I wish there was this magic tool that showed you how much time you’ve spent thinking about the past. About the things you didn’t do but wanted to do. About the things you did but regret doing. That endless movie reel where you go over the different scenarios about how your life could have turned out had you done the right thing or not did the wrong thing.
Then, I’d love to have that number visually represented in some prominent area of my home so that I could look at it every single day. Maybe then I’d understand the full weight of all that time spent focused on something I couldn’t change. You probably already know the two different ways to deal with regret, but it’s important to review both so you can do what’s necessary to live your best life right now.
Before we get to both methods of dealing with regret, remember this. Everything is in your mind. What you experience as reality is nothing more than a projection of your consciousness. Literally, there’s even science behind this. If you can bring yourself to change your mind, you can change your reality. Always, always remember.
One of the most dangerous lies you tell yourself includes the words “I am.”
When we do things we regret, we start telling ourselves these “I am” phrases. I’m a loser. I’m undeserving of love. I am not good at [insert thing you wish you were good at]. I’m stuck. I’m uncurably anxious. I am not worthy of the opportunities I want. And you create these narratives because, in a weird way, it makes you feel okay. The crave for familiarity is so strong because living life without that coping mechanism is that hard.
This process happens when dealing with the huge mistakes we really wish we could take back and the accumulation of a bunch of smaller mistakes that lead to lives we don’t want. And then you just live on this continuous loop over and over again until you’re dead. For some, this manifests in a real depression. For others, it manifests in a life of quiet desperation — things aren’t terrible, but they aren’t amazing either.
And even as much as I’ve spelled out how this process works and what it does to us, overcoming past mistakes that define you is a process that’s so psychologically difficult most won’t go through it. Feelings, beliefs, and thoughts that seem imaginary have a very real effect. And that’s that.
I’ve done a ton of things I regret. I regret getting arrested and also getting some of my friends in trouble who didn’t deserve it but got caught up just for associating with me. I regret ruining a great relationship because of infidelity and staying in a different toxic relationship out of insecurity — I also regret the hurt they caused my partners. Overall, I regret how much time I’ve wasted.
I am not free from feelings of regret and mulling over the past. Who the hell is? I don’t perfectly practice everything I preach. Half the time I’m writing these articles to myself because self-improvement is hard for everyone, including self-improvement writers. I can tell you my process. I don’t know exactly what you’ve done or what you’ve been through. Certain mistakes are harder than others to get over. But this is a process that can help.
First comes the cliche. What’s done is done. Accepting the present moment is the only path to building a better future. I often tell myself this phrase “this is where I’m at and I have to deal with it.”
Second, since you’re going to think about the past, you might as well analyze it as thoroughly as possible in a productive way. You made certain mistakes. Why did you make them? Fear? Insecurity? Lack of impulse control? I like to use journaling to sus out these thoughts. Think about your patterns.
What are the consistent traps you fall into? What triggers you to fall into these? Is there something you can do differently when the trigger arises? Re-frame the past. Think about how your past mistakes may have benefited you in the present. For me, getting in legal trouble forced me to seek out entrepreneurship because a corporate gig was really out of the question.
Read the book Letting Go for a thorough overview of this process. But essentially, instead of fighting your feelings, you feel them fully until they subside. It’s not the feelings themselves that cause you so much trouble, but the repression of those feelings.
Of all the heroic folk stories available to us, I love redemption stories. It’s almost more of a win to bounce back from a string of mistakes than it is to just coast through life without making any. And that feeling of redemption gives you an extra sense of pride because you overcame a long and persisting set of problems in your life.
As a society, we’re losing that sense of redemption. We aim to permanently cancel people and have an increased sense of judgment toward each other without realizing we’re only human. You’re only human. And whatever has happened up until this point doesn’t change the fact that you have to live your life for as long as you have left.
Spending time in the past does nothing but shorten and waste what time you have live. Moving forward, calling the ultimate mulligan on your past, and telling yourself that you still have the power of now available to you can make the rest of your life much longer. So, give it your best shot and live.
Believe me. I know one little self-improvement blog post isn’t going to cause this dramatic shift. So read 100 if you have to. Bathe in positivity until you become positive. Keep swinging until something lands. That’s what I love about the process. You can try and fail to change 999 times. Then, at your 1000th at-bat, something can just click and you’re off to a brand new life.
So, here’s to your next swing.