What You Can Do To Get Over Past Regrets And Move Forward
Published on 2nd March, 2023
"Live a life with no regrets" is a phrase we all have heard, but what does it truly mean? And is it possible to live a life completely free of regrets? Letting go of regrets is no easy feat. As human beings, it is normal to look back on your past decisions or actions and wonder if there was something that you could have done differently to change the outcome of your life.
Regrets are often linked with feelings of disappointment, sorrow or even shame. When you have persistent feelings of regret, it might cause you harm and prevent you from progressing.
Letting go of regret is vital for your mental, physical, and emotional health. Discover how regrets can be harmful and the healthy ways to deal with them.
Why are regrets harmful?
Holding on to regrets we do not want to accept can be harmful. Although regret can have a positive cognitive function of allowing us to learn from mistakes, the emotion needs to be properly managed. For example, if you regret a time when you did not stand up for yourself, you might constantly blame yourself for the past event that is already beyond your control. This excessive rumination may lead you to be unable to move on from the incident. When you are stuck in a repetitive cycle of regret and self-blame, your persistent low mood may hinder your daily functioning.
Regret can have adverse effects on your mind. Imaging studies reveal that increased activity takes place in an area of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex when we feel regret. This is linked to being increasingly regret-aversive, which leads to difficulty in making future decisions, in fear of regretting them (Coricelli et al., 2005).
Numerous psychological problems result from regret. Constant rumination and repetitive negative thought patterns can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. It is impossible to avoid feeling regret completely. However, managing regret positively and healthily can help you learn from the experience.
How to move forward when you are feeling regretful
1. Try to avoid what-ifs
Human beings tend to think about what could have been. Making a different decision might have led to a better outcome, but it also might have been worse. The fact is that we will never truly know what the alternative outcomes may be. Running through different possibilities in your head can be exhausting. It may be helpful to recognise when you are engaging in thought patterns that are not helpful or productive, and actively counter these thoughts.
2. Write about your regrets
You might be able to heal the hurt by writing a letter or journaling to yourself or the person you hurt. Firstly, describe the event in detail and try to accept what happened. Afterwards, write about what you learnt and what you can do differently in the future. Lastly, describe how you can improve the situation now. You cannot change the past, but you can try to work on the present.
3. Have empathy for yourself
Although it might be hard, try showing yourself the same empathy and grace that you would provide a close friend or loved one if they were regretful about their past decisions. You could also ask yourself questions about your past decisions or actions. Was your decision based on what you were truly feeling at the time? Did you do the best you could under the circumstances? Answering such questions can help provide some insight into your decision (Field, 2022).
Remember that people can only make decisions based on the information they have at the moment. Refrain from beating yourself up over your decision if you did the best you could with the information you had.
4. Seek mental health counselling
If you feel stuck and unable to move on from your regrets, consider seeking help from counselling services in Singapore. Mental health practitioners have the expertise to guide you in disrupting negative thought patterns and learning how to create more positive behaviours.
Regret can become all-consuming if you do not take the opportunity to develop, change and grow from a negative experience. It is essential to learn how to manage your emotions. Seeking individual counselling for adults in Singapore can help you manage your regret, so they no longer hold you back from enjoying your present.
Coricelli G, Critchley HD, Joffily M, O'Doherty JP, Sirigu A, Dolan RJ. (2005). Regret and its avoidance: a neuroimaging study of choice behavior. Nat Neurosci. 2005;8(9):1255-1262. doi:10.1038/nn1514
Zhang JW, Chen S. (2016). Self-Compassion Promotes Personal Improvement From Regret Experiences via Acceptance. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2016;42(2):244-258. doi:10.1177/0146167215623271
Field, B. (2022). How to Get Over Regrets and Move Forward https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-get-over-regrets-5220430#citation-4