I am struggling. Struggling to make meaning from the more unfortunate events which have taken place in my life. Ruminating over what I could, should or would have done has halted any movement. Although that's not completely true; I am simply failing to move forwards, going back seems to be no problem.
These feelings of self loathing, pity, and anger are what prompted me to write this piece. It's important that when we reach a stalemate with life that we take a step back and scream into the abyss, "no more!'
What is regret?
Regret is wishing, pleading from the deepest crevices of your insides that things had gone differently. Perhaps you turned down a job offer, behaved badly in a relationship, or missed ample travel opportunities. The examples are boundless and without a doubt we will all face a number of regrets throughout our lives. It's a product of life, but one that can either break or make you.
This begs the question- how can we ensure that we rise up like a phoenix, instead of cowering like a puppy on Guy Fawkes?
Create a mind map with your regret placed in the middle. Generate the map by asking yourself the following questions and stating your responses:
- What actions led to this regret?
- What could I have done differently?
- Why did I not do those things? What was my thought process behind those decisions?
-Why do I regret the outcome?
-What would have been my ideal outcome?
-Can I still reach this desired outcome/Do I still want to?
-If yes, how? If not, what next?
Mindmapping the regret will not only help to analyse your previous behaviour, but will assist you in thinking about how to build yourself back up. Also, if you end up finding that the desired outcome is still possible then there is hope. What's more, you might even realise that the result of your ideal actions may no longer resonate with you. In this case it should be a smoother process to move on.
It's a cliche but there are bound to be lessons that can be taken away from this negative experience of yours. We cannot go through this life unscathed, especially if we have been bold enough to live it. So, yes it feels absolutely soul crushing right now that you didn't already know better, but what have you learnt so you can do better next time? That's the thing, there will be a next time. Whatever situation prompted your regret, that situation is likely to arise again, but this time you'll have an arsenal of information to draw upon. Make sure to use it.
Accept it's happened
There is literally no point dwelling on a regret. Despite the many sci-fi films out there we still have yet to create the time machine. We cannot go back and do things differently, but we can do things differently from this moment forward.
Acceptance does not come easy. Nevertheless, just think to yourself, 'is this something I will likely think about in 5 years time?' If the answer is no, then great, decide to move on now as opposed to 4 years and 364 days from now. If the regret has had rather extended repercussions, and the 5 year mark should be more of a 10 year mark then think about how useful it is for you to focus on it as much as you are. You can either focus on how wretched, stupid, and unworthy you feel, or start thinking about how you can make it right for you.
For instance, you may have acted in a way which has ended a particularly cherished relationship. Isn't it a better use of your time to think about how you can mend the relationship (if you want to), or how to ensure that it won't happen with anyone else in your life, than to beat yourself up?
I think we all know the answer to that one. Again, I know it is much easier said than done, but it's also necessary.
Forgive yourself, and create a mantra
Why think thoughts that do not benefit you? Just as you would cajole, and comfort a friend, do the same for yourself. Own your mistakes, but forgive yourself for making them. Accept that you can't do things differently in the past, but you can do so now and in the days ahead.
As humans we are fallible. We are all tragic heroes in our own stories with fatal flaws that catch up to us now and again. This doesn't mean we have to continually punish ourselves. It's actually ludicrous because self hatred serves no one. Redemption and perserverance on the other hand serve ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us.
However, forgiveness is an ongoing process, whether it be related to yourself or anyone else. There is no harm in creating a personalised mantra for yourself to repeat daily in order to stay on the right path. Ones that I routinely use are:
- I forgive others as I forgive myself. Just as I want what is best for others, I want what is best for myself.
- The past is gone. I cannot change my past behaviours but I can change who I am now and tomorrow.
We are all living with regret. Yes, use the above advice to help process yours, but also talk to those you trust. Talking with others about the 'should, woulda, coulda's' places a glaring spotlight on how common it is for people to be slung off course from time to time. Use your networks to help you understand yourself better, and your poorer decisions. Learn from your own mistakes, but why not others' as well? As Thoreau said 'Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.'
Here's to all of us who are trudging through trying to make sense of it all. Turning lemons into lemonade is not only for the optimists, it is a tool for all of us to survive and thrive. So, take a huge gulp, and 'live afresh'.