Thursday, January 6, 2011

Regret and Self-Forgiveness

A while back I invested in a home study course that looked promising. Once I had “consumed” the material by writing in the workbook, I couldn’t return it. Of course, if I was considering a return, I should have gone through the DVDs before doing that, to see if the course was as valuable as I expected.

But that’s not what I did. I took notes in the workbook as I went through the DVDs. Ever the optimist…and full of hope for useful information as I dug deeper into the content.

I ended up being disappointed and wishing I hadn’t made the purchase. But now I was stuck with the material.

Over the next several weeks, I rehashed my decision and my actions several times. I was full of regret and self-criticism, asking myself questions like: Why did I write in that workbook? Why didn’t I just go through the DVDs first? 

Have you ever had regret about something you’ve done? Maybe you, too, bought something that you couldn’t return. Or you lashed out at someone you care about. Or you didn’t stay in touch with a family member or friend you promised to. Or you lied to someone who trusted you. The list could be long.

Because we’re not perfect, we going to make decisions and take actions that don’t work out. If only we could take them back…

At times like this, remind yourself of a very important truth:

You cannot change the past!

It really is true that you rob yourself of your present moments if you dwell on past events.

The solution is self-forgiveness. The act of admitting you’re human and every choice you make will not work out makes it possible to let go of past mistakes.

And it’s really important that you do this. It’s not just that these regrets consume precious moments that can never be recovered. You also have to consider the toll such musings take on your mental and emotional health. Your self-esteem and self-confidence can plummet when you’re focused on your mistakes and overlook all the things you do well.

Why not take a few minutes right now to identify the one or two biggest regrets that are still haunting you? Then ask yourself what you need to do to finally let go of them. Maybe you’ll want to make amends to someone else. Or maybe you just need to remind yourself that you’re allowed to be imperfect. You can learn from every experience because you can use those lessons going forward.

You’ll know if you’ve successfully let them go because your mind will be free to think more positive, creative thoughts. And your shoulders will feel lighter from not carrying that burden of regret any longer.


  1. Meredith, sound advice as ever. It can be incredibly difficult to let go and yet it can be so destructive if we don't. My advice as a coach to people is when looking at mistakes:
    1. Acknowledge what was positive (and there can be even from mistakes)
    2. Decide what can you learn (and move on quickly)
    3. Ignore the things that you cannot change

    I really do that speed is of the essense. Of course it's easier said than done, but the people who don't dwell and can view mistakes as normal are those who move forward and grow.

  2. Beverly, I really like the 3 things you advise your clients, and I agree that people who can move on quickly benefit the most from following that process. I've seen so many people dwell on mistakes of the past to the detriment of their present and future. I appreciate you for sharing your wisdom.

  3. Experimentation will always involve healthy error, provided we learn from these mistakes. There is nothing to forgive if there is value in the lesson learned from our sincere efforts to improve our lives. Still, since I came THAT close to being perfect when I was born, I allow for some minor imperfections, and forgive myself no less readily than I forgive others when I come up short.

  4. Robert, it's true that forgiveness is not always the answer. LETTING GO is the bottom line so we don't waste valuable time tied up emotionally with past events we cannot change. I like your approach to "readily" forgive - that's key to being able to let go and move on. I appreciate your taking time to share your perspective.

  5. I'm also a believer that 'Time heals all'; the key is to acknowledge it and move on. But acknowledging and accepting it takes time. The main thing is not to hurry.. sometimes being in a hurry to move on may cause one to more mistakes, more dissappointments and further spiral downwards.. Only with self-awareness, can we than take the time needed to heal our own wounds, and let go... And move on with no regrets.

    Thank you all for sharing.

  6. Excellent point, Esther. Just as our bodies need time to heal physical wounds, our minds need time to recover from emotional wounds. And the healing can take longer if we don't allow the process to unfold on its own. Thank you for your valuable contribution to this topic.


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