In the heat of a moment, you made a rude comment to a close friend several years back. You said things, and things were said to you in return, leading to a bitter end of a long-cherished friendship. To this day, you regret the fallout, you struggle to forgive yourself for the remarks that now seem so unnecessary in the context of how valuable the relationship was to you. But it isn’t always that easy to let go of regrets. If it were, we’d all be going about living our lives with zero regrets. (Wouldn’t THAT be amazing?!) You wish you had studied something else, married someone else, taken that job, or taken more chances in life—the list of things we regret is infinite.
The truth is, nobody likes to live a life burdened by regret and misery, and yet most of us were never taught any meaningful ways to let go of regret. As a result, we spend days, months, and even years wallowing in regret about events, memories, and circumstances. Regret, by its very nature, tugs at the joy that is our very nature and keeps our minds tied to the past.
When the seeds of regret are sown, they give rise to negative emotions like anger and anxiety, or we lose confidence, affecting our clarity of thought and decision-making—often leading to more actions that we end up regretting.
A little understanding of how our minds and emotions work, spiritual knowledge, and some sage wisdom can lift us out of this perpetual cycle of regret.
Regret is Related to Doership
The great spiritual masters offer a very useful tip for dealing with regret. We are often unable to come out of regret because we somehow feel responsible for whatever it is that we regret. We tend to self-blame. Nothing good ever comes from blaming ourselves. It only takes us away from our higher self. How can you love something that you blame?
Art of Living Founder Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Observe how often you get into regret and what it is that you regret. When you regret or repent, you forget something—that the divine is in control and God is omnipotent and omnipresent. When you dismiss God’s omniscience, you keep regretting.”
Know That Life is Comprised of Opposites
One of our biggest mistakes as humans is our obsession with perfection and goodness, knowing well that life is really made of opposites. It is not one-dimensional.
We want to be good and are averse to everything bad or negative. But we often do not realize that opposite values give meaning to each other. If there is success, there has to be failure; if there is learning, there must be mistakes.
If you had not spoken harshly to your friend, lost your cool, and experienced regret, you may have never consciously realized the value of thinking before you speak or controlling your emotions!
“This universe is the way it is with all the opposites, and the opposites complement each other in some strange manner. And you have to rise above the opposites. That is the whole purpose of life.”—Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Increase Your Awareness
First of all, if you have experienced genuine regret, pat yourself on the back—it shows that you are sensitive and aware. But, if you see that you keep experiencing regret again and again, it may be an indication that you need to work on increasing your awareness in the present moment. This is very easy to do with meditation and breathwork.
When you start living in the present with full awareness, you will see that your intuition is heightened, your mind is clear, and there is less opportunity for regret.
Don’t Take Mistakes Personally (Any More Than You Need To)
Mistakes happen in a state of ignorance.
“The moment you realize your mistake, you are out of it that very moment,” Gurudev says. But mistakes of the past need not be ruminated upon endlessly because we are new every moment. The person who made the mistake is no longer here. Is there any point in remembering the mistakes or bad decisions made by a version of you that no longer exists? It is one thing to make a bad decision, but spending time regretting it repeatedly is another mistake we can consciously avoid.
The quickest way to get over regret is to give it less mind space. Instead of spending time worrying about future uncertainties or regrets from the past—‘I should have done this,’ ‘I shouldn’t have said that,’ or ‘I shouldn’t have acted in this manner…’—take action. If there is something you can do to change the situation, do it.
For example, if you regret not studying medicine in college, consider how you might go back to school. Find evening or online courses you can take. Read about medicine online or in books. Communicate, make contacts, ask to audit classes. Or, if you regret overeating today, watch your diet tomorrow and course correct—control your portion size and reduce heavy foods, among other things.
You will see taking action to change things you regret is very empowering for your mind and spirit. It flushes your system with happy hormones and puts you in a state of joy with no regret.
In a nutshell, know that once you have decided to let go of regrets in life and accept yourself, your life, and the decisions that got you here—both good and bad, right and wrong—the battle is half won. For the rest of it, take action, meditate, and love yourself a little more…because you have hurt yourself enough with all the self-blame, guilt, and regret.