It will come as no surprise that regret is a feeling that almost everyone has experienced, and yet we’re all prefer to avoid it. Regret is the second most common emotion that people mention, and it’s the most common negative emotion.
Could haves and should-haves
Living in the past is history that can’t be changed. But people still dwell on what could have been. Our memories of past events and the reasons we did what we did may not be entirely accurate. Our assessments of the road not taken may be suspect as well. But the reality is that there is no way of knowing if things would have been better or different. The grass may not have been greener. And there might be a price to pay in the here and now.
Dwelling on what should have been or could have been also has an effect on our ongoing ability to make good life choices in the present. Being able to trust that your day-to-day decisions will not result in later regret is one way to bring more happiness into your life. ”Creating a place of happiness starts with enjoying now, not trying to change what was or control what will be,” said Rita.
Life is short
We’ve all heard the phrase that life is short, it’s also full of mistakes. The thing is, we’re all just winging it. We’re all trying to make the best decisions each day based on our life experiences.
One way to change your outlook on regret is to realize that most of the things we chose not to do are quickly forgotten. These are short-term regrets that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t change us as a person. Choosing not to eat the cake or even jump off the high dive are not regrets we’re going to remember. So thinking about what you could have said or should have done at the party last week may cause you some discomfort but the feeling of regret is short-lived. You can grow from the experience to do better next time.
Fear seems to be a guiding factor when it comes to what one “should have” done. Making the “safe” choice often causes people to regret not choosing a life that would have been more bold or daring. Thinking that you “should have” gone to college or accepted a certain job offer or even traveled more causes you to regret those life decisions.
The key to avoiding fear-based decision making is to identify the type of fear you’re having. Is it fear of the unknown, rejection, or just failing? These are normal fears and choosing a new path will certainly feel uncomfortable at first. But ultimately you will have more confidence in your ability to choose what is ultimately right for you.
Instead of listening to the fear, ask yourself, “what if?” What would be the worst thing that would happen? And when you can imagine the worst, is it really that bad? Now imagine the opposite. Think of the best possible outcome. By comparing the worst and best scenario, you’ll be able to see the growth and strategy behind the opportunity and make a choice that you will be proud of.
The regrets that tend to haunt us are the ones that we perceive as missed opportunities. The chance to travel abroad, the person you almost met, or making a big career move. When feeling this type of regret, it’s helpful to think about what aspect of that decision was most appealing to you. Was it the idea of learning about a new culture or are you missing something you value in a relationship? Think about something you can do today to help address the regret whether it’s taking a foreign language course, or working to improve a current relationship.
If you want to toss out the should haves and could haves, try looking at every experience as a learning opportunity. Living without regret depends on how we respond to what has happened. Bear in mind, however, that chronic regret can be a symptom of a more serious problem. As Jeff points out, “If you find that you can’t move on and regrets continue to haunt you, don’t be afraid to seek help from a behavioral health professional.”
Regret is based on the choices that you made without having all the information you have today. It’s the difference between what you decided then and what you perceive as the best decision now after you’ve learned more. By knowing who you are and what you want out of life, you can be more confident in your decisions and experience less regret.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost