Regret is FOR you, not against you.
This entry is about regret, and why it serves to support us.
Regret is an icky feeling for me. I think most people can relate to that.
Probably why regret can be so painful is that it is linked closely with shame. Often the things we regret are shameful to us somehow, and that piece is what makes the feeling of regret so powerful and ungrounding. We make ourselves feel inherently bad and wrong, rather than seeing the behavior as unhelpful and harmful-to self, others, or both.
You're Not Alone.
Trust me... I’ve made mistakes. And I have regret. I’ve treated others poorly. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve lashed out. I didn’t handle communication well. I’ve been too drunk! I dated someone even though I knew it wasn’t right. I’ve had fierce arguments with my sisters and treated them without respect. I entertained conspiracy theories in the past, and voiced that despite them being hurtful. I have many, many regrets that I could fill pages and pages from listing them…Maybe you do too?
Something that Ive come to understand about regret is that it is actually a very useful emotion. Regret lets us know that things we’ve experienced or done were not ok, and we have remorse-this indicates that we care, and that we are learning and growing. Hindsight is 20-20, and of course we would have handled things differently in the past with the knowledge, awareness, and understanding that we have now.
In fact, we behaved how we did because our knowledge, awareness, and understanding were MUCH more limited in the past. Human beings learn by trial and error- making mistakes and hopefully learning from them.
For me, some of my most painful regrets are actions I did or did not take EVEN THOUGH I knew better. Sometimes it takes a while for a lesson to sink in, or for us to have the courage or awareness to make a change.
You the reader may have regrets no doubt, and perhaps you can relate to what I am saying. Now, having regret is a very common human experience-it’s what unites us together, painful emotions actually DO unite us together because we build compassion for others. I find that this increases our ability to empathize and love unconditionally. I like talking about duality because it helps to quantify painful emotions like regret. If we didn’t know regret, we might not become the compassionate beings that we are growing into. According to the Oxford Online Dictionary, the opposite of regret is gladness or satisfaction. Perhaps we would not know those light and easy emotions (right gladness and satisfaction) without also knowing regret.
Now in the middle of night, when regret comes up….this is when we can struggle with regret the most as we are in a reflective mode, and sometimes feel a bit anxious about the next day……So when regret shows up and we start grabbing onto regretful thoughts- helpful servant that the mind is, it starts to show us more and more of the things that we regret.
I think I’ve spoken about negativity bias on this podcast before- this is the idea that the mind focuses on and expands the things that we are thinking and feeling. For example, if I’m really focused on the colour pink, in this moment, my mind will help me notice all the items in my surroundings that are pink. Ok- and this is why I refer to the mind as a helpful servant. It’s just trying to help.
However, it’s the middle of the night, you have an early morning, but you can’t sleep, and you start thinking about something you regret? Well it’s a slippery slope, because the mind will dig up all those files-those experiences and memories, and show them to you, as long as you are focused on regret and will entertain it.
I can appreciate how challenging, painful and sad that it is when our minds do this. What can compound the issue is that our minds like to link disparate thoughts and experiences into a story, or find a way to make meaning about it- see, your mind tells you, you should just give up, because you make so many mistakes, or see? You’ll never find a healthy relationship because you have all these things in your past that you regret- you make bad choices, you abandon yourself and others, you ignore red flags, etc. etc. So the mind likes to paraphase and create thesis statements about your regrets collectively.
And now, here comes shame in full force- You start to feel ashamed of your very being!!!! Shame is an isolating experience. Know that this is a human feeling, and that it does pass. So continue to breathe when shame knocks on your door. Let it be there, however. You might be noticing a bit of a theme in these episodes- I want you to allow thought and feeling, even when it’s uncomfortable, and breathe through it. It will pass.
When regret rears its ugly head- I want you to try a few things that have helped me and many others:
Concerning regret, the first life hack is allow that emotion. Do your best to invite regret in. What this looks like, is not grabbing for a distraction, it’s a noticing, acknowledgeing, and breathing kind of action. It’s an observing stance. For example, if someone walks past you, and they have on fluorescent orange socks, an observing mindful approach would be to just notice, there go some fluorescent orange socks, rather than judging, getting lost in thought, thinking about the last time you wore florescent orange….etc….. Right it’s about Observing. That’s what I want you to try with big emotions like regret. Observe it. Notice that it’s there- our feelings want our attention.
For regret, the second life hack is to support yourself through the feeling, because it is a really tough one. It feels so good when we can do something helpful- make yourself a cup a tea. Call a friend. Put a video of cute animals on. Do something supportive to yourself rather than something unsupportive- it took me a long time to not only realize this, but to actually implement it. Try doing something supportive-because regret is incredibly challenging.
The next life hack I have for regret is to comfort self with words and learn from the regret. Comfort yourself with words. say to self, I know, I regret that so much, and I have learned a great deal from that thing. And then, follow up those words with integrity-prove it to yourself that you have learned, and that you are moving in a positive direction. Walking the talk can help mitigate regret.
William J. Clinton stated, “If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you'll be a better person.”
The last life hack for coping with regret is gratitude practice. Sounds silly to some people- and I keep a gratitude notebook near my bed, because I know that sometimes at night, regret comes up. Gratitude is an incredibly helpful way to move away from focusing on what we do not want, and feeling appreciation for what is currently working, and all that is good in our lives currently. Many many people use gratitude and gratitude journals to support them. Give it a try.
Now for some people, it is really really hard to come back from these regretful thoughts and feelings with ease. I get it. Usually, sleep finds us and helps to reset that momentum of regret and shame. However, we can suffer a great deal before sleep comes. It’s much easier to handle regret right when it comes up, and try to be with it, and choose something helpful, even though it is there.
For example, when those thoughts begin to nag at you, pay attention- not in the sense that you fuse or grab onto the thoughts, but pay attention in the sense that you’re having some thoughts and feelings. Notice them. Observe them. Tell yourself that you’ll get through it. That, yes that was painful and you regret it. Tell yourself that you are ok and that it will pass. As it always does. Breathe. Breathe again. Acknowledge what you regret, and intend to learn from the lesson of the incident. Pull out your gratitude notebook and recall all the things that you love in your life. Even the little little things, like your pillow, a home with heating, your pen, your gratitude notebook even. See how that will support you.
Again, the most important thing is to comfort yourself, no matter if the regret is low intensity, medium, or high, big feelings like regret call us to be there for self- instead of admonishing self, berating self, struggling with self, wishing that you could go back and change it, stewing in shame…etc. Choose to help yourself through these thoughts and feelings.
Life Hack Recaps for Regret
Allow regret to show up- Regret is telling us something, and it’s a human emotion that will show up from time to time- choose to allow it to be there rather than struggle with it
Support yourself through regret-it’s a tough one, and this is a moment where we can choose to help self, by telling ourselves that yes this is hard, and that you will get through it. Breathe. Breathe again.
Trust that you have learned a lesson, and do good by your word. Regret has a message, usually that is to avoid situations behaviors or experiences that we engaged in in the past. The most important thing is that we learn the lesson, and actually practice it. This helps to mitigate regret, because you have something to counter it with- you’re doing something about it.
Practice gratitude. Gratitude is an immensely helpful tool to redirect our thinking towards helpful things- it can bring about those cherished feelings of contentment, gladness, and satisfaction- feelings that are the opposite of regret. Choose to write in a gratitude notebook, find a gratitude guided mediation, or simply look and think on the things that you appreciate in your life.
“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.” – Steve Maraboli
Thanks for reading!