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No Regrets: How to Let Go of Your Regrets and Heal Yourself

The road human experience is littered with regret. Each of us has had second thoughts about our past choices, whether it be a lost love, missed opportunity, or not following our passion.

Is it possible to live a life without regret? Yes, but it requires a bit of rewiring ourselves and how we approach each experience.

no regrets no ragrets

Everyone has their own unique regrets, depending on their values, goals, and experiences. It’s a common emotion that affects our mental well-being, relationships, and future decisions. People often tend to regret not spending enough time with family, dropping out of school, settling for a low-paying job, or not taking care of themselves. One of the most common forms of regret is about romantic relationships — breaking up with someone, staying in a toxic relationship, not expressing true feelings, or a missed opportunity.

Sometimes, the missed opportunity is referred to as the “lost opportunity principle.” A theoretical psychological concept suggests that people tend to regret those opportunities where they no longer have the chance to change or improve the outcome. According to this theory, people feel more regret for actions or inactions that are irreversible, final, or permanent than for those that are reversible, temporary, or flexible. This is because people can imagine different ways to possibly change or fix the situation if they still have some control or influence over it. However, if they have no control or influence, they feel helpless and hopeless and blame themselves or others for the lost opportunity.

For example, if someone regrets not expressing their feelings to their crush, they may feel more regret if they never see them again or find out they are married or in a relationship. However, if they still have some contact or connection with them or are single or available, they may feel less regret because they may think they still have a chance to confess their love or pursue a relationship.

“Imagine looking back on our lives after we die. We’ll see that so many things didn’t matter.”— Kōdō Sawaki

The complex nature of regret can create negative and positive emotions. Regret as a negative emotion if it leads to excessive rumination, self-blame, depression, anxiety, or reduced life satisfaction can be detrimental to our overall health.

Negative Impact of Regret

  • Increases stress, anxiety, and depression. It impairs our immune system, increases our blood pressure, and disrupts our sleep.

  • Trigger negative emotions, such as sadness, guilt, anger, and shame, which can lower self-esteem.

  • It interferes with our ability to enjoy the present moment.

  • Impairs cognitive functioning, which can bias our judgment and make us more pessimistic, risk-averse, or indecisive.

  • Has the potential to isolate us from others and make us less empathic and communicative or impair our self-esteem, trust, and attachment to others.

  • It’s not all bad news. If we allow it, regret can be a positive emotion if it helps us learn from our mistakes, avoid repeating them, and make better choices in the future.

Positive Impact of Regret

  • Use it as a catalyst for change, growth, and improvement.

  • Use it as motivation to take corrective actions, such as apologizing, seeking forgiveness, or making amends.

  • Has the potential to increase our empathy, compassion, and gratitude for what we have.

  • Create the opportunity for us to learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future.

Ways to Cope & Use Regret to Your Advantage

Forgive yourself. Regret often stems from the inability to cope with things you did or didn’t do. You might think you deserve the self-criticism and negativity, but that’s not true. Instead of denying, suppressing, or avoiding our regret, we can acknowledge it and face it honestly and with courage. We can also accept our responsibility and admit our fault without judging or punishing ourselves. Instead, try to be compassionate and kind to yourself, and acknowledge that you are human and make mistakes.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett

Learn from your regret. Regret can help you identify what you value, want, and need to change. Use regret as a teacher and a guide rather than an albatross. Ask yourself what you can do differently next time, and set realistic and specific goals to improve yourself.

Make amends if possible. If your regret involves hurting someone else, you may want to apologize, seek forgiveness, or make restitution. This can help you repair the relationship, reduce negative feelings, and restore your self-respect. However, be mindful of the other person’s feelings and boundaries, and respect their decision to accept or reject your attempt. Also, be prepared not to receive the closure you had imagined.

Let go of our regret. Instead of holding on to our regret or letting it consume us, we can release it and move on with our lives. Focus on the present and the future. Regret can keep you stuck in the past and prevent you from enjoying the present and pursuing the future. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t change, try to focus on what you can control and influence. Practice gratitude for what you have and optimism for what you can achieve.

In the Zen practice, we use a gatha as a tool to remain present in each moment. The word gatha is related to the Sanskrit term for “song” or “verse.” Gathas are related to another type of meditative tool — mantra. A mantra is a sacred sound or word, repeated over and over, either silently or out loud, to help you focus in meditation. You can use the same mantra for different activities, or you can use it as a meditation by itself. Gathas are different from mantras because each gatha is connected to a specific activity and helps you become more aware and mindful of your actions.

Here’s an example: Throwing Out the Garbage In the garbage, I see a rose. In the rose, I see the garbage. Everything is in transformation. Even permanence is impermanent.

Be mindful of our regret. Instead of being distracted or overwhelmed by our regret, we can be aware of it and observe it with clarity and calmness. We can also be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, and actions and how they affect our regret. Approached from a Zen perspective, we can also be mindful of the impermanence, interdependence, and emptiness of all phenomena, including our regret.

Find a creative outlet for the emotion. Regret is one of man’s greatest creative motivators of all time. From The Beatles’ song “Yesterday” to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, almost every great work of art in between can nod to regret as a source of inspiration. Regardless of your medium, you, too, can find inspiration in regret for your imagination, innovation, and expression. It’s a fabulously cathartic way to process the emotions of regret.

Regret is a common and natural emotion we all face as we think about our lost loves, missed chances, and unfulfilled dreams. It may be hard to live without any regret, but it is possible to deal with it in a positive way. To cope with regret, we must be kind to ourselves, learn from our errors, make up for our wrongs, and move on with our lives. We can also use regret as a motivation to change and grow and find artistic ways to share our feelings. Regret can become a source of inspiration instead of a source of pain. If we are mindful, we can see regret clearly and use it to improve ourselves and our choices. The key is to use regret as a teacher and not as a tormentor. This post also appears on Medium

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About Andrew

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At the age 17, through the guidance of his older brother Chris, he discovered the path of Buddhism. His journey with the practice has taken him across oceans and deep within himself. As a Zen bodhisattva, he works towards helping others find their own path without reward.

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