Tips For Letting Go Of Regret And Finally Feeling Free

Whether it's for small or big things, we all feel regret. Maybe you find yourself looking back at the past often, wishing you had done things differently. Perhaps you realize you failed to take an opportunity when you had one. It could be that you've made mistakes that keep you up at night. You may even find yourself anxious about doing something that might make you look bad, or you may worry about repeating an old blunder over again.

No one is immune to regret, but over the years, regrets tend to pile one on top of the other until it feels like there's a mountain of baggage you just can't let go of, even if it's only over small, silly things. After all, it doesn't feel small or silly when it's your life. Letting go of regret can help you embrace your life as is, living in your present without fear or worry. It's time to be free and say goodbye to unnecessary regret — here's how. 

Identify why you feel regret

It's completely natural to live with some regrets. Many of us wonder what would have happened if we'd taken that job or where we would be if we'd stayed with an ex. That sort of thinking is just part of the human experience, but not all regrets weigh the same in our minds.

Psychologist Edward Higgins proposes the self-discrepancy theory, which states that a person is made up of three parts: who you actually are, who your ideal "you" is, and who you believe you ought to be (via Psychological Review). Regret comes most often from comparing your actual and ideal selves to your ought self when you feel you are failing to live up to the standards you've set. This can help greatly when attempting to identify your regrets. Are you feeling regret because of something you have actually done (or didn't do) or what you think you ought to have done?

Maybe you turned down a high-paying job for something you found more fulfilling, and now you feel regret because of the status and income you won't be receiving. Are you comparing yourself to an ideal no one else expects of you? Regarding your ideal and actual self, regret can be a little trickier to navigate. If it's something you've truly done, such as hurting a close friend, then there's more to unravel there. You may not feel guilt and fear over some things in the same amount, but shame and disappointment in yourself have just as heavy a toll.

Recognize the lessons regret has taught you

"No regrets" is a trendy motto you may hear someone say — but do they really have regret? It's possible that those who claim they live with no regrets may have had the chance to use regret as a tool to learn from past behavior. For those who do live with regrets, this is welcome news; regret, as it turns out, has its place in learning to grow. If you have regret over the outcomes of your actions, it's not a bad thing. Now you know what sort of actions to avoid in the future, while those who haven't had such experiences are likely to make similar blunders down the road.

This may also make you more empathetic towards people who make similar mistakes; "we've all been there" is a common saying for a reason. Set some goals based on your regret instead of letting it simmer. So you were late to work on the first day, and your boss noticed. From now on, you'll be the person who shows up five minutes early to everything. Not only will your boss notice and appreciate your dedication, but you'll also avoid any regrets or embarrassments over tardiness everywhere else. 

Stop overthinking your failures

Many people tend to get caught in a loop of overthinking their failures, whether it be something small such as tripping in public, or something larger, like losing a promotion. When trying to make sense of bad outcomes, it's easy to turn the blame inwards. You may start thinking you tripped because you're a klutz, you lack grace, or because you're uncoordinated when in reality, the sidewalk was just a bit uneven.

It's worse when it comes to things we deem more important. If you did miss out on something like a promotion, you might start tearing apart every little flaw you perceive in yourself; and worse, you may convince yourself it's the truth. Harvard Business Review suggests "psychological distance" as a cure for these self-sabotaging thoughts. What you are feeling isn't necessarily a fact. Instead of telling yourself, "I'm a failure," it's important to recognize you only feel like a failure.

While it may still feel a bit grim, it's crucial to separate fact from fiction when it comes to your self-image, and it starts small. So, next time you tell yourself you can't do anything right, take a step back and say, "I only feel like I can't do anything right," because really, you're doing so many things perfectly and aren't giving yourself credit for it. 

Lean into your mistakes

People who are afraid to make mistakes stay inside their comfort zone and never end up really going anywhere. Don't let that be you. Refraining from taking risks because you're afraid of regret is only holding you back, so lean into it instead of going out of your way to avoid failing!

Kelly Hendricks, a marriage and family therapist, told Psyche Central, "If you can see failure as simply moments when there are unexpected or undesired outcomes, then these unexpected or undesired outcomes will have no attachment to you as a person." Learning to accept that gives you room to explore your identity, strengths, future, and, yes, even your weaknesses.

There's a popular technique for budding authors facing this situation when it comes to publication that anyone can apply to their life. Some authors try to get a set number — maybe 10, maybe 100 — of rejection letters. This mindset completely changes the way you approach difficulties and success. Crave failure. Each time you do something that you could look back on as a regret, you're one step closer to attaining what you really want. The path to success isn't always easy, but taking control of the outcome by deciding your outlook on it is a huge advantage. 

Make peace with those you feel you've wronged

Not every regret you have may be situational. Sometimes, you truly are in the wrong. It's human not to want to admit to our poor behaviors and actions, especially when it hurts someone we love. Sweeping it under the rug may feel like the natural course of action, but if you regret something you've done, then it may be time to apologize, even if the event happened a long time ago. 

The first step, of course, is taking the blame. That can be hard — no one likes to think of themself as someone who would hurt others or as a bad person. Simply put, everyone makes mistakes sometimes, but even still, it can be a lot easier to reason our way out of the blame in our own heads. That's where the guilt and regret come in. As hard as it is to own up to it, it's the first step in moving forward.

