What I should have done, could have done, may have done or better still what I shouldn’t have done. Ever recognise when you’ve thought or felt this way? These are all expressions of regrets. There is no such thing as a life without regrets. However regrets can become either burdens that interfere with your present happiness and restrict your future, or motivation to move forward.

Regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviours. It is often expressed by the term “sorry”. It is also often felt when someone feels sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance or guilt after committing an action or actions or actions that the person later wishes that s/he had not done or having not committed an action or actions that the person later wishes s/he had done. Regret is distinct from guilt, which is a deeply emotional form of regret and also distinct from remorse, which is a more direct and emotional form of regret, however has an element of desire for apology to others. In a nutshell, Regret can describe not only the dislike for an action that has been committed, but also importantly, regret of inaction.

When the internal reflection of our actions or inactions enable and motivate us to seek change either in our relationships or in general, then our future joy and success cannot be restricted. However when we are unable to integrate these feelings of regret, we are stopped in our tracks and therefore unable to forge ahead. As regret is a negative emotion, we ought to ensure that we get rid of them as quickly as possible. We may no longer be in control of what has brought about these feelings, but we have control over whether or not we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by them. That relationship you should have nurtured better, that person you should have treated nicer, that person you should not have allowed to take you for a fool, that pregnancy you aborted, that fake opportunity you should not have bought into, the list goes on and on.

In allowing our minds to replay all these should haves, could haves, shouldn’t have, ought not to have, we allow regret to steal our joy of today, keep us focused on the past and prevent us from embracing the new. I should be able to name a few of my own regrets but few years ago, I purposed in my heart that once a phase of time or event is gone in my life, I would ensure that I carry no regret with me. One, because it wouldn’t achieve anything positive but instead, I always look for lessons to be learnt in all of my mistakes and even successes. My goal is never to re-visit my past because of lessons unlearnt and I am still working towards this goal on a daily basis.

Whilst those things we are regretful about may be legitimately right or wrong, however carrying the burden of regret for days, months and even in some cases, years would not assist us in any form or shape. I am yet to see one person overcome by regret and yet fulfilled their purpose or became a better person. Does this therefore not suggest that we need to take some steps to integrate our regrets. By so doing, we will be moving forward and using this emotional reaction positively and wisely. Below are some steps you can take if you find yourself overcome by regrets.

  • Apologise for any harm you may have caused others. It does not kill to ask for forgiveness so ask and make amends. Remember to also forgive yourself as some of us are forgiving of others, but ourselves. Forgive others who have wronged you and this will go a long way in lifting some of the weight you are carrying around.
  • Accept the circumstances. Avoid blaming others but rather take responsibility for anything that you could have better handled.
  • Deal with toxic relationships. Sometimes other people cause us to do things that leave us with serious regrets. Do you have a toxic relationship that needs to be addressed or severed.
  • Deal with your regrets. Don’t bury your head under the sand and pretend. Allowing yourself to experience these feelings fully with the intention of moving forward can help you stop revisiting them. This is okay as long as you don’t make the land of regret your permanent hide-away.
  • Recognise what you have learned or gained. When you find yourself thinking of the regret, turn your thoughts to the things you have learned and the opportunities that are now yours – even if they are not what you would have preferred. Remember, our wounds increase our value. Look for the lesson and focus on it instead of what might have been.
  • Write out a plan or agreement for yourself that identifies how you could avoid having this sort of regret in the future or make somebody your accountability buddy.