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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tian

Overcoming Regret: 10 Ways to Move Forward and Find Inner Peace

Do you often feel like you could have done something differently? Regret is the stomach-churning feeling that the present would be better and the future brighter if you hadn’t chosen so poorly or decided so wrongly or acted so stupidly in the past, as Daniel H. Pink describes in "The Power of Regret."


Drowning in regret can also paralyze your decision-making, turning every choice into a painful ordeal because you are so fearful of future regrets.

Regret is the stomach-churning feeling that the present would be better and future brighter if you hasn’t chosen so poorly or decided so wrongly or acted so stupidly in the past. - Daniel H. Pink in "The Power of Regret"

According to the results of the American Regret Project on a sample of 4,489 Americans, almost half of the respondents experience regret frequently or all the time. So you are definitely not alone. If you are a human, you will regret.


The 4 Core Regrets


According to Pink's research, most of human regret falls into one of the four categories:


1. Foundation Regrets


Pink defines foundation regrets as those arising from a failure to be responsible, conscientious, or prudent. Examples include not saving money or neglecting one's health and financials. These regrets often stem from short-term thinking and a lack of future planning.


2. Boldness Regrets


These regrets are about missed opportunities and the failure to take risks. Pink explains that people often regret not speaking up, not pursuing adventurous careers, or not traveling. These regrets highlight a desire for growth and exploration that was left unfulfilled.


Moral Regrets


Moral regrets involve actions that violate one's values and ethics, such as lying, cheating, or hurting others. Pink discusses how these regrets can be deeply troubling because they reflect a misalignment with one's core principles.


Connection Regrets


Connection regrets are about lost relationships and the failure to maintain or repair bonds with loved ones. Pink notes that these regrets often stem from neglect or avoidance and can lead to a profound sense of loss and longing.


Regret is part of the human experience. So the goal is not to eliminate it, but to reduce how often we feel it and even try to harness insights for personal growth and better decision-making in the future.


Here are 10 ways to deal with and embrace regret, with real-life examples for each tip.


1. Value clarification


What are the things you regret the most and why? Reflecting on your regrets can help clarify your core values and priorities.


For instance, if you most regret not spending enough time with loved ones underscores the importance of relationships in your life. This regret may prompt you to adjust your work schedule to be more present for your family.


Exercise: Write down three regrets you have and reflect on what they reveal about what you value the most.


2. Reframe regret as a learning tool


Regret helps us learn from our mistakes. By reflecting on past actions and their consequences, we can gain insights that guide better decision-making in the future.


For example, if you regret not saving money when you had the chance, which led to your current financial struggles, you can use this experience to become more financially savvy and start a savings plan.


Exercise: Write down three regrets you have and reflect on 1) what did you learn from each of your regrets and 2) what actions can you take now to prevent such future regrets?


3. Bias towards action to avoid inaction regrets


As we grow older, there are more inaction regrets (i.e. regretting not doing something). Taking action is the most effective way to deal with these types of regrets and mitigate future ones.


For example, if you regret not traveling more in your youth, make plans to at least have one big trip a year to avoid further regrets of inaction.


Exercise: Reflect on an inaction regret you have and write down what actions you can take to prevent future regrets.


4. Practice self-compassion


Learn to treat yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would treat a friend. Recognize how normal and universal making mistakes and having an imperfect life is.


Exercise: Imagine you are your own friend, and you tell yourself about your regrets. What would you say to your friend to make them feel better?


5. Disclose your regrets


Disclosing your regrets can be a powerful way to mitigate the heavy feelings associated with them and find peace. When you express your regrets, whether by telling others, writing them down, or sharing them in a supportive group setting, you release some of the emotional burden that regrets carry.


Verbalizing regrets can provide clarity, helping you understand and process the emotions tied to those regrets. Sharing regrets with others can foster empathy and connection, as you realize that regret is a common human experience. This can diminish feelings of isolation and self-blame.


For example, you can form a "circle of regret," where individuals gather to share and reflect on their regrets in a safe, non-judgmental environment, can be particularly healing. In such settings, participants not only find solidarity but also gain insights from others' experiences, which can inform their own paths forward.


6. Judging our past selves fairly


Think about one regret you have. What did you know at that time that led you to the decision?


It’s important to remember that our past decisions were made based on the information and understanding we had back then. So it is unfair to judge our past selves based on the knowledge we have now.


For example, if you regret choosing to study a field in college, realize that your decision was the best you could've made based on what you knew at the time. This can help you forgive yourself and move forward.


Exercise: Next time you feel a sense of regret about something that you did or did not do, tell yourself: "I made the best decision I could've made based on what I knew at that time".


7. It was not all your fault


Regret by definition is felt when we feel responsible and blame ourselves for our actions/inaction. However, realize that not everything is within our control.


For example, you may regret that you invested in financial stocks during a market downturn and blame yourself for not foreseeing the crash. However, understand that global economic conditions and unforeseen events played a significant role, and it wasn’t solely your fault.


Exercise: Write down three regrets you have and how external factors influenced your decision or indecision.


8. What if it turned out worse?


When we feel regret, we tend to imagine alternate possibilities that would have turned out better than our current situation. However, have you considered how things could have turned out worse? Imagining an alternative that could have turned out much worse can provide relief and perspective.


For example, Tom regretted not getting his dream job. However, he later realized that if he had gotten it, he might not have met his future spouse at his current job.


Exercise: Write down three regrets you have and how the consequences could have turned out worse than they did.


9. Finding the silver lining in our current situation


Look for positive aspects that emerged from the regretted situation. For example, Lisa regretted moving to a new city for a job that didn’t work out. However, she found a vibrant community and new friends that she wouldn’t have met otherwise.


Exercise: Reflect on one regret you have and write down three things you are grateful for about your current situation that would not have happened if you did not choose your current path.


10. Anticipate regrets


Anticipating regrets is a proactive strategy to mitigate feelings of regret by considering the potential future consequences of your decisions. The principle involves thinking ahead and imagining how your future self might feel about the choices you make today.


Exercise: When faced with a decision, reflect on what you might regret if you choose one option over another. Evaluate whether this potential regret aligns with one of the core regrets—foundation, boldness, moral, or connection—outlined by Daniel H. Pink. If the potential regret does not fall into these significant categories, it might be less important than it seems, allowing you to let go of the anxiety and make a more confident decision.


For example, consider the seemingly trivial decision of picking a T-shirt color. When you anticipate future regret, you might think, "Will I regret not choosing the blue T-shirt over the red one?" If this regret does not pertain to your core values or major aspects of your life (such as health, relationships, or moral principles), it becomes clear that the decision is minor in the grand scheme of things. Understanding that this choice does not have long-term implications allows you to make a decision more freely and move on without dwelling on potential regret.


By applying the anticipation of regret thoughtfully, you can prioritize decisions that truly matter and alleviate the unnecessary burden of minor regrets. This approach helps in maintaining a balanced perspective, ensuring that your focus remains on significant life choices rather than being overwhelmed by every small decision.



Conclusion


Regret is a powerful emotion that, when managed properly, can lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of our values. By clarifying what we value, reframing regret as a learning tool, practicing self-compassion, and finding silver linings, we can transform regret into a catalyst for positive change.


Embrace your regrets, learn from them, and let them guide you towards a more fulfilling and purposeful future. By doing so, you not only lessen the burden of past mistakes but also pave the way for wiser decisions and a more resilient mindset. Remember, it's not about eliminating regret entirely, but about harnessing its lessons to live a richer, more meaningful life.


 

References




The American Regret Project


World Regret Survey


 

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