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"Never regret.
If it's good,
it's wonderful.
If it's bad,
it's experience."

Victoria Holt


We've all been to that sad and angry place known as regret. We don't like it there but, at some point everyone has been forced to take a trip there after s/he did or said something and then thought, "OMG, why did I do that??? What was I thinking???" We fret. We panic. We frantically try to think of a way to undo what's been done. If only there were a "delete" button or a "rewind" button, we think desperately. But, alas, there is not. You can never undo what's been done, no matter how badly you might want to. Recently I faced a situation like this. I did something and I instantly regretted it, but there was no going back. Like for me, the next day an email from Oprah popped up in my inbox with the title: "Six Steps To Regret-Proof Your Life". Perfect! I might not be able to go back and undo this mistake, but I could work on preventing it from happening again, which was certainly better than then frantic what-do-I-do-now? thoughts that were racing around in my head. I dove head first into the article with the cheerful hope that it would somehow help me move from regret to acceptance. In this post I'm going to fill you in on Martha Beck's article "Who's Sorry Now?: Six Steps to Regret-Proof Your Life" as well as add my own little insights on the topic (considering I've had some personal experience relating to the not-so-pleasant subject of regret!).


Martha Beck's Six Steps To Regret-Proof Your Life


  1. Get beyond denial. In this step, Beck argues that we need to get away from the "shouldn't haves," which are statements like "That shouldn't have happened" or "I shouldn't have done that." When using these statements, Beck claims that we are "in a struggle against reality," which I completely agree with. Things happen. "Shouldn't haves" don't change the facts. According to Beck, "if only" statements are just as bad (if not worse!). When we say things like, "If only I hadn't gotten married so young..." or "If only I could have gotten that job..." we're also avoiding reality. Sure, things might have been better "if only..." but they might have been worse. Either way, they aren't that way and we have to live in the moment, in our now. Beck says this (which I love!): "If you're prone to unproductive regret, please hear this: Everyone agrees with you. That thing you regret? It really, really, really shouldn't have happened. But. It. Did. If you enjoy being miserable, by all means, continue to rail against this fact. If you'd rather be happy, prune the "shouldn't haves" from your mental story, and move on."


  2. Separate regret's ingredients. According to Beck, regret is a mixture of being sad and being mad (two awful emotions if you ask me!) and there can be difficult levels of each depending on the situation. (Sometimes a lot of mad and little sad; sometimes just the opposite.) What Beck advises is to understand that both emotions are there in whatever quantity they've manifested themselves in. Beck argues that many people get stuck in either anger or sadness and deny the presence of the other emotion. Beck believes that it's best to consider both emotions and to deal with them separately. She suggests listing all of the things you're sad or angry about by using the following statements: "I'm sad that..." and "I'm angry at..." When you regret a situation, list all of the reasons you're sad and angry and then move on to the next step.


  3. Grieve what is lost. It's natural to be upset when you've lost something, whether it be a loved one, a job opportunity, or your dignity (yeah, I added that last one...). Beck advises taking time to grieve what it is that you've lost. It's okay to be sad and upset. Do whatever you must to deal with your sadness and your loss. Beck makes a great point about getting over regret and dealing with your sadness and I just have to share it with you here: "You're finished grieving when you see someone gaining what you regret losing and feel only joy for them—maybe even secret gratitude that circumstances forced you to enlarge your own capacity for joy." I don't know about you, but I have a hard time dealing when I see someone else getting what I thought I wanted. (Guess this means I have some work to do!). Beck realizes that sometimes parts of the sadness just won't go away and, according to her, this is regret's way of telling you to find part of whatever you lost (see the next step).


