Although a lot of people claim to live their life “without regrets” personally, I’ve always found that to be pretty…alarming, is the word that I would probably use. Regret means to feel a sense of sorrow or remorse for an action; to regret some kind of wrongdoing. It’s for this reason that I actually think it’s actually pretty prideful to decide to live without any regrets; that it’s far more admirable to live by a quote that I recently read: “It’s not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them that defines us.” A woman by the name of Rachel Wolchin said that.
Yep. If you live long enough on this earth, you are going to make some mistakes. You’re going to make errors as a result of poor judgment, bad timing, pure carelessness, fear, desperation or impatience. Not all of them are going to be intentional either. Sometimes we can have the best of intentions and things still end up going awry. Some people regret their marriage (or the timing of it). Some people regret their career path. Some people regret their choices in friends or how they spent their money or even how they never really resolved past issues—ones that have now come back to “haunt” them.
If you can relate to any of this, the key is not to act like you don’t have any regrets. The key to real freedom is actually to face what it is that you regret so that you can put some steps into place that will help you to remove the guilt, deal with the issue and get on with your life.
And just how can you do that? It’s not easy, but as someone who literally wrote two books about some of the things that I’ve regretted, I’m telling you that it is possible to live healthy, happy and free. In spite of it all. No matter what the mistake might be.
Focus on exactly what it is that you regret. Say that you got married really young and then had children very early into your relationship when you always thought that you would travel the world throughout most of your 20s. Now your children are high school or college-age and you’ve only seen the states that you visit when you go to visit your in-laws. I’d venture to say that the regret is not your kids. You love them. It’s that you didn’t make the most of your time as a single woman before you became a wife and mom. If the regret is that you didn’t do certain things when you were younger, you can’t do much about that. Time machines simply do not exist. But if the issue is that there are places you still want to see, what are you waiting on? Get a passport. Budget out money and time to take a trip. And if your husband won’t go, guess what? I’m willing to be that you have some friends who are thinking the same thing that you are! Plan a vacation with them instead.
Make an amends. What if the regret has to do with a big fight you had with your best friend in college? One that was so severe that you haven’t spoken since (hey, it happens). If she (or he) keeps coming to your mind, there’s no time like the present to try and make things right. You see, one of the biggest lies that regret tells us is once something is done, it can’t be undone. That’s only partially true. You can’t change the past, but by reaching out, owning up to your part of the situation and apologizing, it can do wonders for both you and the other individual. Will things go back to the way they used to be? Maybe not. Sometimes that’s OK, though. Sometimes, the maturity and growth that are displayed by addressing the regret, believe it or not, can actually make things better.
Forgive yourself. A man by the name of Roberto Assagioli once said this about forgiveness: “Without forgiveness, life is governed by…a cycle of resentment and retaliation.” This doesn’t only apply to what happens when we choose to not forgive others (because just as much as we should accept that we make mistakes, we should also accept this reality about others), but when we don’t forgive ourselves either. You spent over-budget? Forgive yourself. You’ve gained 10 pounds due to emotional eating? Forgive yourself. You’ve spent years caught up in a habit that you’re just now realizing is destroying you? Hey, you know it now, right? Forgive yourself. Forgiveness doesn’t not absolve someone of their responsibility. It simply removes the burden, guilt and shame associated with it so that you know how to move forward in a more productive kind of way. The irony? If you don’t forgive yourself, it will weigh you down to the point that you’ll end up making more mistakes. And having even more to regret.
Learn from it. A wise man once said “The biggest mistake that you can make is to do the same one over and over again.” Indeed! If you spend a lot of time “rehearsing” or “replaying” the mistake multiple times in your mind, that is time, effort and energy that you could actually be putting into actually learning from the experience as you search for the best ways to not repeat it. We’re all students in this thing called life. If you can walk away from a mistake saying “I’m all the better for it”, then you’ve transitioned from a person with regret to an individual who’s obtained some wisdom.
Celebrate your progress. Yeah, it really is amazing—and by amazing, I mean sad with a touch of baffling—how so many of us will have no problem rehashing our mistakes, but won’t spend even a fraction of that time celebrating when we do finally have the “ah ha moment” that causes us to want to take steps to turn our life around! Remorse serves a purpose. It helps us to feel a certain way in hopes of wanting to make some necessary changes. But once we do, it’s then time to turn regret into relief and then peacefulness and then joy! Yes, for every mistake that you handle responsibly, that calls for a celebration! And that is what helps to make your regrets so much easier to deal with. I promise you that!