Too Many Regrets: Living With the Uncomfortable Past
Many of us live our lives with strong regrets. We think about the things we could have done and didn't do; we think about the things we did and wish we hadn't. In either case, we yearn to go back in the past and change what has happened. How can we live a life when we have too many regrets?
There are certainly things about our past that we'd like to be able to change. We know we've made mistakes in what we've done. Sometimes our regrets about the past can haunt us for years. In time, they can even come to dominate our life; sometimes, all we can do is think about the past and our wish that it was different.
The unhelpful advice of others
If you're a person who lives with too many regrets, no doubt other people have told you to try and live in the moment. You've been told to let it go, to stop thinking about, to get a life. And you sometimes wonder if these people might not be right. But even though you might try, giving up regret can be difficult.
Regret can even be a habit that's hard to break.
What regret is
Regret is the mix of two things – a time when something was pleasurable, and then an end to those times. Quite understandably, we try to hang onto the pleasurable thing and to regret the ending.
We wish we loved the other person more before they went.
We wish we'd been wiser with the way we'd used our money.
We wish we had not ruined the relationship by saying the thing that we said.
We wish we hadn't done the terrible thing that we did.
Unfortunately, we tend to focus more on the ending than the pleasurable things that preceded it. Even more unfortunately, we focus on what we see as our mistakes, and find it hard to forgive ourselves. We may also need to learn how to trust again. Regrets can also lead to anxiety, a subject that my colleague Marg Ryan has addressed.
Coming to terms with too many regrets
In order to come to terms with our regrets, we need to savour the things that were enjoyable. An instruction for us to give up our regrets is also an instruction for us to give up our happiest times. Instead, we need to move our attention and our focus. It's often in our nature to focus on the ending, the thing that ended the pleasurable time. Instead, we need to learn to focus on the enjoyable time before it ended. Above all, we need to be patient with ourselves. A colleague of mine, Kerry Sutton, has written a very practical guide to living a life with no regrets.
Even though it has ended, there is enormous value for us in enjoying our memories about the things we enjoyed before they ended. To to enjoy our memories, without pining for their loss and without blaming ourselves.
We can't change the past; we can't undo what was done. We don't have to give up our memories of what we enjoyed because the pleasure ultimately ended.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about how time is not a healer, but it takes time to heal.