How to Make Regret Work for You & Not Against You
In this podcast (episode #322) and blog, I am going to talk about how to deal with regret. This is an important topic because unmanaged regret can be emotionally crippling, making it hard for us to move on or heal.
I would say that regret is like a dark hovering cloud. It can cover so many areas of our lives at once, sometimes without us even realizing, until it is too late and we are caught in a thunderstorm of emotion. But, like many clouds, regret also has a silver lining: our tendency to dwell on the past can also help us prepare for the future, depending on how we manage our regrets.
Regret can be defined as feeling sad, disappointed and frustrated over something that has happened, something that has been done, a lost opportunity, or lost time. As humans, we tend to take our regrets out on ourselves, which can have negative mental and physical heath repercussions.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Regret can be a hopeful emotion if we see it as a warning signal and learn from it. But how can we take a bad experience and use it to our advantage instead of getting stuck under that dark cloud?
1. Don’t see this skill as dependent on a particular kind of person or character; rather, see it as a different wayto think about how you feel. When you repeatedly “chew” on something but get nothing out of it that is helpful, you will feel worse, and your regret may end up owning you instead of you owning the regret. In fact, research shows that people that have the regrets and ruminate on them tend to have worse health outcomes! The key is to not keep chewing on that thought; rather, find a different way to think about the thought that will help you move forward.
2. Remember that you cannot change what has happened to you, but you can change what happens in you. You are in control of the now, which means that you can control how your past plays into your future.
3. Try not to regret things that are or were out of your control. Perhaps you think you could have changed an outcome if only you did x, y or z, but this can be crippling because it is based on a foundation of “ifs” and “maybes”—nothing is guaranteed.
One great way to handle regret is to learn how to manage it and make it work for you instead of against you. To this end, I recommend using my Neurocycle mind-management technique, which I discuss in detail in my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle. The Neurocycle is a way to harness your thinking power through mind-management that I have developed and researched over the past three decades; any task that requires thinking can use it, which means everything can, because you’re always thinking! This de-stressing, self-regulation 5-step technique can really work with any issue, and can be done anywhere, any place and at any time—all you need is you!
I suggest going through the steps below each day for 63 days, which is roughly the time it takes to build a new thought pattern or habit:
First, gather awareness of your regret. How does it make you feel mentally and physically? Don’t deny or suppress it, but also recognize that you can respond to it. You are not helpless!
Now, in this state of mind, reflect on your ability to respond by acknowledging that you made the decision to do or not do something, perhaps in the heat of a very emotional moment. This may not have been the best way to make a decision, but, nonetheless, it was made. Reflect on what was unhealthy about the decision in order to ascertain all its implications, but in a very accepting, non-judgmental way; remember, it’s okay to make a mess!
But remember, when you dwell or ruminate on the decision, like a cow chewing on its food, it can cripple you emotionally and may spill out into other areas of your life, especially your relationships and creativity, so don’t spend too much time reflecting!
Next, write down all the implications from the decision to help you organize your thinking.
Then, recheck your thoughts, looking for patterns and triggers. Use statements like these to help you recheck:
- I may or may not be able do anything about this; I may or may not be able to change the consequences. What I can do is to try to repair any damage to any people involved, and try to manage the consequences (if at all possible). If I can’t, I will work on accepting this even though it makes me sad, which is okay.
- What is the lesson here? What will help me not repeat this pattern of thinking again the future, or at least catch myself quickly and stop? I will remind myself that I will make many good decisions in the future because I have made good decisions in the past.
- I will actively choose to not allow myself to continually revisit the regret, only the lesson! When I am tempted to go back there in my mind, I will ask myself, “Do I really need to think about this? Is it helping me? No! I have moved on.”
Here are some other great rechecks to help you work through your regret in this step:
- Find yourself a great quote to help you reconceptualize your past, such as this amazing quote by Ritu Ghatourey: “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we took too long to make”. Put this quote somewhere you will see it, and read it often, especially when you feel regret start to take hold.
- Keep telling yourself that it’s okay to make a mess because you are human, and it is part of the journey of discovery. You are figuring out who you are and what you want!
- As much as it hurts and is frustrating, and as much as you might want to turn back the hands of time, you should try to see every regret you have as an insight into who you are and how you can repair and grow as a person.
- Our decisions in the moment are driven by the strongest emotional memory force in the strongest thought that has been triggered in that moment. One way to help you deal with a strong thought in the moment is to practice standing outside yourself using a technique I call the MPA, or multiple perspective advantage. It allows you to objectify, externalize and distance yourself from a situation to provide a better perspective, which can help you assess your own feelings and emotions when it comes to the regret you are facing, and find the courage to find a way forward. I recommend practicing this pause for 10 seconds for around 6 to 10 times before responding to how you feel.
- The nonconscious mind is filled with the drivers (thought trees) that become the influencers behind our decisions; as we make decisions we regret, grab this as an opportunity to find the deeper issues that are perhaps creating these response patterns and use the Neurocycle to start unwiring them.
- See yourself as a scientist who is always learning and discovering through testing, hypothesizing and researching yourself. During this process, everything is uncertain, and therefore everything you think, say and do becomes a learning opportunity!
- When wading through the pain and frustration of failure and regretting past decisions, we often don’t realize what lies ahead, so work on focusing on your future as well. Give yourself permission to hope and dream!
- Watch how you speak to yourself. Instead of saying something like “why did I do that”, “what was I thinking!” or “I am so stupid!”, say something like: “I did that because of…”, “I was thinking … and therefore did ….”, or “There was a reason, because everything I do and say has a reason behind it…”. Explore the why, don’t just ruminate on the what.
Lastly, take action to practice your new way of managing regret! Here are some great active reaches to help you do this:
- Remind yourself that failure is a stepping stone to success. You shouldn’t regret your decisions, no matter how bad they turn out to be!
- Tell yourself that you are learning that pitfalls on the road are part of the journey.
- Remind yourself that although this regret hurts, you will come out on the other end as a healthier person. Every failure and mistake is part of something that is building you up as a person.
- See a failure or mistake as something that will fuel, not immobilize, you.
- Remember that the more times you fail, the more chances you have to succeed!
- Tell yourself that the best way to master regret is to embrace it for the message it brings to you as a person.
For more on managing regret, listen to my podcast (episode #322). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
To learn more about how to manage your mental health and help others, join me at our 7th Annual Mental Health Solutions Retreat, December 2-4, 2021! The core focus of this conference is to give you simple, practical, applicable, scalable, and scientific solutions to help you take back control of your mental health, help others, and make impactful changes in your community. You will also learn how to manage the day-to-day stressors of life as well as those acute stressors that blindside us. Our goal is to address your most pressing mental health concerns, help you find answers, and equip you with the knowledge and resources you need to make the change from a life of barely surviving to one where you are thriving. Register today at drleafconference.com!
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2:00 My own struggles with regret
3:10 Regret doesn’t have to take over your life!
4:00 Why we need to understand & manage our regrets
4:30 What is regret?
6:00 Why it is okay to have regrets
8:40 How we can make regret work for us instead of against us
11:00 The danger of rumination
13:00 Why we need to learn how to manage regret
15:20 What do we regret more, what we did or didn’t do?
23:00 How to use the Neurocycle to deal with regret
30:00 How to reconceptualize regret
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.