Nothing can pervade your thoughts or inspire sleepless nights like the feeling of regret.
That good-for-you bad feeling
Regrets make you feel terrible, but initially, they help you learn from mistakes.
“Those who express regret over a decision they have made tend to make a better decision next time,” says Aidan Feeney, psychology senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast.
The harm of overthinking
Regrets that dominate your thoughts long-term may cause health problems.
“Regrets are a stronger predictive for depression in older than younger people,” says Carsten Wrosch, psychology professor at Concordia University in Montréal. “[Heart disease may] be observed.”
Rising above regrets
Try these tactics:
* Stop judging the past. People may mistakenly believe that they made the wrong choice, which can worsen regretful feelings.
“Say, ‘Given what I knew at the time, would I have done anything different?’” says Wändi Bruine de Bruin, professor of behavioral decision-making at Leeds University Business School.
* Embrace inaction. As you age, you’ll have less power to fix regrets. Accepting this may help you cope.
“If you can disengage from undoing the regret, you don’t experience the consequences,” says Wrosch.
* Seek inner wisdom. Unresolved regrets become more common with age. Fortunately, many older adults are equipped to handle their emotions.
“They have the wisdom that comes with life experience,” says Pär Bjälkebring, psychology senior lecturer at Gothenburg University in Sweden.
* Appreciate your situation. People who regret missed opportunities imagine best-case scenarios about what might have been.
Instead, focus on the good in your life, Bruine de Bruin says.
* Employ optimistic thinking. Diminish regret’s power by finding something positive that materialized.
“Identify the silver linings,” says Tom Gilovich, psychology professor at Cornell University in New York.
* Lead an active life. People regret inaction, so be more proactive.
“There is some great satisfaction to taking command of a regret,” Gilovich says. “Go for it.”