“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” …sang Frank Sinatra, whose famous lament evolves into a powerful case for unapologetically doing things his way.
Like Frank, everybody has regrets, whether small or sizeable. We all wish that we'd done something differently at some point in our life – and as we get older, we can particularly fixate on those chances we didn’t take rather than the ones we did. But regret can be a misunderstood emotion in a society which encourages us to be positive and forward-looking. After all, what possible good could ruminating on past mistakes do?
However, feelings of regret can become overwhelming and destructive, so instead of obsessing about them, or dismissing them, perhaps we could lean into those negative emotions and use them to clarify our lives and teach us something about ourselves. By looking backwards with the aim of moving forwards, we can even convert our regrets into fuel for progress.
So how do you come to terms with regret? It’s about being kind to yourself and offering yourself the same compassion as you would someone who was unburdening themselves. Admitting your thoughts, feelings and actions by telling others – or writing about them – can bring physical and mental benefits; according to scientists, self-revelation is linked to reduced blood pressure and better coping skills.
It’s also about the ability to accept yourself, to recognise that there was a wider context to your actions and to understand that you made those decisions based on the values and the information you had at the time. This can lead to remorse and self-knowledge, but above all, being able to feel regret ‘well’ is the strongest sign of a life meaningfully lived.
You can use the theme of regret to spark off your life story book. How about writing some notes about ‘what held me back from applying for my dream job’ or ‘why I lived the life I wanted instead of obeying my parent’s wishes’?
Approached with an open mind and willingness to self-reflect, regrets can build bridges, mend relationships and even improve the future as, by understanding what you regret most, you can understand what you value the most. And these findings will underpin a considered and stimulating life story.