  4. Reclaim your dreams. While you probably can't get back whatever it is that you've lost, you can reclaim the essence of that thing. Beck offers some examples. If you're unhappy with your weight, love your healthy body. If you lost a winning lottery ticket, find ways to enjoy abundance. If you've spent too many years being celibate, enjoy passion. Basically, no matter what it is that you regret, you have the ability to claim some part of it -- the essence of whatever it is that you lost -- right now. Think about what you would have gotten from that thing that you lost and cultivate those experiences in your life through what you already have. Think you would've been happier if you hadn't made that mistake? Celebrate the happiness in your life. Think you would be more sane if you hadn't had five kids? Spend some time alone and think about all of the things you love about your family. Beck says that she can "brazenly promise that if you decide to reclaim the essence of anything you regret losing, you'll find it—often sooner than you think, in ways you would never have expected."


  5. Analyze your anger. While sadness may sometimes jump to the forefront when we're dealing with regret and loss, anger is just as important Beck says. According to her (and I agree!), anger is something that can steer us. It can guide us in the directions we need to go, but we have to listen to what our anger is telling us. About anger, Beck says: "Don't fear it, run from it, tranquilize it, try to kill it." Instead, deal with it. I don't know about you, but I am definitely an avoider when it comes to this department. Rather than deal with anger (both at myself and at others), I avoid it. I push it away and do my best to pretend it's not there. But, no surprise, it always comes back. Emotions don't disappear unless they are dealt with. If you don't deal with them (one of my main problems!), you just move them around and they will manifest them in a variety of different (and sometimes very inappropriate) ways. Beck suggests meeting with a friend or writing in a journal about your anger. She says, "There will be a lot of meaningless sound and fury, but there will also be information about exactly what needs to change in your present and future so that you'll stop suffering from old regrets and create new ones." This is so true and I will absolutely be embracing this advice (as hard as it might be for an emotion-avoider like myself!).


  6. Learn to lean loveward. This is my favorite step (and that's mostly because I love the word "loveward"). Beck writes: "When I saw A Chorus Line, I wondered if it's literally true that "I can't regret what I did for love." So I did a little thought experiment. I recalled all my significant regrets, and sure enough, I found that none of them followed a choice based purely on love. All were the consequence of fear-based decisions. In the cases where my motivations were a mix of love and fear, it was always the fear-based component that left me fretful and regretful." Reading that really made me think. What decisions have I made based on love? When I make a decision based on fear (which I do all too often), it is usually not the right decision. Next time I'm wondering if I will regret what I'm doing/saying, I plan to ask myself: "Am I making this decision based on love (for myself or others) or is this decision coming from a place of fear?" I suggest you ask yourself the same question and we will both have a lot fewer regrets! 
     

 

In the email sent by Oprah, this quote was posted at the top. For whatever reason my eyes jumped right over it and into the heart of the email. This morning when I went to re-open the email, the quote was promiently staring at me in my in-box, in the small section where a sample of the email is displayed and I was completely obsessed with the truth in it. The quote, by John Burnside, author of The Glister, reads:

"Mistakes don't happen in a single moment..."


What could be truer than that? While I admit that there are times when a word or two slips out of your mouth that you want to take back, isn't it usually more complex than that. The big mistakes -- those that are usually most detrimental to our happiness -- typically are the reselt of many, many moments adding up (some of which are just moments of thought). Many  mistakes, though we'd hate to admit it to ourselves, are premeditated. We know we're about to do the wrong thing, make the wrong choice, say something hurtful -- but we do it anyway. The important thing to remember is that we all make mistakes. Tiny ones. Small ones. Average ones. Big ones. Life-altering ones. We all make them -- it's part of life! -- and that's okay. All we can do is the best we can. We can read the ideas above and hope that, more often than not, we choose the better path, the path of least regret.

 

How do YOU deal with regret? 
Have any good tips for dealing with those OMG moments?
What do you think of Beck's steps? Will they work for you?

