Superman did it, but you can’t. The past is unchangeable. Period. End of story. The could’ve and should’ve clearly doesn’t help, but we do it anyway. We regret. What’s up with this destructive pattern and how do we change it? Today, I’m going to walk you through my three-step process to stop regretting an unhappy past and start living in a happy now.

Let’s Start with the Basics of Regret

I’m not saying regret is all bad. It can be a great way to learn from a past mistake and do better next time. However, if you’re reading this right now, that’s not your issue (those other people are off having fun right now). Your issue is that regret keeps coming up and it’s hurting your mental health. So, that’s what I’m addressing today.

Regret is all about a belief you’re holding that you missed an opportunity! If you’re feeling regret, you believe that if you had made different choices, you would’ve had a better outcome in whatever situation you’re upset about. So what this really means is that you’re beating up on yourself and undermining your self-esteem. This unhealthy, negative emotional state results in self-blame, doubt and low self-worth. Yuck!

So, what can you do?

Here’s the 3-Step Process for Making Regret a Thing of the Past (pun intended):

Step 1: Meet it Head On

It’s important to recognize your feelings! Remember you feel the way you think. Do you think you’re a victim? “There’s nothing I can do. I’m stuck!” Do you think things like, “If I’m wrong, I’ll be so embarrassed so I won’t say anything.” Do you tell yourself it’ll be too painful to be vulnerable with a partner? Do you believe all relationships end in pain, so why bother? There are lots of beliefs we have – you can tell a negative belief because you feel shitty!

The other way to meet regret head on is to identify the role it plays in your life. Usually, it’s a defense mechanism to shield yourself from hurt either consciously or unconsciously. Maybe you had a really bad relationship and you’ve got lots of regrets about it. If only I’d x… I wish I had y…. You start dating again but you’re so afraid to make a mistake and have regrets that you keep finding things wrong with the other person or creating a negative environment where they don’t want a second date. You don’t want to have the pain of the old breakup again, so you won’t take any risks. It might be time to acknowledge these limiting beliefs and get into therapy or find another way to break through the lies you’re telling yourself.

Step 2: Give a Real Apology… to Yourself

It’s time for a little self-compassion and to apologize to yourself.

Step 3: Figure Out What You Do Want

Regret tells you what you don’t want, so I want you to say out loud, very clearly, what you do want. And there are only two rules:

  1. You can’t change the past so what you do want can’t rely on the world spinning the opposite way on its axis, a time travel machine or bringing people back from the dead.
  2. Rule two is that what you do want can’t be contingent on any other person. In other words, it needs to be solely within your control and can’t involve you controlling anyone else.

Resources and Links:

8 Ways to Build Your Confidence and Self-Esteem

Rational Emotive Therapy: Change How You Feel with This Easy Tool

3 Strategies for Forgiveness

Neal J. Roese and Amy Summerville, “What We Regret Most… and Why,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 31, no. 9 (September 2005): 1273-1285.

“The Biggest Regret of All,” Kellogg Insight, February 2, 2012.

Nancy E. Newall et al., “Regret in Later Life: Exploring Relationships Between Regret Frequency, Secondary Interpretive Control Beliefs, and Health in Older Individuals,” International Journal of Aging and Human Development 68, no. 4 (2009): 261-288.

Karl Pillemer, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

Thomas Gilovich et al., “Regrets of Action and Inaction Across Cultures,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 34, no. 1 (2003): 61-71.


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