I wish I’d…I mean, I don’t regret it, but…
I hate saying I regret things, but it would have been nice to…
How many times have you said, or heard someone say, something along those lines?
We have a hard time dealing with regret because it’s almost like admitting failure. It’s like almost admitting we messed up, or did something stupid that now dictates life in the present. In short, we feel as if we’ve let ourselves down, and that a piece of life is missing because of a mistake or inaction of the past.
We have also come to perceive regret as a wholly negative state of mind. And in a way it is, because it’s living in the past, living in I wish I had’s and what if’s?
Agreed, this state of mind isn’t in tune with the philosophy of mindfulness, but just because you’re trying to be present, putting one foot in front of the other and taking life as it happens, doesn’t mean you have to sweep all your regrets under the carpet.
Nope. It is perfectly okay to have regrets.
And here’s why…
The first part of this reasoning is quite simply that it’s unhealthy to oppress thoughts. You will drive yourself insane telling yourself you shouldn’t be thinking in this way or that. In fact, the more you try to put thoughts in a box, the harder they’ll fight to get out. It’s impossible to locate and eliminate that neuron triggering that memory that you want to forget.
Thought oppression is bad, period. It leads to further mental sufferance. So be honest about regret. Don’t keep putting a disclaimer on regret each time you discuss the past. And don’t let others tell you that you mustn’t have regrets.
Say it, greet it, face it, embrace it, accept it.
Once you have admitted your regret, it’s then time to take action in the present to move on.
For example, perhaps you feel deep down that if you’d applied yourself in high school, rather than smoking and chasing girls, you could have been a football player.
Perhaps you missed a key trial, or maybe your attitude sucked, and now you regret not being able to be a part of a sport you loved dearly but were too arrogant and immature to grasp the opportunity.
Or, perhaps some years back you mistreated someone in a relationship, so much so that you emotionally hurt that person. Now that you’re older and wiser, less self-centred and better balanced, you carry around regret for your actions.
In both these examples, embracing the regret is an important part of creating a happier present.
Sure, these things happened in the past, but to ensure that the past doesn’t dictate the future we need to find a way to let the regret go, and not keep trying to push it down every time it rises to the top of the mind.
So, perhaps you’re too old to become a professional footballer now, but can you still play? Could you get fit, join a team and enjoy the beautiful game in the present?
If you’re unable to play due to age or disability, could you get involved in coaching a local team of under privileged kids? Could you take your son or daughter to games more often and make it something you enjoy as a family?
In this way you find a way to positively become a part of the sport in the present, rather than spending time regretting a past you can’t change.
Of course, I’m just using sport as an example here, but think about your own life and apply the same philosophy to a aspect of regret that keeps a corner of your mind rooted in the past.
And then there’s that person whose feelings you once hurt. It fills you with sadness that you could be that unkind, that you hurt someone in such a callous way.
So why not reach out to that person? Make a phone call or arrange to meet up. Start by saying that you have no agenda, only that you want to apologise; not because it will make everything better or fix what happened, but because you want to admit your wrong doing and offer a genuine apology for the way you acted.
Remember, you aren’t seeking forgiveness or sympathy. If that person tells you that they can’t forgive you, don’t try to change that. This is about you moving forward, and in time that person will find his or her own pathway past this situation too.
The point is this: Regret doesn’t have to be this taboo we mustn’t admit or succumb too. It doesn’t need to be something you “man up” and live with.
Forget “No regrets, no regrets!” Regret is natural. We all have regrets, and there will always be times we wish we could turn back the clock and make a change to our actions.
The important thing is that we appropriate regret rather than letting it rule our lives. We must face regret and find a practical, positive solution to accepting it and moving forward. We must take action in the present to address ghosts of the past.
Mindfulness doesn’t dictate that we shouldn’t feel regret, quite the contrary.
Mindfulness is about acceptance of the present, identifying thoughts and emotions for what they are and finding a personal pathway to move forward to the next moment with a clearer, compassionate awareness of how you feel and your potential to make positive change in your life.
The problem with our aversion to regret is that it blinds us from seeing the potential for positive growth, which is rooted in the very past we are trying to leave behind but paradoxically holding on to.
The truth is; it’s never too late.
No matter what has happened in the past, you can change how you feel about it in this moment, right now.
Simply by submitting to regret and facing up to how you feel a clearer awareness will flood into your consciousness and reveal a pathway that leads you through a positive healing process.