3 effective ways to deal with regret

27 March 2018 - Mindful Practices

In a recent viral video by Glamour Magazine, 70 people aged 5 to 75 were asked “What do you regret?” The answers were wide-ranging, but the pattern was clear. The children regretted things they did (“getting angry at my family”) while many teenagers and adults regretted what they didn’t (“not following my dreams”).

But there were also a small number of people who didn’t regret anything, or wouldn’t change anything if they did. How do we get to that point? How do we ensure that regret (and the consequential shame, anger or sadness) doesn’t overtake our lives?

1. Self-compassion

A study by UC Berkeley showed that the factor that differentiates those who are motivated by regret and those weighed down by it is self-compassion. “Self-compassion appears to orient people to [accept] their regret,” writes the researchers, “and this willingness to remain in contact with their regret may afford people the opportunity to discover avenues for self-improvement.” In other words, accepting regret is key to learning from it and moving forward. (The study also found that self-forgiveness did not have the same direct link to self-improvement.)

To shift your perspective from self-loathing to self-compassion, ask yourself: What would you say to a friend who has confided in you about their regrets? It’s likely that we would approach them with understanding and optimism—we can do the same for ourselves.

2. Seek new information

When we regret something, we’re unable to move forward because of one reason: fear. It’s too late to try to be a professional painter now. I’m too old. I have obligations. What if I fail? It’s too late to say sorry to that person I’ve hurt now. What if they don’t forgive me? These are valid fears, but how do we ensure they don’t cripple us?

The first step is to expand our narrow field of vision. Start by researching. Ask professional painters for advice. Perhaps you’ll find it’s not that impossible, or there are other pathways to gain fulfilment in that field. Read books about forgiveness. You may realise that you don’t need to be forgiven for your apology to mean something.

3. Work with regret, not against it

When we see regret as a bad thing, it’s likely that we’ll cope by suppressing, denying or venting. So forget “Have no regrets.” Regret is a normal and useful part of life. You don’t have to like it, but it’s important to acknowledge that you feel it. Then, try to understand it better. What is it exactly you regret? What do you feel about it? What do you want?

Regret is a useful signal that shows you what you truly value and need, which means that it is an important part of creating a better present for yourself. As one participant in the video said, “I have many regrets but I am where I am because of them so I wouldn’t change anything.”

Do you have a story about how regret motivated you to take action? Inspire us at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team