Regret is defined as a feeling of sadness or disappointment over something that has happened or been done. Perhaps one of the most difficult experiences I encounter is that of regret. Having no control to go back in time and change a decision or action leaves me with tremendous anxiety. The haunting thoughts of “I wish I hadn’t ….” or “if only I would have…” run over and over in my mind.
These ruminations can lead to distraction, loss of focus, interrupted sleep and a lot of self-blame and criticism. It is downright miserable. At the core of this experience is the reality that change in behavior is not possible. The only change that can be incorporated as a result of regret is learning so that future regret can be avoided. Learning to avoid the pitfalls of regret requires self-awareness and insight.
Now, it is worth noting that the title of this blog is incredibly misleading and unrealistic. A life devoid of regret is an impossibility. None of us will do and say everything perfectly, at exactly the right time and with exactly the right words to avoid the treacherous experience of regret. However, it seems to be an important lesson that our parents and elders try to teach us from an early age. I vividly recall my parents instructing me to “think before you speak.”
There seem to be two specific types of regret: micro-regrets and macro-regrets.
Micro-regrets are small, moment-to-moment missteps that occur during the cadence of everyday life. These are the situations where you stick your foot in your mouth by saying something you wish you could suck back in. They are also the moments when you don’t say something, and you desperately wish you would have. For example, someone cracks an inappropriate joke that grinds on a value system dear to you and you don’t speak up to express your disapproval.
Macro-regrets are typically on a larger scale and have the power to change the trajectory of a person’s life. Examples of macro-regrets might include pivotal decisions to not pursue a particular career choice, not fully engage in a certain romantic relationship (perhaps being unfaithful), or not taking a particular risk. Often macro-regrets swirl around parts of life left undone.
Often I include some suggestions or even a recipe of sorts for incorporating some steps into your life to improve your mental health in a particular area. When it comes to avoiding regret, we all have a unique process. I cannot know what will lead to regret for another person, or certainly to what degree the regret will be felt.
What may be intense for one person, is barely noticeable to another when considering behaviors or decisions surrounding regret. Therefore, instead of giving you suggestions, I will outline my own formula for minimizing regret. Again, regret is unavoidable, but with age and hopefully a bit of wisdom, I strive to minimize its impact on my mental health.
As I consider the areas that have the potential to minimize regret in the most significant ways, the following three categories emerge for me. In fact, this has become my action plan for moving away from regret:
- Saying yes and seeking adventure
- Being true to myself and making decisions that reflect my values
- Expressing my thoughts and feelings clearly and accurately
There are several behaviors that I consciously engage in, in order to live a life with minimal regret.
- Tell my children that I am their biggest fan often.
- Express my gratitude to the people that cheer me on and stand by my side.
- Communicate to my husband daily that he is amazing and the absolute love of my life.
- Leap at the chance to go to new places and experience new things.
- Work deliberately to identify my values and live them each and every day (honor, integrity, grit, compassion, empathy, faith, and justice).
As we wrap up our time together, I challenge you to consider what areas you have experienced regret. Next, consider how you will live more decisively and thoughtfully to reduce the likelihood of regret in the future. This is a preparedness that comes with great reward. After all, the opposite of regret may be peace, and I certainly hope that peace is with you.
If you need help finding peace, connect with Perspectives Therapy Services to discuss your needs.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.