Do you feel regret in life? I have. I’ve felt regret; those momentary feelings of loss, disappointment, or dissatisfaction with something in my life. I would warrant that all of us have experienced some type of regret in our life. Something we wished we had done differently, or perhaps not have done at all.
What is Regret?
Regret is a negative emotional state that is a result of blaming ourselves for a negative outcome. It is that feeling of sorrow or loss or sorrow at what might have been if we hadn’t made a mistake. It can lead to wishing we could undo a previous choice that we made.
Regret can be painful to experience, but it can be helpful with healing emotional pain and improving our life. The pain of regret can cause us to refocus our actions leading to a corrective action or pursuing a new path. We can turn regret into a positive experience.
The Danger of Regret?
The danger is when we feel regret for a situation that we can’t change. Studies have shown the less opportunity one has to change the situation, the more likely it is that regret can turn into chronic negative self-talk and chronic stress that can damage both your mind and body.
The Positive Side of Regret in Life
Neal Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, studies the outcomes of emotions. His studies have show that regret can be a powerful force in our life. So why do we continually beat ourselves up for your mistakes?
More than any other negative emotion, the regret we feel for the actions we’ve taken in the past that can help us make future decisions and that’s a really good thing. Don’t you think so?
Roese’s studies showed that regret scored the highest of all negative emotions in what are called the five functions of emotion. So regret helps us make sense of the world, avoid future behavior, provides us with insight, helps us achieve social harmony, and improve our approach to life. And that’s a good thing! Don’t you think so?
When is Regret in Life Most Helpful?
Studies have show that our feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances for a corrective reaction are clearest. We tend to beat ourselves up if we can clearly see what we “should” have done differently. It’s those times when regret can be a great asset to us.
How do We Heal Regret in Life?
I’ve heard people say they have never regretted things in their life. It’s my belief that those who say they don’t have any regrets in life don’t mean they haven’t ever had any.
What they mean is that they have changed their focus or their outlook about the specific circumstances. They learned from the experience, and they turned their regrets into a positive.
Changing one’s focus from I’ve experienced loss or failure to the lessons learned and life experienced gained, is a vital key to recovery from illness, trauma, or depression, and it is a key to achieving happiness. Focusing on regrets, focusing on what’s not working in our life leads to depression.
Regret and It’s Role in Depression
My mom always said, “Anyone can think themselves into a depression.” She’s right. Everyone has had things happen to them or has done things that could get them down. But focusing on the past, focusing on our failings doesn’t help at all. Choosing to focus on our shortcomings, or negative experiences can lead a happy person to a state of depression.
If we stay stuck and focus on our mistakes, regret turns stays a negative.
It’s like to clarify something right now. All depression does not come from focusing on the negative. I know, because I have not been one to live in the past, to blame my circumstances on others, to wallow in self-pity, or focus on what isn’t working.
OK – I take back. I have had an occasional three-minute pity party. I’ll admit it. But those pity-parties were healing. They really were. A good cry can do miracles. A good cry is a release and a catalyst for change; much like a caterpillar going into its cocoon as it begins its transformation.
My point is that sometimes depression can be triggered by things such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or true physiological imbalances which can truly make it difficult to “think oneself out of.” Sometimes nutritional support, medication, or counseling are needed. At the very least it may help quicken the healing process.
Now, back to what I wanted to focus on: that word focus.
When you feel those momentary feelings of regret in life, change your focus by trying one of the following methods:
- Choose to focus on what you learned from the situation.
- Choose to focus on the positive that developed as a result of the experience.
- Choose to focus on the strength you developed. I’ve learned I am much stronger than I ever thought I would be.
- Focus on the skills you’ve developed.
- Focus on the future. Look for the light-at-the end of the tunnel. If you can’t see it, focus on the light of the stars. They are constant.
- Choose to focus on others. How can your experiences benefit others? Focus on helping them.
- If something isn’t apparently positive focus your thoughts elsewhere. Take a walk and focus on the flowers, the sound of birds, the warmth of the sun.
- For some training on specific techniques, you can use to transform regret get our free training titled: Three Ways to Heal the Emotional Past that Binds Us.
Change your focus and experience a rebirth of your soul.
Give it flight!
Kray, Laura J., Linda G. George, Katie A. Liljenquist, Adam D. Galinsky, Philip E. Tetlock, and Neal J. Roese. (2010). From what might have been to what must have been: Counterfactual thinking creates meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 106-118. [Published paper]