Note: This article to help you let go of past regrets is by contributing writer, Tammy Strobel.
Do you find it challenging to let go of past regrets? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. I have struggled with this, too. For example, some of my regrets include not simplifying my life sooner, accruing student loan debt, spending excessive time on social media, failing to be kind, and more. The specific stories associated with these regrets are painful. However, I’m learning to reframe the stories I tell myself through research and reading.
For example, author and researcher Daniel Pink has spent years studying regret. Instead of embracing the cultural mythology of living with “no regrets,” Pink encourages readers to get curious about regret. Regret is an emotion we can learn from, and it can help us live better.
What is regret exactly? “Both disappointment and regret arise when an outcome was not what we wanted, counted on, or thought would happen … With regret, we believe the outcome was caused by our decisions or actions,” says author and researcher Brené Brown in Atlas of the Heart. Brown goes on to say, “Interestingly, research shows that in the short term, we tend to regret bad outcomes where we took action. However, when we reflect back over the long term, we more often regret the actions we didn’t take – what we didn’t do – and we think of those as missed opportunities.”
Below are 8 tips that have helped me let go of regrets. Letting go of regret requires honest reflection, self-compassion, and the courage to show up in my relationships. In turn, reframing my regrets has helped me feel happier. I hope the suggestions below benefit you, too.
8 Ways to Let Go of Past Regrets
1) Remember that the past can’t be changed
Remember that you can’t change the past, and ruminating about the past won’t change it either. Regret is a normal emotion, and it’s part of the human experience. For example, I’ve tried to accept the situations or actions I regret. Most of the time, I was doing the best I could with the tools and information available. Holding on isn’t helping but instead, robbing us of present day happiness.
2) Learn from the situation
If you regret past actions or situations, reflect on the experience. Open up your journal and respond to the following prompt: What happened? Can you identify lessons from the situation? How can you use the experience, and lessons learned, to make better choices today? As Brené Brown said, “Regrets about not taking chances have made me braver. Regrets about shaming or blaming people I care about have made me more thoughtful. Sometimes the most uncomfortable learning is the most powerful.”
3) Be kind to yourself
Psychologist Kristin Neff recommends being kind to yourself. Neff’s research shows that people “who practice self-compassion are more conscientious and more likely to take responsibility for their mistakes.” For example, I try to treat myself like my best friend. I would never be cruel to my best friend. Instead, I would be encouraging, kind, and tell her to take responsibility for her actions. I’m learning to offer myself the same compassion and kindness. And it seems to be working!
4) Focus on the present
When I find myself ruminating about regrets, I redirect my attention to the present moment. Activities that help me refocus include journaling, meditation, going for bike rides, and watching birds. Grounding myself in the here and now helps me refocus. Here are a few ways to slow down and enjoy the present moment.
5) Write a “failure resume”
Daniel Pink shares lots of fun tips that will help you “optimize” regrets. For instance, he recommends creating a resume of failures. Pink credits this idea to Dr. Tina Seeling. She requires her students to write a failure resume. Dr. Seeling says, “For every failure, each student must describe what he or she learned from that experience. Just imagine the looks of surprise this assignment inspires in students who are so used to showcasing their successes. However, after they finish their résumé, they realize that viewing experiences through the lens of failure forced them to come to terms with their mistakes and to view them as a great source of data about what works and what does not.”
I love this idea! Instead of blaming and shaming myself for failing in my personal or professional life, I can extract lessons from my mistakes.
6) Talk to someone
Share your stories of regret with a loved one or therapist. They can provide solace, emotional support, and guidance. I’ve found this incredibly helpful; especially when I’m ruminating. The people I trust often see my situation from a different point of view, and that can be incredibly helpful.
7) Merge resolutions and regrets
Pink writes about many practical ways to embrace regret. For example, I love the idea of combining my “New Year’s Resolutions with last year’s regrets.” Making a list of my resolutions and regrets will be a great way to plan, reflect, and take action. And you don’t have to wait until the New Year to do this exercise!
8) Acknowledge painful emotions
Letting go of regret has made me happier, and I still experience painful emotions like regret. These emotions serve as a reminder to examine my feelings, values, and actions.
As Pink said, “Americans have been sold a bill of goods that we should be positive all the time, that we should always look forward. There’s a reason we experience negative emotions. They’re useful if we treat them right. Regret, you don’t want to wallow in it. You don’t want to ruminate over it. But if you think of it as a signal, as information, as a knock at the door, it is a powerfully transformative emotion.”
Resources to help you let go of regret
If you’re looking for more inspiration and resources about letting go of regret, explore the list below:
- “8 Things We’ll Regret When We’re Older If We Don’t Stop Now” article by Courtney Carver
- The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward book by Daniel H. Pink
- “Regret: What if we’d done things differently?” We Can Do Hard Things podcast
- “How examining our regrets can make for a more meaningful life” LifeKit podcast
- Being Kind to Yourself Hidden Brain podcast