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Regrets, have a few? Here’s how to let them go

Once, I lost my life savings in a bad investment. My marriage was a trainwreck, even though I went into it thinking I did everything right. My first business failed . . . hard. I didn’t ask my grandparents enough questions before they died. I could go on. Is it just me, or could we all host an episode of “This Is Your Life: The Shitshow Edition?”

Those of us with a bit of time on the planet have had our share of massive missteps, regrettable decisions, and cringe-worthy showings. Yeah, most of us have racked up a few regrets. The question is, what are we going to choose to focus on? Sure, we can eat worms over all of the less-than-stellar results of some of the things we’ve done (or failed to do). Or, we can look at them as part of the tapestry of a full life.

Here’s the truth: life is a big science experiment. We try things. Some work out, some don’t. The problem comes when we start making the things that didn’t work out, commonly known as mistakes, mean that we are defective in some way. They don’t mean that. They are just things we tried that didn’t work out. That’s it.

You Get to Choose!

If you have the courage to participate in the science experiment, then you can find the gumption to learn from the results. You can choose to focus on what’s working and do more of that. You can decide to go out there and keep trying.

See the pattern? It’s a choice. Every minute of every day.

You don’t have to judge yourself for your missteps. You can choose to love yourself and forgive yourself. Learn from what’s happened and go on to try something else. See what happens. Learn. Repeat.

Or, you can sign up to be a screwup—that means you identify yourself with your mistakes instead of the wisdom you can glean from them. Up to you.

You are already equipped with everything you need to manage this LIFE that you’ve been given. It’s a big job. Luckily, it’s broken down into bite-sized pieces called minutes! Just be present in this minute and make the best decision you can. Over time, decisions that work for you will build on each other, and you’ll get results you like.

If you make a decision that doesn’t work out—review it for possible course corrections. Choose differently. See what happens. Move on.

How to Kick Regrets to the Curb:

  1. Forgive yourself: Oh, you’re human? Me too. Let it be OK to have made mistakes in the past, even huge ones. Make amends and apologies where necessary. If your blunders had a catastrophic impact on your life or someone else’s, get therapy to understand how you got there, and so you don’t have to go there again. Is self-forgiveness important? Only if you’re interested in better mental health, a more positive attitude (Fredricson, Diener, 2016), and a higher level of happiness (Neff, Germer, 2010). Sign me up. Self-forgiveness doesn’t let you off the hook for taking responsibility for your decisions and actions. Instead, it’s owning up to them while taking the hook (guilt, shame and regret) out of your heart, so there’s more space in there for understanding when others fall short.
  2. Go to school on it: Write down everything you learned, and continue to learn from your experience. These are hard-won lessons, right? So, pay attention. The insights you gain from things that go sideways are invaluable new “wisdom assets” you wouldn’t have gotten any other way. Respect the value of the screwup. Make it a goal to identify a minimum of three to five life lessons and, in future, when and if you talk about it, lead with what you learned.
  3. Get out there and try again: Don’t let mistakes stop you from taking chances and trying stuff. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll famously said, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.” He nailed it. Thanks, Lew!

Do You Believe in You?

I believe in you! But it doesn’t matter at all what I think about you. It doesn’t matter what your mom, your Ex, your boss, your best friend, your worst enemy, or anyone else thinks about you. The only thing that matters is what YOU think about you. Here’s another choice—you can decide to believe in yourself.

Also, see The Secret to Clearing Divorce Guilt

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