Regrets. It seems like there’s no avoiding them.
You’ll wish you did. You’ll wish you didn’t.
You’ll wish you said this or didn’t say that.
It’s too late.
The point is: you did or didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t.
And there is always something better to do with your time + energy than pointing the finger elsewhere or telling yourself stories about why your less than stellar reaction was the right one.
We all have memories of times we wish we could have done differently. As we get older we grow and learn but that doesn’t mean we need to continue to regret what we did before we knew better. If we didn’t go through those experiences, we may not have grown into the resilient and compassionate people we are today.
What I’m suggesting is that we get rid of the toxic, intrusive thoughts—the could haves, might haves, and should haves—and start living a life that won’t make us feel regretful. With that in mind, here are a few tips to stop regretting the things you can’t change and to focus instead on how to live now.
1. Own your quirkiness.
Embrace what makes you different. Yes, that can be difficult but not doing so will result in you looking back and regretting how disapproving you were of your one-and-only-self with your one-and-only life. Fully own what makes you different and use it to your advantage. Besides, anyone who seems “normal” is faking it. We all have oddness, why should you waste your time being so disapproving of yours? You are the only you in the whole world. In terms of supply and demand, you’re a hot commodity. Treat yourself as such!
2. You will be judged. Relinquish self-consciousness anyway.
It’s impossible to control other people’s opinions of you. You could spend your whole life trying to make a good impression and you’d still fail eventually. We all care what others have to say but it becomes a slippery slope when we value their opinions more than our own. In order of importance, the list goes: 1) our opinion of ourselves, 2) everyone else’s opinion of us. So stop wasting time trying to please people whose opinions matter less than your own.
3. Follow the three-second rule.
There is a distinct difference between being clear about something and being unkind. Being honest and sharing your opinion doesn’t give you license to be cruel and cutting. With distance and perspective you will most likely regret being a jerk– sometimes you have to be nice instead of right. Any time you’re tempted to respond out of anger or pain, take three seconds to calm down and think about how you’ll feel if you hurt someone else. It’s never worth it, and it’ll save you a lot of future regret.
4. Don’t spend time with people you don’t like.
It sounds obvious. But, how often do you attend parties or functions because you should? Time is our most precious resource, and not to be wasted on activities or people we don’t love. At the end of their lives, people most often regret not having spent more time with their loved ones. The people you hold near and dear need to be the most important people on the planet to you. They’re the ones who are interested and really paying attention. Treat these people like celebrities because to you, they should be. Make sure they know how you value them. You’ll always be glad you did.
5. Love your work.
We spend more hours at work than anywhere else. If it drains you, bores you, or makes you unhappy, it’s the wrong job. If you’re not sure what you love to do, take some time for self-reflection. If you already are, now is the time to start taking steps toward that dream. What’s holding you back?
6. Honor your mistakes.
Making mistakes is not the problem….expecting yourself to be perfect and never make them is the problem. One day when you’re 87 years old and sitting in a rocking chair on some lovely front porch you’ll realize that mistakes were inevitable and human and regretting them a waste of time. They are lessons. Failing is not something to beat yourself up over. It’s something to celebrate. It means you tried. It means you are engaged. Learn your lesson, forgive yourself, and move on.
7. Expect less & Don’t do it for them.
Doing anything with the expectation of glory or ego boost almost inevitably leads to disappointment and bitterness. The way you invest your time should be determined by your pleasure and satisfaction in the activity itself. Then, positive opinions become a bonus and negative ones become irrelevant.
In a similar vain, don’t pursue something in order to please someone else. You will die inside. You will slow to a halt and the heaviness will weigh down on you every. single. day. And then one morning you might wake up and think to yourself: “I did this for them. Where am I?” Pleasing others can come at the cost of our own life force. The people who truly love you will tell you this: “Don’t do it for me.”
8. Do what you say you’re going to do.
There’s no quicker way to slide into a the muck and mire of regret then a life spent making empty promises and assurances. Doing so inevitably hurts and disappoints the people you love. Keep your word, whenever possible. On the rare occasions something unavoidable comes up, explain the situation and try to offer an alternative. This makes people feel prioritized, even when you have to bail.
9. Treat your body well. It’s the only one you get.
You know how on airplanes they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else? Apply that concept to your health in general. You’re a much better, more productive person when you take care of yourself. Here are two easy ways to start now: 1– Drink more water. It is SO important. It can prevent that afternoon slump, reduce those sugar cravings and keep your mind clear. Put little reminders on your phone, or around your work space to keep you drinking throughout the day. 2 – Breathe. You don’t need to spend hours in meditation, just a few slow mindful breaths throughout the day can change the course of your mood and get you out of your head.
10. Practice gratitude.
No matter how bad things seem at an given moment, there is always something to be grateful for. Do you have a telephone? Did you have clean drinking water today? Food in your refrigerator? Who is that one person on the planet who loves you?
When you specify what you’re grateful for it becomes more real. Who and what keeps your life running? Thank whatever greater force you most relate to. Choose to expand rather than contract and watch the waves of regret for what you think you don’t have retract. Time spent wishing for what you don’t have is wasted. Time spent appreciating the present pays dividends.
I am the proud author of Soul Sessions: A 5 Week Guide to Crafting Greater Joy + Making Big Things Happen. Need one on one inspiration? Hire me. You won’t regret it.