Comments

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Very cool article. For me, the biggest regrets are with relationships. Moments of "D'Oh!" that slipped out and can't ever be stuffed back inside. The hardest part of dealing with those regrets (for me) is the "what if" and "if only" scenarios that keep playing out in my head. I often have to forcibly return myself to the present to stop those feedback loops from playing over and over again. I almost have to talk to myself like a child:

"Stop it. It *did* happen, you *can't* take it back, and (whether you believe it or not right now) it *was* for the best."

it might sound harsh, but sometimes a little "tough love" on the self is just what the doctor ordered. :)

Good post. I think where you want to be is partly in a place of appreciation. Part of moving forward is changing focus from what has happened onto what's happening now.

Also just keep yourself busy. Tony Robbins says that, "emotion comes from motion." It's good advice. Get yourself moving and you'll have an easier time focusing on the moment.

Jay - I agree that sometimes tough love is the best kind. Staying in the present moment is one of the best ways to deal with regrets, even though it may be very difficult to do that at times. Being present has a LOT of benefits which is why I'm working so hard to live in the moment.

Tim - Thanks for the comment! I agree that focusing on what's happening now (instead of what already happened) is the best way to deal with feelings of regret and loss. Great point about getting moving! It's important to deal with feelings, but it's also important to enjoy the moment, get moving, and interact with others.

Another brilliant article from you, Dani.

The toughest aspect of regret can be "moving on"... knowing that what has happened has happened, that whatever consequences will accrue will accrue, and that it's important not to put one's life in suspended animation.

Lucky - Thank you! :) I agree that moving on and accepting the situation for what it is is definitely the hardest part. Thanks for commenting!

Great post. The point that speaks most to me is 5. I'm getting better at dealing with my emotions and anger, but it takes time and I have to actually recognize that I'm feeling this way and decide what I'm going to do about it. Once I deal with it, I can release it. Thanks for the post; I enjoyed it!

This post is full of so much perfect advice. I have a lot of trouble letting go of certain regrets, hence I tend to be more angry at myself than at anyone else. You see, I know the regrets stems from the bottom lines of choices I did or did not make.

And yes, with practice, I believe these tips WILL work.

Dani,

you and Martha Beck have nailed it - thanks! her last point "leanloveward" is the one that helps me most. when i feel regret - this one helps me check my intention and motivators. anything that helps me recognize that fear is driving my actions is a GOOD thing.

i send you all that is good.

Very nice post. Our minds can be self-defeating in they tend to dwell on memories that stand in the way of our growth. I'm reading Cormac McCarthy's book, "The Road" and early on one line stood out on page 12: "You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

It has taken me years to learn how to best deal with those old memories I want to forget, but once I discovered how, at least for me, it freed me up so much. The problem in my thinking before was, I believed I had to learn how to repress them, keep them from entering my mind in the first place. But, that's impossible to do. They will crop up when you least expect, no matter how good you are at repression. :)

What I needed instead, was a planned escape route from them. Huge buildings have planned escape routes. Every twenty feet or so, evacuation routes are posted showing where you are, and how to get to the nearest exit. Our minds are like these huge buildings with infinite rooms and unlimited levels. Often we go deep in our heads, in the form of bad memories, with no planned route to get back out.

What I did was identified several of my best life memories, ones that always make me feel great no matter what. Then, whenever I found myself dwelling on the bad stuff, the poor decisions I made, the things I couldn't change, i.e., getting lost somewhere in the "building" of my mind, I immediately switched to one of the good memories in my head. This immediately led me out of the dark place in the building to a sunlit spot on the outside where I felt much better. Over time, my ability to flip from a bad state to a great state became almost instantaneous.

Well, I'm old, so I get to be a contrarian. :)

When I got to be 50, with mortality staring me a little more assertively in the face, I began to look back at my life. Not with regret, but in an attempt to understand the correlative. What I found was that lots of the seemingly innocuous decisions I've made have had the most profound, life-changing impacts. The kicker was, in no way was there a clue to that at the time. So, stuff I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about, and made cavalier choices concerning, wound up having way more importance than I gave it. Had I known this, my choices may have been different. But perhaps this was/is all by The Man Upstair's design.

