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The feeling that you could have done better. You replay the scene in your head over and over again, wondering how things might have turned out if only you’d acted differently.
Maybe you’ve lost a friendship, job, or some other opportunity because of what you did or didn’t do.
Even years later, you experience periods of anger, self-loathing, or sadness when you think about your past.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I wish that time machines existed so I could do over certain parts of my life.
Most of us have things we regret…so how can you free yourself from regret?
While the feeling of regret is often painful and unproductive, we mistakenly do all we can to keep ourselves from ever experiencing the unpleasant emotion. Many people choose the be part of the “No Regrets!” movement instead.
It’s a good theory. Except the feelings are almost impossible to ignore, and we’re left not knowing quite how to deal with them so we can truly be free.
So here are 7 steps to help you finally letting go of regrets that may have haunted you for years:
1. You can free yourself from regret by embracing it
Yep, you’re right. This is probably the last thing you’d want to do if your goal is to get rid of regret. However, as in most situations, the simple truth is that the first step to letting go anything is to fully acknowledge it.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step to sobriety is, “We admitted we are powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Arguably the most successful addiction recovery program in history, AA was on to something. You too can leverage this simple truth to help you overcome your regret.
2. Use it as a signal
If there’s something you’re having trouble letting go, there’s often some deeper unresolved issue. Instead of seeing your regret as a threat, see it as a signal that there is something in your soul that needs tending to.
The anger or sadness you feel may be a signal that you’ve not had the opportunity to properly grieve a lost friendship or career path.
Allow yourself to finally experience a good cry over what happened.
Journal about it for the next few days.
The insights you’ll gain will provide you the clarity and courage you need to finally move forward.
3. Forgive yourself
After you’ve allowed yourself to explore what’s underneath your regret, you’ll have the opportunity to forgive yourself for your perceived missteps.
Whatever you think you may have done, choose to love yourself no matter what. Choose to never abandon nor give up on yourself. Choose to forgive yourself.
4. If you really want to free yourself from regret…talk to someone
We live in a world of lone rangers. We all struggle to find people we can talk to and share our deepest feelings. However, it can be the most powerful healing medicine if given a chance.
If you’re struggling to let go the past, seek out a friend or professional therapist. Having an empathetic, listening ear may make all the difference in helping you finally come to terms with your life.
5. Reframe your thinking
At its heart, regret is all about missed opportunities.
Your mind may be dominated by thoughts like, “I wish I’d told him how much I really loved him before he died.” or “I wish I’d apologize when I had the chance.” or “I wish I would have accepted that job offer instead of this one.”
One powerful way to deal with these “I wish” statements is to turn them into “I will” declarations. It’s a powerful process because the former keeps us trapped in the past, whereas the latter allows us to look to the future.
You can use statements like “I will choose to let those I love know how I truly feel about them.” or “I will trust my intuition to help me make the right life choices.”
6. Let go
Now we’ve reached the good stuff.
If you’ve allowed yourself to follow the steps above, now you’re ready to focus on letting go the regret that has haunted you.
How do you do it?
Every time the thought comes, allow yourself to make peace with your past using the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Even if you’re not a person of faith, the Serenity Prayer is one of the most powerful mantras I know for letting go and it can be effective regardless of your belief system.
Learn this prayer by heart and say it every day as an act of letting go.
You don’t have to be a slave to your past
The reason why we hate our regrets is because it makes us a slave to our past. That’s a good enough reason to want to have nothing to do with it.
However, as you know it’s not that simple. We don’t get rid if it by ignoring it, but by facing it.
May you have the courage to face your own regret today, so you can be finally free to move on with your life. It will be painful at first, but the effort will be well worth it in the end.