In this podcast (episode #450) and blog, I talk about managing regret.
As the new year approaches, we generally start to think about all the changes we want to happen in our lives. Likewise, many of us may find ourselves reflecting back on the previous year, and sometimes that reflection comes with a lot of regret. We may think back to our last New Year’s Eve and about all the resolutions we made then that we didn’t fulfill, or about all the mistakes we made in 2022 that we wish we could change.
Unmanaged regret can be emotionally crippling, making it hard for us to move on or heal. It 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 actually be a hopeful emotion, if we learn how to see it as a warning signal telling us that something is wrong and needs to change in our life. We cannot change what has happened to us, but we can change what happens in us. We are in control of the “now”, which means that we can control how our past plays into our future.
Part of this process involves redefining what it means to make a New Year’s resolution. Seeing a resolution as a way to actively use past regrets to our advantage is a powerful mindset shift. Asking ourselves questions like “What are the lessons I learned this past year? What were some things I wish I hadn't said or wished I had said?” helps us reconceptualize (redefine) the way our past affects our present.
It is within this framework that we can make our regrets work for us. When we think of something that we regret from the perspective of “what did I learn?” and “how do I want my future to play out?” our frontal lobe responds, which, alongside the amygdala, helps us problem solve and figure out the details of how to accomplish our goals, changing the structure of our brain in a positive direction. As this happens, we will start to perceive the obstacles that might hinder our goals as less significant, which helps us make our New Year’s resolutions a reality.
Of course, this process takes time, and there are some things you can do to make the task of managing past regrets and setting new goals easier:
i) Be kind to yourself and thank yourself for what you did achieve last year. Try writing down all the things that happened in the last year that brought you joy. Look for the change in you now, and what happened over the past year that got you here. This will help you focus on the positive and reframe the negative. Try also writing down all the things you are looking forward to in the next year, which will encourage you to face the new year with hope.
ii) Manage your mind daily. This will keep you focused on what’s doable each day, and teaches you how to actually build a new thought pattern into your mind, brain and body in little bits, which is the most effective way of achieving a goal. One great way to do this is using the Neurocycle mind management method, which I discuss in detail in my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and my app Neurocycle. The Neurocycle is a way to harness your thinking power that I have developed and researched over the past three decades. It has 5 steps:
- Gather awareness of how you feel mentally and physically when you experience regret. Are you frustrated? Annoyed? Angry? Sick to your stomach?
- Reflect on how you feel. Why do you think you feel this way?
- Write down your reflections to help organize your thinking.
- Recheck: think about what your thoughts and feelings are trying to tell you. What is it signaling to in your life? Look for clues in your writing, then start to reconceptualize the way you are thinking.
- Do your active reach. This is a thought or action you need to practice daily to help you reconceptualize what you thought about in the previous step. For example, you could set a mantra or theme for the new year, which could be as simple as a word such as “spontaneity”, which you repeat to yourself daily and think of ways you can practice, such as visiting a new restaurant on a whim.
For more on managing regret in the New Year, listen to my podcast (episode #450). 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!).
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1:02 Dealing with regret at the beginning of a new year
4:30 What I am doing this year to manage my regrets
5:32, 10:44 How to use mind management to deal with regrets & change the way they affect your present
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are 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.