So, if you're inclined to look at at things with the taint of regret, then you could definitely say mistakes are made everyday in a moment. The key is to be mindful of the learning and growing. Jay's right: it is all for the best, even if it's awful at the time.

Laurie - So glad you enjoyed the post. I completely understand where you're coming from. It definitely takes time to realize emotions and know what actions to take next.

Karen - I definitely know what you mean. I am usually most angry at myself for choices I did or did not make, but, with time, I believe I will be able to handle the emotions I have and will also learn to make more of my decisions from a place of love.

Lisa - I agree. Beck makes some great point and making choices from a place of love is some of the best advice ever. I really believe that if I'm making choices based on love (rather than fear) I will have a lot less regret.

Christopher - What a great quote! I've heard something like it before, but not from that book. It's so true (unfortunately), but I love what you've mentioned about dealing with old memories. Having a plan in place to deal with them is an excellent idea because, you're right, they can crop up at any time. I love the idea of using positive memories to counteract the emotions that come from the negative memories. Thanks for this comment! It's a great one!

Betsy - You're only as old as you think you are. ;) It's amazing how all of our decisions can add up to make our lives into what they are. Even the smallest things can have an impact on what we do, and, I really do believe that everything happens for a reason (even though it might not always feel that way). Like you said, it's important to learn and grow from our experiences and realize that even the bad things happen for a reason.

Mistakes are such an important part of our personal learning. Being aware, non-judgmental, and leaving regret behind help us to move on. I love daydreams. They catch me unaware, and suddenly I'm caught up in memories of the past, usually the best ones. "Mulling" on the other hand, I don't like. Takes me to those down places that make me even more down.

People remember and relive the past differently and as you said we choose the better path. That's very important.

I don't think the people in our lives can be mistakes though. Everything happens for a reason and the random ways we meet our friends, partners and colleagues gives us only so much control over what happens. We can only be who we are right?

Most of my regrets are probably things that *didn't* happen -- I am the Queen of this. And reading through your post, I am reminded again that all of these things I didn't do were fear-based. I play it safe most of the time, and sometimes (not all the time) that is such a waste! Life is for the LIVING, and that includes making mistakes.

So -funny enough- I hope to make more *mistakes* in my life so that I can look back when I'm old and grey, and think, "Darn, I lived an awesome life..."

Hi Dani .. I have to say I don't brood on what happened in the past - yes - I did those things, say sorry .. either to yourself for someone else (if it's a stranger .. as happened to me this week) or actually to someone for something wrong, but the thing that may be important to you is probably of little impact on another's life .. they probably forget quite quickly, we brood ..

My maxim is think before you speak, and look before you leap .. I try and keep a perspective on life .. not always done! But be practical and be the best you can, acknowledge errors and move on .. "lean love forward" as you quote; take the positive from that mistake - there's always something that's positive to take forward.

Thanks - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Great post Dani. A friend in college once told me after I had a huge falling out with the people I'd been friends with most of college, "Forget regret or life is yours to miss." I don't think it was her quote, but profound nonetheless.

Akshay - I love the question you posed in your comment: "We can only be who we are, right?" That's so true. We all have mistakes. We all have regrets of some sort. But all of the things we do makes us who we are. Everything happens for a reason.

Kirwin - You made some great points in your comment. Mistakes are part of life and one of the worst things is regreting something you didn't do (rather than something you did). It's so important to LIVE, even if that means making some mistakes.

Hilary - Thinking before speaking and looking before leaping are two great ways to live. It's important to do what you can to make good, love-based choices, but, when we make mistakes it's important to accept them and, as you do, avoid brooding about what we cannot change.

Srinivas - That is a great quote and very good advice. Even if your friend didn't think up that quote on her own she was very wise to pass it along to you. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Srinivas,

The quote is from Rent. Jonathan Larson, who wrote this fantastic musical, sadly died the day before the show's premier. It was an amazing show. The line you quote is from the song "Another Day".

