5 Ways to Keep Regrets from Weighing You Down

Possibly one of the most universal human emotions out there is regret. We wish we had done something we didn’t do, or that we hadn’t done something we did. We wish the universe had tilted just slightly in that other direction. We feel shame about mistakes we made, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t change the way things turned out in the past. Regrets can feel like an anchor on your body or a shackle around your leg; they’re almost physical weights that hold us down, that prevent us from doing good work in the present or feeling joy about the future. In short, regrets suck.

The problem is, wallowing in regret really doesn’t get us anywhere, as anybody who’s tried it knows. There’s just no good reason to keep feeling embarrassed about what’s happened in the past, and yet we just keep doing it. Maybe there’s something almost comfortable about lolling around in the past, like a pig in the mud. It’s comfy here in our memory and our regret; it’s colder and scarier out in the world of the present, where new choices are being made and new consequences are being experienced. So how do we break out of the habit and get out of the mud? Here are a few ways to keep yourself looking forward and free of all those cumbersome weights.

1. Acknowledge your mistakes. Mistakes are real, and all of us make them. If we continue to deny what has happened, we’ll just keep feeling squirmy and unpleasant about it. So yeah, you should have been kinder to your friend, and less self-absorbed. You should have studied for that test or not stayed up all night. Yes, this is something you’re responsible for. Accepting responsibility is key toward moving on.

2. Take a breath. What happened, happened. And now it’s over. It’s time to acknowledge that something bad happened, or that you didn’t make the right choice. But the damage is done; whatever it is, it’s now over. Let the story come to an end. Let the fight stop or give yourself time to think through what happened. Take a breath. It’s very important to breathe, people. It works wonders for calming down a tense situation.

3. Look around you: the world didn’t end. It’s important not to blow things out of proportion. Sometimes we’re so eager to punish ourselves and feel ashamed that we lose sight of what really happened. Did the world end? Did your home collapse into a giant fissure in the earth? Are you still okay? Are your friends still okay? Then remember that things are Okay, and they will get more and more Okay as time passes.

4. Yep, time passes and it helps.

That’s probably the most important thing to remember about feeling regret; as time goes on, things in the past become a bit clearer, and a bit less painful. With each day, in fact, a bad day retreats in our memories, and yes, even the worst feelings get better. In the heat of the moment we sometimes despair, but life goes on, time passes, and things get better.

5. Look to the present, not the future.

It’s tempting to say we should always be looking to the future. It’s a lot better than dwelling in the past, that’s for sure. But it’s even better to try living in the present. This is the time when choices are being made and you’re living your life. This is the time for reflection. So try being present in the present! This is the moment that you get to shape and alter; it’s no use worrying about what will come in the future. The more you live in the moment, the less regrets will have a hold on you. Before you know it, the weight of the past will feel lighter and lighter — until it melts away entirely.

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Originally published at www.writerlylife.com on February 9, 2015.