DEALING WITH REGRETS: The Unrecognized Benefits Of Regrets And Ways To Let Go Of Past Mistakes​​

Published on June 17, 2018

By Subodh Sharma

When was the last time you reflected yourself into the past trying to re-evaluate your decisions, choices, and actions and wondering how your life would have turned out had you acted differently?

Today…? Yesterday…? Last week…? Last Year…? Ever…?

We all sometime or the other feel the weight of our past plunging us into the bottom of our self-esteem. We have all been there, being retrospective and analyzing our choices with deep regrets. Reassessing our ‘what ifs’, ‘if only I had’, ‘what could have been’, ‘I wish I had’ and then criticizing ourselves for the decisions we had taken and the mistakes that we had committed. It can be anything – being rude to someone, yelling at our parents, taking a wrong carrier choice, letting your passion die out with time, wasting time in unnecessary activities, getting into wrong relationships, betraying and breaking someone’s trust, and the list just goes on. Let’s be honest, we all have been a part of some or the other of these ‘mistakes’. And all of these have potential to gravitate us towards a lifetime of remorse!

Regret, guilt, and shame are no doubt among the darkest emotions bestowed upon us and yet most of us are hardly aware how to deal with them. One heavy cause for regret, and we find ourselves being hunted by it every now and then. But does it really have to be that way? Are these emotions really as dark as we consider them to be? ……….  No, absolutely NOT!

Regret exists because it is useful. In the words of Martha Beck “Regret can be your worst enemy or your best friend. You get to decide which.” No matter how negatively you treat it, it’s actually there to serve us, not harm us. It all depends on how we perceive it.

Here are few benefits of regrets that you may want to consider before you start kicking yourself the next time you think about your ‘past mistakes’! There can be many other benefits, but here I am going to mention only those that I have experienced myself.

• Regret gives us an opportunity to determine what we really want in life:

Sometimes it becomes easier to find out what we want in life by knowing what we do not want in life. Regret does exactly that for us. When we regret a decision, action or choice, we have an explicit idea on what we should avoid in life.

• It is a powerful motivator:

If we use it right, regret can be a pretty optimistic force in our life. Having the guilt for screwing up something can boost us to make up for the mess that we have made. And that strong urge to make things right can be a huge motivation.

• It helps us master self-forgiveness:

Self-forgiveness is an art which can be pretty difficult to master. Sometimes forgiving others can be much easier than forgiving ourselves. Regret gives us an opportunity to understand our mistake, forgive ourselves and move on.

• It teaches us the true worth of our ‘Correct Decisions/Actions’:

When you have lived the pain of a decision gone wrong, you will understand the greatness of a decision gone right. It’s just part of one of those basic sayings that, we will not know the true importance of light without darkness, joy without sorrow, courage without fear, nor love without hatred!

• It strengthens our sense of responsibility:

We regret because we know and we accept that an error was made from our side. Admitting to the fact that it was you who messed up and then being ready to face the consequences requires a strong heart. Taking responsibility for our mistakes is in itself a courageous stand.

• Regret helps us shape our character:

It’s the tough situations in our life that makes us realize how strong, weak, mature or immature we are mentally and emotionally. Regret guides us in our mental and emotional evolution. It gives us an opportunity to redefine our experiences in life. By facing our regrets and trying to get over them, we eventually train ourselves to become more resilient.

So you see, regrets, after all, are not that bad as we consider them to be. But again, they are not something that we can be proud of either. They have to be dealt with. We committed mistakes, regretted about it- fine. Learnt our lessons- Great! But what next? We can’t just dwell upon the past forever. We have to get over them and move on. Though the way people deal with these emotions is greatly influenced by their experiences in life, their sociality, and their emotional control so far, below are some ways that can help you channel your efforts for ‘letting go of regrets’ in the right direction.

Acknowledge your mistakes:

Remember that you are a work in progress. You are a human, and it is absolutely normal to commit mistakes. But once you have committed a mistake, face it! Do not run away from it. Admit it at least to yourself and then understand why the mistake was committed and what you have learnt. Once you have comprehended the regret, focus on how to right the wrong or how to make up for it if possible.


If your regret is because of something wrong that you have done or said to someone else, the best way to proceed would be to apologize. Although it won’t undo what has been done, it will definitely lighten your heart and ease pain and tension of the consequences.

Apology not only means you respect others’ right to feel hurt but it also shows that you value your relationships more than your ego or pride. Do not expect an apology in return, just do it for yourself. All you are going to lose is some of your future regrets, and maybe a bit of your pride.

Share it with people you trust:

Whenever you feel it’s being difficult to bear the load of your regret, start sharing it with someone you trust. Sharing your feelings will not only prevent you from sliding down a path of denial and repression but it will also lessen your pain and lighten your heart.

Focus on things you can control:

Do not stress yourself out for the things you cannot change or have no control over. Past, for instance, is just a history for you straining your mind thinking about it and repenting it over and over again can only put your future at risk, the future which ‘you have control over’! Just process your regret, take steps to make up for it if possible, make peace with your past and move on. Do not let your past mistakes define you. There’s more to life than just wandering about in the past, isn’t it? 

Apart from the above points, there’s a suggestion that I would like to give. While I was going through some research papers on people’s greatest regrets, one thing that I found very common was people regretting about not having spent enough time with their family. Now, with workloads, technology and social media taking control over our lives, this regret is only going to rise with time unless we are aware of it before it’s too late. So my suggestion or rather my request is to all of you, spend time with your family whenever you can.  Do not let your present ignorance be the reason for your future regrets when you know you can control it and change it.

So, this brings me to the end of my first article, I just hope it’s going to be helpful for at least some of you. If you have anything to share, ask or suggest, please feel free to comment below. I would be glad to read your experiences or answer your questions if I can.

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