A few lines from it:

There is no future
There is no past
I live this moment as my last
There's only us
There's only this
Forget regret
Or life is yours to miss
No other road
No other way
No day but today

Regret stinks. I have often put my food in my mouth and regretted it. My mouth gets me in trouble a lot. But every step is a step along our path, there's no getting around it. Just learn and move on.

Heathcliff - Thanks for providing more info on the quote Srinivas mentioned. I've seen Rent but don't remember that song. Sounds like I'd love it though!

Michelle - Regret definitely stinks and I also feel like my mouth gets me in trouble a lot. What you've said is so true: just learn and move on.

I choose to no longer dwell in regret over things I have not done. However, not wanting to experience regret is what motivates me to step out of my comfort zone each day. I prefer to know that I have had a life well lived and to know that I have dared to do the things that I have always wanted to do.

I absolutely agree with this-especially the first point. Regret for me is about wanting some perfect version of the situation and not accepting reality. When I can get rid of the perfect 'ideal' it helps me move more towards processing the rest of the stuff.

great article.

Growing up, my mother constantly reminded me that one should never dwell in regret, but to take action to positively change the situation and then move on with the knowledge that you - 1. made a bad decision, 2. tried to fix it 3.had the courage to face the consequences. Of course it's easier in theory, but I've also have another step in dealing with regret i.e. to see the good that has come out of the situation (believe me, there is always a silver lining, you just have to look hard enough for it).

Hi Dani,

This is an excellent post on an important subject, and you've handled with great compassion and balance.

Releasing works because it allows us to fully experience emotions and then fully letting go of them. The first point, denial, is crucial. It is because of denial that emotions linger and show up as regret.

k

Hi Dani,

I totally agree with #3 - Grieve what is lost. Too often we forget that we "lost" something. Just like when we lose a loved one to death, losing other things in our life also need to be grieved for. It's after we go through the process, we're able to move on and look at life through a new set of eyes.

P.S. I also loved your fabulous guest post on Davina's blog. Great job!

My favorite step would also be number 6, learn to lean loveward. When confused, we don't know which direction to turn to. It's always easier to remember that we can always look at love's direction :-)

I love this --- and especially #6 (was thinking that before I even reached that portion of the post). A new mantra I started last year, which I try to abide by is, "How can I add love to this situation?" Or more aptly, I tell myself to put love into everything. Even before I hit "send" on emails, or write portions of a book or post... I try to bless everything with the intention of love. That seems to wipe out fear, which wipes out regret.

Thanks for posting this!

Evelyn - Sounds like you've got it right. Don't dwell on the past and do your best to live life to the fullest so you won't regret having not done something. I need to take a page from your book and learn how to live like that!

Brandi - Great point. The idea of regret often ties in with perfectionism, which is something I struggle with. Life isn't perfect. Situations aren't perfect. We have to do the best we can and then move forward.

M - Your mother offered you some great advice. I think the three points you mentioned are great ones and I completely agree with the idea that there is always a silver lining. It's not always easy to see, but it is there.

Kaushik - I'm so glad you liked the post and the way I handled it. I agree that dealing with emotions and releasing them is SO important. If we ignore them (which I love to do) they only come back as more regret later.

Barbara - You make a great point here in addressing #3. We often ignore the fact that we've lost something and, therefore, don't allow ourselves to go through a grieving process. It's really important to do this. Thank you for your compliment on my guest post! :)

I TAKE OFF THE MASK - Great point. When we're confused we often don't know what to do and the right/wrong choice becomes unclear. Instead of thinking of decisions as right or wrong we should think of them in terms of love by asking ourselves, "Am I making this choice out of love for myself or someone else?"

Megan - You make a great point by bringing up the question you've started asking yourself. If we are doing things from a place of love then we are less likely to have fear and regret in our lives.

