Transforming Regret


How often have we said to ourselves, “If I could go back in time, I would do things differently.”? When we think like this, we get stuck in the past, repeating it over and over again in our minds. But we also go on repeating it in our lives as well.

Every time I say this to myself, “If I could go back in time, I would do things differently”, a week goes by and nothing changes. I say it again, and a month goes by, and then a year. And I keep dwelling on the events of the past, while my present circumstances go on repeating. Nothing changes. I get stuck on this idea that my current circumstances are the way they are because of a poor decision in my past. And there’s some truth to this. But it’s also true that no matter how hard I wish, I can’t go back and change anything. And it seems the best I can do is feel bad about it.

But there is more that we can do. We can learn from it. We can learn from it and then let it go. When we look back and say, “If I could go back in time, I would have done things differently,” what exactly would we have done differently? What do we know now that we didn’t know then? And rather than mull over the past, how can we apply that knowledge to our present situation?

If we know what we could have done better, let’s do that now. We can’t go back and change the past, but we can act right now in the present. If we get stuck on the past, what tends to happen is that we just go on repeating it. We’ll always be saying to ourselves, “If only I had done things differently.” Well, this moment, right now, the circumstances we’re currently in will soon become a part of our past. Will we regret what we did or didn’t do in this moment? Will we add that to the list of things we wished we could go back and change?

It’s okay to look back at the past and see our mistakes. That’s called reflection. But when we get stuck in feeling bad about our mistakes, that’s called regret. And regret doesn’t free us from making those same mistakes over and over again. In fact, it often perpetuates them.

So can we simply reflect, to look back and really understand why we did or didn’t do whatever it was we currently regret? Can we learn from it? Can we understand how we could have done better, and then apply that lesson to the here and now? This is how we become free from regret. When we take the lessons from our mistakes and apply them, we change the situation. And when we change the situation, there’s nothing to regret anymore. It’s only because we’re stuck repeating the mistake over and over again that we regret it. If we can break that pattern, then we grow and evolve and our circumstances change.

But understanding isn’t simply about seeing what actions we took or didn’t take, but, more importantly, the reasons behind all of it. Because there’s a reason why we do what we do. So whatever it is we regret doing or not having done, there was reason for it. It has something to do with the way we think, what we believe, and so on. So we really need to explore that. We need to understand what underlies our behavior. Otherwise, we’ll continue in that pattern. We’ll go on making the same mistakes again and again, and we’ll go on regretting it every time.

So if you don’t want to keep living like that, then understand what your motivation is, or your inhibition, or whatever it is that caused you to do the thing you now regret. You don’t have to be judgmental about it. You don’t have to go on beating yourself up. Just try to understand it with compassion. Accept it, and learn from it.

We all make mistakes in life, so don’t think you’re any worse than anyone else. But you also don’t have to go on repeating it. The biggest mistake we make in life is failing to learn from our mistakes. But when we learn, we can apply that lesson in our present circumstances.

We wish we could go back in time and change things. We can’t go back in time. But we can change things. Every moment is a second chance. So whatever you would have done differently then, you can begin to do that now. Right now is the opportunity you’ve been wishing for. You just have to stop wishing and do it.

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