Dealing With Regret: 5 Ways to Move Forward

The past is a place that can eat you up. It’s easy to fall prisoner to the negative experiences and emotions that it may hold. Whether it’s toward past relationships, a missed opportunity, or even how you spent your last weekend, feelings of regret can take over and cloud your thoughts of the present and future. And while you know it’s not beneficial, you can’t help but fixate on what should have been.

As a third year transfer and with graduation around the corner, I feel especially vulnerable to regretful feelings.The fear that time is running out has made me put into question how I’ve used my short time here at UCSB and if I have made the most of it. The truth is it’s been more than special - I’ve had some of the best times of my life here. I have so much to be proud about not only with my accomplishments in college but all the twists and turns I took to become the person I am today.

So why does this obnoxious corner of my mind keep wondering, “What if I did things differently? Would I be happier with where I am now?” It took a lot of reflection but I owed it to myself to face the answer: there will always be something that you could have done differently. You can either dwell on it or use what you know now to do better in the future. I needed the self-reminder that my growth will not end when I graduate, so why beat myself up for not reaching the threshold of maximum growth and making the best possible decisions every time by age 22? I will continue to make mistakes, learn and grow for as long as I live.

Image via Giphy

It’s important to recognize that you are your biggest critic and it’s unnecessary to torture youself by giving so much energy to things you have no control over. It can be a rough journey but here are some things that have helped me and continue to help me counter regret:

1. Reflection is everything

I am a huge advocate of keeping a journal. Writing down my thoughts and experiences has been amazing for reflection and perspective. There is so much positivity in looking back on a difficult time and being able to say that is something you overcame. If you’re a complainer like me, this is a great outlet to release negative thoughts in a meaningful way. Even if journaling isn’t your thing, try a sentence or two a day. You’d be surprised - maybe something that feels regretful now will be a blessing in disguise at a different point in your life.  

2. Be honest with yourself

It can be really difficult admitting how you really feel. We tend to hide from our weaknesses because we feel ashamed when we think of them, but they need to be acknowledged in order to create change. Sometimes these weaknesses hinder you from seizing opportunities and make you feel like you’ve wasted time, which feeds the cycle of a regretful mindset. Once you find the strength to be honest with yourself, you can pinpoint what you need to work on and begin to take steps in the right direction.

3. Realize what is serving you vs. what is bringing you down

This could be your friendships, relationship, your job, your workload, etc. If the people in your life aren’t giving you the support and understanding you need, maybe it’s time to remove or distance those who are adding to your stress instead of aiding your growth. This goes both ways for too much school work or the amount of hours you work at your job. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to take time off so that you can bounce back from whatever it is you’re going through.

4. Think of it as a learning experience

Use your mistakes as an opportunity for improvement. Every regretful experience comes with lessons and reminders of what can be changed for the future. If you’re like me and tend to make the same mistake multiple times, it’s okay - you’re still learning. Try not to beat yourself up and instead value the lessons you know now, and use that to dictate what you DO have control over.

5. It is what it is

Embracing acceptance is easier said than done, but it’s a guaranteed relief once you finally do it. It asks you to be patient, understanding, and make peace with your past and yourself. The key is to recognize that acceptance is feasible and you are deserving of the benefits it will bring you. 

While regret may feel inescapable at times, it takes the realization that the only thing setting you back is your refusal to move forward. By challenging and encouraging yourself, you can turn what could have been into what can be.