Hey!
Great post:)
Living a life without regrets is one of my personal goals, and in my life there have been things that I did that were stupid, that I would have liked to do differently, yes I regret them in a way, but I have accpeted that I cannot change the past and the best thing is to learn from mistakes.

I love the quote:

"give me the courage to change what I cannot accept and the serenity to accept what I cannot change"

Thanks for the post, looking forward to the next one!
Diggy

Diggy - That's a GREAT quote and something I definitely need to keep in mind. Thanks for your comment!

The un-do button is right next to the hibernate button, apparently. When you find it, let me know!!!

Oh regret... I'm so good at this. I'd like to think I've gotten better, but I'm still not where I'd like to be. I'd prefer to not even get to the regret stage, but, alas, I speak and act much more quickly than I think. Slow it down, sister.

One of the things I try to do is 'pick something up when I fall' - an experience is for naught if nothing is learned or gained. Even if it seems insignificant, take something with you from a mistake or a lapse of judgement.

This is a great post, I'll be calling on it often. Thanks!

Veronica
www.drrussbuss.com

Veronica - I love the idea of picking up something when you fall. We all fall down from time to time, but we can pick up lessons and learn more every time we fall. Great comment!

As a perfectionist, undo would be my best friend. It's just now how it works. So I found effective coping mechanisms.

The most important is that I turn the page and write the story forward.

I also learned to "version" my perfection over time. I also turn all my mistakes into lessons learned and carry the good forward.

A big part of why we want the undo is either we don't have the skills for a particular situation or we're in a different state and not our best selves. State management is one of those skills that things like NLP really helps improve. For example, you can shift from your worst state to your most resourceful state when you know your patterns, trigger, and anchors.

J.D. - You've made some great points in your comment. I'm also a perfectionist so I'd love it if everything that didn't work out perfectly could be undone, but that's not life. As you said, it's important to learn from mistakes and to write the story forward.

"Loveward"! What a badass description for something so awesome. Thank you for sharing this!

Hayden - Isn't "loveward" such a great word/concept? I love it!

Two things that come up for me in addition to what you have in the post:

Forgiveness

Accountability

Sometimes we have to admit our wrong doing or mistake in order to move past it. Forgiving ourselves and seeing it as a chance to learn for the future is also a big part of letting go of regret in order to move forward. Regret is much like guilt - getting stuck in events of the past to keep you from moving forward (due to fear of experiencing it again)

I also agree it's a build up over time. When I think of things I've said or done with regret, it's usually based out of fear, my defensive walls go up to protect me. I have more awareness today than I did several years ago allowing me to accept the situation, forgive and promise to choose a different path next time.

Stacey - Those are two great words/concepts that really relate to this post. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and love how you ended them on a positive note, addressing the idea of choosing a different path in the future.

I love this. At some point I learned not to invest in regrets. I make choices - I take responsiblity for the and realize that if they don't turn out... I can make a new choices. But with every choice and every experience comes growth and enrichment... though they might not always take the forms originally desired! ;) i am teaching this to my daughter - if you don't like ti, change it... learn from it... make the decision and make it from the heart... and know that everything you do makes you the amazing person you are. People are afraid of change... and yet change can be this wonderful choice that we can make!

I totally agree with the love leading not to regret. I know many who make choices based on fear of loss or fear in general. I look at my own choices and see that the tinge of regret I feel is more a sadness at not realizing the limited time I had to fully live in that relationship or experience. The regret is in not taking advantage of the time I had... not doing this or that one last time... not appreciating it while it was there. Is that regret or is it grief of the loss of that time? I wasn't afraid the situation would end, I was simply loving and living life...

Another great post and I do the lean loveward.

The Exception - Thank you so much for the feedback. As you said, with every experience we learn and grow. There are some things we can't undo, but we can choose how we think about things and what we take away from then. And, in the future, we can choose to make decisions based on love, to lean loveward.

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