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Using our Regrets

In his book The Power of Regret, Daniel Pink says we all have regrets and if you are willing, they can work for us, instead of against us.

If our regrets make us human, how do we use them to become better and happier people?

For action regrets, we need to take immediate steps to make the situation better. Here’s how to do it in two steps.

Step #1: Undo it. If the action can be undone, undo it. Even if some damage has been done, you still might be able to fix the situation.

Step #2: At Least it. Doing something may have been a mistake, but as a result “at least” I learnt to be more careful. The following three questions help to find the positive:

  • How could the decision I now regret have turned out worse?
  • What is the one silver lining with this regret?
  • How would you complete the following sentence? “At least…”

The worst thing we can do with negative emotions are to ignore them or to wallow in them. Instead, we should remember that those emotions are information for us to think about, and that thinking ultimately leads us to doing.

Here’s a three-step process for disclosing regrets, reframing the way we view it, and take away a lesson to help us make better decisions in the future.

Step #1: Self-disclosure

The first step in this healing process is to disclose the regret. It feels awkward and shameful, but it helps. Disclosing our regrets – either by telling somebody about them or even just writing about them can bring about a whole host of physical, mental and professional benefits.

But won’t it make other people think less of me? Usually, it is the opposite. People who disclose what they did wrong without making excuses and skirting around the details, tend to be liked more than people who disclose at a lower level.

So, here’s your homework:

  • Write about your regret for fifteen minutes three days straight;
  • Tell someone about the regret in person or by phone. Establish a time limit to avoid repetition and dwelling on the issue too much.

Step #2: Self-compassion

This is about recognising that “being imperfect, making mistakes, and encountering life difficulties is part of the shared human experience.” Or, said another way, we neutralise negative experiences by normalising them.

Here are three questions you can ask yourself to do this.

  • If a friend or relative came to you with the same regret, would you treat that person with kindness or contempt?
  • Is this type of regret something that other people may have experienced, or are you the only person to ever go through it?
  • Is this a life-defining moment, or is it an unpleasant moment or season?

The goal here is to be aware of your regret, but not over identifying (drowning yourself) with it.

Step #3: Self-distancing

People who can provide distance between themselves and the regret events are able to find insight and closure. Here are three ways to do it.

  • Distance through space. Imagine you are a neutral expert analysing your regret in a clean examination room. What went wrong? What is your prescription? Write yourself an email outlining the steps you need to take to learn from the regret.
  • Distance through time. Use your natural capacity for mental time travel and imagining it’s ten years from now and you are looking back with pride about how you responded to the regret. What did you do?
  • Distance through language. This one involves abandoning the first person. Imagine your friend is confronting the same regret you are dealing with. What lesson does the regret teach them? What would you tell them to do next? Be specific and heed the advice.

It is our choice to let our regrets overwhelm us or use them as an opportunity.

About David Lawson

Finding the Light is a locally owned and operated counselling and life coaching business based in Bundaberg. We seek to empower our clients to find their way forward to a better life by using the approaches of counselling or coaching. If this blog article has raised more questions please contact us by email or call us on 0407 585 497 to arrange a time for us to discuss the article. Mention this blog and we will give you a FREE 30 minute session to discuss.

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