Getting over the stuff you didn’t do … overcoming regret

Regrets: I’ve had a few.  I know it’s not very fashionable to admit it!

The in-talk is all about taking action in spite of fear, living for the moment, regretting the things you did rather than the things you didn’t.  But in-vogue or not, the truth is, until recently, I hadn’t shaken off regrets I’d been unhealthily carrying around some years past their expiration-date.

How about you?  Can you admit to holding onto regrets a little bit too long?  If you’re feeling the burden, let me share with you the two types of regrets and how you can learn lessons from your own so you can finally put them to rest…

Our first regret is natural regret:  It is completely human to feel the pangs of regret about missed opportunities or fortuitous chances that we let slip through our fingers.  You know a natural regret when you see it as a passing phase – you feel the anger/sadness/guilt but recognise how it will make you think and act differently in the future.  You live and learn.  Natural regret doesn’t stop you from taking action.  It might actually give you a greater desire to go after something even greater.

The ugly sister of natural regret is unproductive regret.  This is the kind of regret that becomes debilitating: maybe your first venture into entrepreneurship failed and now you’ve resigned yourself to working a 9-5 that is just not making the most of your talents and experience, or is in line with your future goals or perhaps you missed out on an opportunity for promotion and you’ve since been working below par, sabotaging any opportunity to be considered again.

What’s really unhealthy about unproductive regret is what it makes you believe about yourself: “I’m just not good enough”, “I don’t deserve it…”  This kind of regret is toxic: it taints your past and it limits your future.

It’s time to let the unproductive regret go with these three lessons:

Accept it

With some of my own unproductive regrets I kept playing the scenario out in my head, cursing myself for not acting differently.  The truth is, until I accepted that it did happen, I did choose one path that I later regretted, no amount of feeling sad and regretful was going to change it.  It’s time to make peace and let it go.

Lesson 1: Accept that it did happen, and that changing the past isn’t within your power.  Choosing your action in the future is in your hands, so decide now what ‘feedback’ there was in the experience.  What would you do differently next time?

Feel it

You need to dig a little deeper, beyond the feelings of regret, to the big negative emotions that tend to be at the root: these are anger, sadness, fear, hurt and guilt.  You need to deal with the root cause of your regret to make peace with it.  Grab a pen and paper now, bring your regret to mind and write it down at the top of your page.  Underneath that, write down “I’m sad about [my regret] because…” and list all sad emotions that bubble up.  Don’t censor them.  Then do the same with anger – “I’m angry about [my regret] because…” – and continue through the other 3 emotions: fear, hurt and guilt.  Once you have it all down on paper, you should feel some sense of lightness from letting out the bottleneck of blocked energy and negative emotion.

Lesson 2: Rather than bury down the feelings of the regret, face into them.  Acknowledge how it has made you feel.  Let the emotions come to the surface, feel them.  You will only begin to heal the sadness/hurt when you acknowledge it.  Have courage.

Read between the lines

Look back over your purge list from Lesson 2.  What is the truth behind the regret?  Say for example, you were too fearful to accept a speaking opportunity that would have done wonders for your reputation, the truth of the regret may be that you feel you missed out on the recognition, sense of success and credibility that it would have brought you.  Rather than focus on what can’t be changed – the missed speaking gig – focus on that which can.  You can choose to seek out another opportunity, speaking or otherwise, that would bring you the same sense of recognition, success and credibility.

Lesson 3: Look for the message within your regret.  Generally, you will have attached some meaning to the regret that, in the cold light of day, you may be able to find the same meaning on another path.

Have you learned to move on from regret? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.


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