Everyone on the planet has likely felt the pain or heavy, dull ache of regret. It is possible to transform regret into wisdom and action.

As part of living it is very likely you have a regret or two which has kept you up at night or stuck in a significant rut which has proven difficult to move on from. You may have behaved in a way and dropped a massive clang,er which had a big impact on you or the ones you love. It may have been not spending time with a family member before they died, not expressing your personal feelings to someone who mattered to you, missing out on your dream job because you didn’t take the risk. Whatever is was, it causes you to feel shame, guilt, disappointment, dislike for yourself and results in you torturing yourself emotionally and relentlessly. Sometimes this can go on for years in private (in my case a decade or two) and hinder your ability to take full joy in what life has to offer. We beat ourselves up, drown in regret over what never came to be, or we can use our energy to create what can be. This is the time to stop allowing your past to dictate your current thoughts, feelings and actions. Stop with the negativity and self loathing which is sabotaging your health, relationships, career, future happiness. Here are some things to remember and practice to turn this experience into wisdom and wellness.

You are human and therefore fallible

It’s unlikely you’ll meet someone who has not made a monumental f@ck up in their lifetime. It’s the bonus of being human, adventurous and adaptable, sometimes things don’t always work out in the way we hope for. Don’t force it and give yourself a break. Remind yourself, yes I have made mistakes and I am still loving and loveable. “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” – Rita Mae Brown. You are not alone, see the heartbreaking stories collected by a journalist here.

Stop obsessing over the past

This regret is no longer serving you and holding you back. This is burning valuable time which cannot be recovered and ruminating is not moving you forward. You deserve a great future, you are not all the things you tell yourself late at night. Your regret is an indicator that you care and feel. Replace feeling regret with hope (future focussed) and take action. Singing out loud helps, Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien

good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement

Make peace with yourself

Forgive yourself and any other people involved. The decision made sense for who you were at the time. The inner war of regret and resentment keep you a prisoner of negative thoughts and emotions. Accepting your imperfections, lapses of judgment and mistakes will give you freedom and lift the weight on you. If you feel the need, apologise to people involved. Trust in yourself, that you’re going to be a stronger and wiser person going forward.

Listen to your inner talk

Squash your embedded negative self talk and replace it with a more compassionate comment and tone. Become aware of what message you are telling yourself and don’t put yourself down as default. This practice could take time as you are replacing negative automatic thoughts with more self accepting and empowering words. Keep going.

Identify what you want

This self critical thinking is no longer serving you and impedes your awesomeness, potential and freedom. Consider what you really want and focus on that instead, happiness, love, achievement, belonging, giving, gratitude. Use the dark experience to motivate you to make the changes you now want (go back to school, make that move overseas, build a relationship).

"freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes" - Gandhi

Forget the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve

This causes you to stay in the past and are judgements placed onto the situation/you. Who’s to say how you should have behaved? Even now the ‘should’ is likely to be placing pressure on your current thinking and decisions, drop it.

Your thoughts affect your feelings and behaviours

I have written about the power of thoughts before. This is also born out by many people much smarter than me, Buddha, Eckhart Tolle, Seneca the Stoic, Bruce Lee, Susan Jeffers. Anyone who has experienced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will know they shape our feelings and behaviours, motivation . Make your thoughts work for you, not against you. This can take practise, the results are worth it. Changing your behaviours, backed by science

Practice gratitude and self care

Find the beauty in every day, a warm home, hearty meal (chocolate!), beautiful sky. Show appreciation to your partner, keep a gratitude journal, invest in friendships. These small things are the big things, and the positive will outweigh the negative by training your brain to focus on the good.

a cluster of pink flowers © Peter Bucks

Remember your awesomeness (daily)

Maybe you’re so wrapped up in the past you have forgotten how great you are now and the things you want achieve. Remind yourself of your positive qualities and what makes you rock, why your friends love you, how your quirks are amusing and adorable. You didn’t come this far to only come this far. Get to it.

You did that terrible thing or didn’t do that thing you ‘should’ have, without mistakes you’re not fully living, growing, learning, stretching yourself. Mistakes are proof you’re going for it and taking risks. Let it be and let it stay in your past. You have wonderful things to do now and in your glorious future. 

a beautiful sunset with a mirrored building to the left that is almost completely unnoticeable  © Mary Doyle

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