be both physically and emotionally draining. Physical symptoms of regret may include muscle tension, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, and chronic stress.

According to studies, persistent regret can lead to breathing difficulties, chest pain, joint pain, and poorer overall health.

Reminiscing about past regrets can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, helplessness, and hopelessness.

Your behavior can also be affected by your fear of future regret. Risk-taking and health-related behaviors can also be affected by anticipated regret or the belief that you will regret something in the future.

Risky behavior is less likely to occur when people feel their actions will lead to greater regret. In addition, when people think that not taking action will result in regret (such as not taking care of their health or not exercising regularly), they are more likely to take action to avoid those regrets.

It has also been found that people’s concern about anticipated regret can influence their decisions on behalf of others. People tend to make more conservative choices when they are concerned that they will be disappointed or regretful.

How To Deal With Regret

You can’t avoid regret, but there are things you can do to minimize it. You can also turn regrets into opportunities for growth and change by taking the negativity out of them. 

Regret is generally considered a negative emotion, but it serves an important function and can even be a positive force in your life at times. It is possible to be motivated by regret, for example. You can use it to overcome past mistakes or correct them.

Both experienced regret and anticipated regret can influence future decisions, according to research. Making better decisions can be achieved by avoiding future regrets.

Put an end to the “I’ll never do that again” mentality.

Our regrets are not usually the result of our first mistakes. More often, we regret falling into our self-sabotaging patterns.

If you stay up watching YouTube until midnight, you might feel exhausted at work the next day. Instead of going to bed at 10 pm, you wish you had gone to bed at 9 pm.

Maybe you regret eating two-thirds of a large bag of potato chips because you got over-hungry or tired. When you’ve fallen into certain traps dozens of times before, it’s unlikely you won’t do them again.

Consider strategies to gradually improve your habits or limit the negative consequences when you fail to control yourself instead of vowing never to make the same mistake again.

You can grow if you believe in yourself.

We may become excessively hesitant or avoidant as a result of regret. If you are regretful about a failed relationship, you may avoid dating in the future.

A poor financial decision may cause you to put investing in your “too-hard” basket and avoid it entirely. You’re not doomed to permanent failure just because you made some less-than-ideal decisions.

Accept yourself as you are

It is important to acknowledge and accept what you are feeling. Your value isn’t defined by your mistakes or failures when you accept yourself and what you’re feeling.

Accepting yourself and your feelings does not mean you won’t try to change things or improve. This simply means that you are aware that you are always learning, changing, and growing.

Self-forgiveness

Finding ways to forgive yourself can help relieve some of the negative feelings associated with regret since regret involves guilt and self-recrimination. When you forgive yourself, you let go of the anger, resentment, or disappointment you feel toward yourself.

Forgiveness requires you to practice self-compassion as well as accept your mistakes. Treat yourself with the same kindness and forgiveness that you would give to a loved one rather than punishing yourself for mistakes.

Take responsibility for what happened, express remorse for your errors, and make amends. While you might not be able to change the past, taking steps to do better in the future can help you forgive yourself and move forward.

Mistakes should be apologized for

As well as forgiving yourself, you may also find it helpful to apologize to other people who may have been affected. Particularly important if your regrets are centered on conflicts in relationships or other issues that have caused you emotional distress and pain.

When you apologize sincerelly, the other person will know that you feel remorse and that you empathize with what they’re experiencing.

Make a difference

The best way to cope with regret is to use those experiences to fuel future action. Instead of ruminating over what you can’t change, reframe it as an opportunity to learn that will help you make better decisions in the future. 

Due to a lack of knowledge, experience, or foresight, you may not have made a “better” choice in the past. As a result of what you knew at the time and the tools and information you had available, you made the decision you did.

You now have the knowledge you need to make a better decision the next time you encounter a similar dilemma, thanks to the lessons you learned in the past.

Reframe the issue

You can change your mindset and shift how you think about a situation by using cognitive reframing. Taking this approach can help you change your perspective, show compassion for yourself, and validate your emotions.

Additionally, it can enable you to see situations in a more positive light and overcome some of the cognitive distortions that can lead to negative thinking.

According to Pink, “no regrets” isn’t so much about denying regret as it is about reframing it, or optimizing it. Embracing your mistake-filled past is an acknowledgment of how you have grown. 

The key is to reframe those regrets and see them as learning opportunities that build resilience and wisdom. Even if you could change your past decisions, it’s about understanding that those choices helped you learn and can help you make better decisions in the future.

Do you want to learn more ways to deal with life’s problems? We’ve got you covered. Click here to learn how to deal with stress, and here to learn how to boost your short-term memory.

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