‘I live life with no regrets’, is a catch-phrase that many of us use, but very few of us actually live by. Think about it for a moment. Is there truly nothing in your life that you have done or said that you regret? If you’re being honest, I’m sure there is something that if you could do over, you would. Living a life without regret sounds like a nice philosophy to live by, but it’s not an easy one. It isn’t about throwing away past regrets or pretending they didn’t happen, it’s about working through them in a constructive way.
- Regret is a feeling of distress over a decision or action you made in the past.
- Remorse is a deep regret or guilt for the past decision or action you made.
- We often regret or feel remorse for past decisions or actions because they have had a negative effect on our lives or the lives of others.
- The guilt and self-resentment that are brought about through regret and remorse can lead down a self-destructive path.
- You can learn to live a life without regret through self-acceptance, letting go of the past, learning from the lessons, expressing your emotions, focusing on what you can control, and trying new activities.
What is regret?
Regret is a feeling of distress about a decision or action that you made in the past. It could even be regret about words spoken or written. Many regrets are about the path not taken. These regrets leave us with questions about what could have been. Then, there are regrets that have immediate negative results. It could be as simple as regretting what you ordered for lunch, to as devastating as regretting the red-light you ran. In the former case, perhaps you didn’t enjoy the food, in the latter, you caused an accident that impacted others. Regrets come in many different ways. Depending on how deep the regret goes, whether it’s affected others, and how long you dwell on it, it may turn into remorse.
Regret vs. Remorse
Remorse is a deep regret or guilt for the past decision or action you made. This often happens when the decision or action has harmed others, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. In these cases, it’s hard to know what to do to rectify the situation, or how far to go to show your remorse. Making amends is often an important step, but so is knowing when to leave well alone. Letting go and giving others space is a hard decision to make. It means working through emotions on your own, but is sometimes the best decision for everyone involved. Be careful not to let yourself stay in a state of remorse for too long. Guilt and self-resentment can lead down a self-destructive path.
Why do we regret our past decisions or actions?
Usually, we regret a past decision or action because it has had a negative effect on our lives or the lives of others around us. We may also regret the decisions or actions of others, especially if they are close to us. Often this regret will relate back to a decision we made. You may regret a decision that your child made as a result of something you said. Regret can also show up at different times. In the case of a car accident, it’s pretty clear that this will have an immediate negative impact on everyone. For other situations, however, the regret may come later once the negative effects are realized. For example, six months later when you are laid off, you may regret not taking that new job offer. In these situations, we wonder and lament over the path not taken.
6 Proven Tips for Living a Life Without Regret
To live a life without regret, you need to accept the mistakes that you have made and then forgive yourself. Self-acceptance is about accepting the positive and negative aspects of yourself. It doesn’t mean that you can’t change, but rather allows you to be aware of past mistakes and future limitations.
2. Let go of the past
Living a life without regret is about living in the present, not the past. Past events shape us, and affect us, yes, but try not to dwell on them too long. Regretting a past event for an extended period of time leads to guilt. Letting go can sometimes be the hardest part. Grieving a loved one, for example, never feels long enough to honour their life. But spending too long in regret will become a regret of its own.
3. Learn from the lessons
If you want to have fewer regrets in the future, then learning from your mistakes is imperative. When you regret a decision or action, commit to making a different decision next time. Make concrete and achievable goals to ensure you stay accountable.
4. Get it out
It can be cathartic to release the negative emotions you have surrounding your regrets. Find the way(s) that work for you. It could be journaling, counselling, or chatting with a friend. Whatever it is, express the regret you are having. You may also find it helpful to discuss or write out what you are going to change as a result. This can help to keep you accountable.
5. Focus on what you can control
If you’re feeling down, try to focus on the things you can control. Focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed since that past decision or action.
6. Mix it up
If you are spiralling down a tunnel of deep regret or remorse, try to distract yourself and pull yourself back into the present. Try a new activity, or learn a new skill. The achievement may help boost your self-confidence.
“There are no regrets in life, just lessons.” Jennifer Aniston