When you look back on your past year, do you naturally think of goals achieved, successes reached and good times experienced, or do you focus on negative experiences that leave you filled with regret or guilt? For many of us, the year’s end is a time of reflection, and for a good number of us, that reflection leads to regret about decisions made or goals missed.
A 2012 German research study showed that as we age, our resilience to regret grows, almost as an adaptive measure of self-protection. Theorists believe that our personal ability to better manage emotional stressors, such as regret, as we age may even lead to a longer life span. As chiropractors, we know stressors take their toll on spinal health as well, which can lead to subluxations. If regret is holding you back, take a few cues from our elders and learn to manage regret, get the most from it and then let it go, once and for all.
Accept it. If you can’t escape the mental image of doing something you regret, it’s time to give up the idea that the situation—aka “the past”—can be any different. What’s done is done, so think of the situation as just another step on your journey, likely with a lesson or two to learn. Accept that it happened, forgive yourself and move on.
Use it. Experience is the best way to learn, so don’t get stuck in your regret, learn from it! This is the true benefit of a regretful experience. For instance, if you continually cringe over something you shared that you shouldn’t have, use the memory as the trigger to think about how you would have done things differently, learn from the mistake, make a mental note for the future and then file it away. The next time you encounter a similar situation, you’ll make a better choice.
Change it. You may not be able to rewind time and do things differently, but you can trick your mind into feeling better about what you did. Next time you find yourself replaying the horrible highlight roll, imagine the scene fading to gray and then black. Then, re-imagine that regretful experience in a new way, replacing your regret with the right word, decision or action. Think of your regret as a bridge to hope. Before you know it, you’ll start to feel better.
Channel it. Unfortunately, life sometimes delivers big regrets; the kind that we just can’t shake off easily. But situations like these often lead to some of the most successful philanthropic work. If you’re weighed down by a heavy regret, think about how you can channel your mistake into doing good for others. Give of yourself to a related cause or dream up a more personal way to give on your own. Turning your negative into a positive can have an endless ripple effect.
Don’t let it rule you. Many people think regret is only a backward-looking emotion, but it’s pretty powerful in terms of future decision-making, too. Consider the mid-90’s study where researchers gave participants a fake lottery ticket. All tickets had an identical chance of winning, but there would only be one winner. When asked to trade one phony ticket for another, even when researchers attempted to bribe them with a piece of chocolate and the knowledge there was no real prize, less than 50 percent of participants made the trade. When the experiment was repeated with identical pens instead of lottery tickets, 90 percent made the trade. Why? The anticipated regret of giving away the winning ticket prevented participants from taking a risk. Fear of regret held them back. Is anticipated regret preventing you from reaching your dreams? Don’t let it.