“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” Arthur Miller, American Playwright
You might come across a website while surfing the web called “Secret Regrets.” It’s gained some popularity and led to a book called Secret Regrets: What If You Had a Second Chance?” On the site, you’re invited to anonymously post your regrets, whether it’s the biggest regret of your life or the one you would change if you could. The goal is to encourage healing, but because you’re posting your deepest thoughts for everyone to see, people from all walks of life comment and give advice on what to do next.
Feeling regretful is a universal emotion; we have all experienced it. For the most part, we share similar regrets with the most common being lost loves or unfulfilled relationships. Our second most common regret is how we have treated or mistreated a family member. Career, education, money and parenting regrets follow closely behind.
In truth, none of us can escape the problems and setbacks of life that diminish our happiness and joy, but it’s how we deal with these setbacks that matters the most.
If you don’t find posting your secrets on the Internet an appealing way to deal with your regrets, then take a look at these five “lessons.” They will help you to release your regrets and even uncover the hidden gift that lies beneath them.
Lesson #1: Uncover your regrets
Understanding the regrets you are coveting is the first step toward releasing them. Anger, shame, resentment and general feelings of unhappiness can all be signals that your mind is holding on to deep regrets. For many people, these thoughts might be unconscious, but if your mind is replaying a negative tape from the past, you may need to press the stop button. Ask yourself, “Am I holding onto negative feelings toward someone?” or “Do I secretly blame myself for past events?” or “What will happen if I let go of these feelings and move forward with my life?”
Lesson #2: Endings are natural
If our biggest regrets surround lost loves and endings, then we need to let go of the false belief that there is something wrong with these endings, that they are unnatural. Endings are a part of life’s cycle of change and transformation. They help us grow. Bestselling author Patricia Spadaro suggests: “When you see an ending headed your way, whether it’s a job, a relationship or a way of life, resist the temptation to greet it with bitterness. Instead, know that for some reason you need to turn off the road you are traveling on and take another route. Expect that your new adventure, in its own time, will reveal its’ reward.”
Lesson #3: Live in the present
One of life’s greatest lessons is accepting that there is nothing we can do to change what has already taken place. We cannot move forward with our life when our mind is locked in the past. The challenge, then, is to learn to let things go and move forward so that we can fully engage in the present moment of our life. There will be people who live their entire lives without ever really experiencing it because they are either caught in the past or worrying about the future. In order to live a full life, we must not only feel the pain of regret, but we must release it. Carrying these emotions around in our pocket will only cause us more regret down the road.
Lesson #4: Find the deeper message
“There are no regrets in life, just lessons.” Jennifer Aniston, actress
Everyone has had the experience of a painful ending that later turned out to be the best thing for us. Perhaps the ending led to a new job with greater purpose or a healthier relationship with greater love. We have something important to learn from our mistakes and if we don’t pay attention, we will repeat the same mistake again and again until we accept the message and incorporate it into our lives.
Spadoro suggests asking these questions: What insight or invaluable lesson am I meant to gain from this experience? What did I learn about myself and the others involved? How can I apply what I learned to the rest of my life?
Lesson #5: Make amends
Some regrets are very painful and difficult to move past. On the website “Secret Regrets” mentioned above, you will find heartbreaking stories that would be difficult for anyone to move past. In these more serious regrets, it’s important to look for a way to make things right. If you hurt someone, find that person and apologize, even if the issue took place a long time ago. If you can’t make amends directly, find ways to offer others the good that is inside of you. The wisest people understand that in order to move from deep regret, you must think beyond yourself and your own pain and take time to lessen the pain of another. In doing so, you can free yourself.
The most valuable lessons we learn in life often come from the mistakes we make. When we learn from them and then fully release them, we stop carrying regret in our hearts and are able to see the possibilities that lie before us. Alexander Graham Bell had this in mind when he stated: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” In essence, if you want to fully embrace life, leave no room for regret.