What Can We Learn from Our Regrets?

What Can We Learn from Our Regrets?

By: Dr. Rick Petronella

Is there anybody in this world who has not regretted a decision they’ve made or a path they’ve taken? I am sure we all have. Yet, how people respond to their regrets varies considerably. Some people easily shrug off their regrets; no problem! Others review their regrets and seek to make amends resolve to do better next time. Still others are riddled with regret, ruminating over and over again about what they should have done differently.

What do you do most often?
The best way to deal with regrets is to acknowledge what we did wrong or didn’t do well, then learn from the experience. This is best done by treating ourselves respectfully and kindly. If, in contrast, we disrespect ourselves with negative self-talk (e.g. “what an idiot I am, how cowardly I was, how could I have done what I did?”), we will learn little as we will be too busy beating ourselves up.

We all make mistakes. The best of us learn from them, becoming wiser, stronger, and better in the process. Interested in following that route? Here are a few guidelines for you:

1. Reflect on what happened.
Consider the circumstances surrounding our mistake. Were we feeling pressured to do what we did? Were we lacking in important information at the time? Were there stressors that impaired our judgment? Were we feeling vulnerable, without support or love? Were our actions emotionally driven, rather than well thought out?

As we take the time to answer these questions, we’ll realize how complex seemingly simple decisions may be. 

2. Reflect on how you can move past your mistake.
We may not be able to undo our mistake, but we can still take appropriate action. If someone was hurt by our decision, we can apologize and make amends. If that’s impossible, we can do good in this world to make up for what we did wrong. Good actions often have a ripple effect, expanding beyond the moment.

 3. Use your regrets to grow in a new direction.
If we feel stuck, believing that there’s nothing we can do to change matters, let things be. That doesn’t mean we can’t take a step forward in a different direction. It doesn’t matter how big that step is… Just take it.

If our regrets have taken up residence in our brain, we know it’s time to let them go. Ecclesiastics 3:1-9 tells us there is a time to heal, a time to laugh and several other areas for us to look forward to. Here is another way of looking at our regrets… 

 Yes, there’s a time to regret. A time to learn from our regrets. And a time to let our regrets go.  A time to reflect on the past, and there is a time to move forward beyond our regrets. Also, there is a time to make better decisions and a time to find deeper meaning in our lives.
Solomon says it best…

Ecclesiastes 1:3 1-9 
There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens:
A time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
A time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
A time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
A time for searching and a time for losing, a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
A time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
A time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace.
God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.
I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy ourselves and do what’s good while they live.

Top 10 Ways to Move Beyond Our Regrets

Self-esteem is not a gift bestowed by those outside of us or something that can be taken from us by others. It’s an inside job. Rather than wait passively for good self-esteem to happen, we need to take action and move beyond our regrets. Daily or weekly is best. How do we do this?1. Make a list. What’s good about you? What’s wonderful? Hang your list near your bed so that you see it when you awaken and when you go to sleep.
 2. Forgive yourself. Acknowledge a mistake, but let go of self-recrimination. Recognize that you, too, are human and “allowed” to fail. 
3. Do one thing you’ve been putting off. It’s amazing how clearing clutter (literal or figurative) can clear a space for better self-esteem.
4. Relax! Meditate, exercise, and take a bath. When you’re relaxed, negative things don’t seem so big, and it’s easier to remember the good things about you. 
5. Do something you’re good at. The competence and accomplishment you feel when doing that activity are great antidotes to low self-esteem
.6. Learn something new. When we commit to learning, we commit to growth as a way of life. Acknowledge that you are moving forward. 
7. Get absorbed in a project or other activity by helping others. Taking the focus off yourself can help when you feel low, anxious or lacking in confidence.
8. Assert yourself. Learning this skill goes a long way to improving your self-image.    
 9. Remember what you’ve achieved. Take a step back and look at the whole of your life. You will see there are many meaningful memories where you have touched others.
10. Do a self-esteem “workout.” In a private place and with complete abandon, remember all the things you’re good at, why you matter, and who you matter to.  It’s surprising how instantly effective this exercise is.

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