By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Don’t let regrets about the past ruin the present and future.
Do you have regrets? Maybe they are small ones; you wish you bought the other color or model. Maybe your regrets are big ones, actions that caused you or others pain, things you wish you could go back and change. But you can’t change the past. Almost everyone has regrets, some small, some large, a few even gigantic. So, what to do with those regrets? How do you get past the pains of your past?
Fix the things you can.
You can repair some things. You said or did something that damaged a relationship. Sometimes you can apologize, say you’re sorry. If you owe somebody money you can pay it. Sometimes an apology is not enough. Maybe you need to do something to make it right, to make your amends to the person you have injured.
Undo yes and no decisions.
You can undo some decisions. You said yes to a job or attending a party and now you wish you hadn’t said yes. You’re entitled to change your mind. Call that person, send them an email. Maybe you said no to something or someone, and now you wish you had said yes. Check it out; sometimes it’s possible to change your mind.
Pick a new alternative from life’s menu.
Sometimes changing your decision is no longer a possibility. For example, you wanted to attend a concert but didn’t buy the tickets in time. Look for other options. Maybe the person or group you wanted to hear is performing somewhere else nearby. Maybe there’s some other event you would enjoy instead. Don’t stay stuck in regret over the relationship that didn’t work out, maybe it’s time to meet someone new.
Only take responsibility for your part of the problem.
A lot of life’s regrets are about relationships. Maybe it was an argument with a family member or friend, that conflict cost you a relationship. Take responsibility for your part of the conflict. You can’t take responsibility for what the other person did or said. If you can fix it do so, but not at the cost of ignoring the other person’s part in the problem.
Reevaluate the alternatives. You may have picked the best alternative you had.
Sometimes you must pick between two bad choices. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You may have made the best choice you could under the circumstances. Be careful of hindsight. If you would have had the information you have now back then, you might have made a different decision. But you didn’t have that information, and you had to choose. Don’t spend the rest of your life stuck in regret.
Learn from your mistakes.
Don’t be one of those people with tons of regret who keeps doing the same things over and over. Stop piling up new regrets by learning from your mistakes and making improved decisions in the present.
Practice extreme acceptance.
Staying stuck in regrets can use up a lot of energy. Practice accepting that what happened is in the past. Avoid ruminating and allowing your mind to enlarge the pain. Shift your focus from regrets about the past to opportunities for better future.
Stop looking over your shoulder at the past.
The past is gone. Don’t keep looking back at the things that can’t be altered. When the thought of that regret comes up, practice shifting your focus to the future. As long as your alive there will be more events ahead on the road of life. Look forward to making your future the best it can be. If you only look for the bad in life, you will find it. It’s quite possible that all around you are opportunities for happiness here in the present and in the future.
Do some psychological repair.
Make healing from life’s regrets a priority. Sometimes you will have a close friend with whom you can talk it through. You may need to be careful about who you tell what. Telling family or friends about things you regret may damage your relationship. If you are not sure how someone will react to hearing about your regrets, that person may not be the one to talk with. Once you tell that secret, it can’t be untold. Some people find it useful to journal, write out how they feel in a document meant for only them to see.
If you’re having trouble processing and dealing with regrets, you may need to seek professional counseling help. Don’t stay stuck in a life dominated by regrets. Use some of these approaches to change what you can, and accept what you cannot change.
You find more about this topic under Regret.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.