Regrets are like the gnats in the ointment of life. They disturb the smoothness of how we experience our lives. Most of us have regrets by the time we have lived a few years. You may have regrets such as ones I have experienced personally or with clients:
- For working too hard and not paying enough attention to loved ones
- For not applying effort earlier in life and not living up to one’s potential
- For not communicating well and losing connection in a relationship
- For not spending time to form friendships and ending up lonely
- For taking care of others too much and losing one’s own identity
- For repeating self-defeating behaviors and getting off track from what one wants
- For ________________ (you fill in the blank)
To regret means to look back and think we would be better off if we had done things differently. However, this does not help us with where we are now. How do we deal with regrets and prevent them from blocking how we feel about our lives? There are several things we can realize to become more comfortable with things we have or have not done in the past.
The paradox of imbalance. The paradox of imbalance is that no matter what you did, you probably will wish one day that you had done the opposite. For instance, if you worked hard and de-emphasized relationships with people, you later may wish you had worked less and did more things with people. Conversely, if you emphasized people and having a good time, you later may wish you had applied yourself more and accomplished things.
The way out of this paradox is to use balance in your life. However, when we are young, balance is not something we are particularly good at. Because of the paradox of imbalance, most of us have some regret about how we acted earlier in life. Knowing that all people generally overdo one behavior or another can help you see that you are normal. It is senseless to blame yourself for a behavior you may have overdone.
Change in values. Next, recognize that your values change throughout your life. People do not hold the same values in their teens and 20s as they do in their 30s, or in their 30s as they do later. You may act because of one set of values and later decide other things are more important. If you regret earlier actions, you may be ignoring that what you did was in alignment with the values you held at the time. You simply hold different values now. It is tempting to judge your current values as “better,” but this is unfair to yourself. You simply held certain values earlier, and you hold different values now. Just act on the values you have now without regrets.
Self-forgiveness. Finally, to let go of regret, forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is about believing that you have done the best you can at any given time in your life. You have done the best you can with the information you had, the mental and emotional abilities you had, and the circumstances you were in. You may be able to see ways you could have acted that would have worked out better, but hindsight is always 20-20.
Put another way, self-forgiveness is about not second guessing yourself or thinking you are inadequate or wrong because something did not work out the way you thought it might. Again, self-forgiveness is remembering that you are always doing the best you can with who you are and the circumstances you are in at the time.
Moving forward. Releasing regret allows you to move forward. In fact, without regret hindering you, you can use what you learned from your previous actions to create a different future. You do not want to repeat what you regretted. You just do not want to remember it with regret. That’s all.
This is Glenn Stevenson, with Self Sense Counseling and Coaching, until next month wishing you fewer regrets and greater clarity toward creating what you want.