Karina Schumann, Ph.D., told Speaking of Psychology, "Apologies have been known to be really, really powerful in terms of repairing the relationship, helping people get on track, and really being the start of a longer process of reconciliation for some of those more severe offenses. And so in the research that we do, we show that apologies are incredibly effective ..." So don't be afraid to say you're sorry! 

Fact-check yourself

We tend to make mountains out of molehills when we're alone with our thoughts. It's important to take a step back and look at the situation with a clinical eye. Was it really as bad as you're making it out to be? It's natural to critique yourself and re-think the day's events, especially when you're winding down to sleep after a busy day. But in that time, some people begin to overthink small errors they may have made. Or, in some cases, invent problems where none truly exist.

This is a great time to take a step back. Try writing down your regrets; once they're on paper, they may look a lot smaller than they seem in your mind. In fact, starting on a journalling journey or listing your negative thoughts and emotions can be a powerful way to absolve yourself of regret, shame, anger, or embarrassment in general — not just when you're trying to figure out if you're making things out to be worse than they really are. 

Think of all the times you've been out with friends, only to have someone in your party later groan about something odd or embarrassing that they did. Do you remember them doing that? And if you do, did you think poorly of them for it? We're our own worst enemies when it comes to judgment; it's possible that no one else in the room noticed your perceived slight at all. 

Find the right therapy

When regret becomes too great for you to handle alone, it may be time to seek therapy for it. You can start simple with grief journalling, which may help you sort out your thoughts and feelings and release everything you've been bottling up inside. You may also want to talk to a trusted friend or confidant, as simply venting your feelings can often help. A friend you trust can also offer you perspective and reassurance on the situation.

Counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, or group therapy are also at your disposal. It's important to research and select a treatment option that is right for you and your specific regrets, so be sure to take your time and feel out your path toward healing before rushing into anything.

Try reaching out to a mental health professional if you feel trapped by the weight of your regret, as intense, prolonged regret can lead to poor mental health and physical side effects. Know that whatever you choose, when it comes to heavy emotional pain like regret, you never have to shoulder the burden alone. Though simply finding the courage to ask for help can be a difficult obstacle to overcome, the end results are well worth the effort it takes to reach out. 

Discover healthy distractions

It's never too late to discover a hobby; even a momentary activity can be a great way to pull yourself out of a rut. A healthy distraction can replace those blah feelings with inspiration, strength, creativity, self-love, confidence, and a desire to learn. While you will want to avoid less-constructive distractions, such as binging TV shows for days on end while eating ice cream out of the tub (we've all been there), there are plenty of constructive outlets to help take your mind off of regret.

Block out time for creative hobbies: Join clubs or groups you are interested in, take classes such as pottery or painting, volunteer or arrange your own class to teach, do special projects, try your hand at contests or prompts, and simply try new outlets. Really, it can be something as simple as deciding to go on a walk every day or color-code your wardrobe!

All of these make perfect distractions, whether by getting you out of your head or home, helping you socialize and build new connections, or simply grounding yourself with a passion project. Just make sure not to take any new attempts too seriously; it's okay if you're no good at what you try to do. It should only be for fun and relaxation. Adding more stress to the pile isn't the goal of a distraction, after all! 

Practice mindfulness

Simple meditation techniques and mindfulness can be a perfect way to let go of regret.  Alexa Bonacquisti, Ph.D., PMH-C, says our minds "time travel" throughout the day. "This time traveling in our own mind increases judgment, distress, and pulls us away from what really matters," she tells Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine's Clinical Psychology program. "Becoming more aware of the present moment allows us to see things more clearly and choose how to respond and also to open ourselves up to pleasurable and enjoyable experiences that we might miss if our mind is focused on the past or future."

For those new to meditation, starting can be as easy as simply finding a quiet place to sit alone and breathe for a few minutes. There are plenty of apps for meditation to help get you started. The basic tenure of meditation is not to block out your negative thoughts or shove them into a corner to forget. Instead, allow these thoughts to come, acknowledge them, and let them go. Staying rooted in the present is the primary goal. There is nothing we can do to change the past, and that's alright. This is the time to embrace the here and now while you allow everything else to melt away. 

Safely express your negative emotions

Suppressing your negative emotions too much can lead to feeling like a volcano ready to erupt. Safely regulating and releasing your negative emotions is key to letting go of regrets. Regret is often accompanied by feelings like anger, sadness, shame, embarrassment, and fear. While feeling these things is normal and healthy, too much can be detrimental.

The goal of expressing emotions like anger is to control these feelings and turn them into something more helpful to you. For example, you can use creative activities to express and release negative emotions. Painting or drawing, singing or composing songs, and any other artistic mediums are perfect for getting these feelings out and turning them into something constructive. Just be sure you're not turning your expressions into aggression — refrain from passive-aggressively singing revenge songs at your partner, for example.

Have you been meaning to go to the gym? Now is the perfect time to take what you're feeling and use it to your benefit. Hotter emotions can also fuel you in physical activities like running, biking, hiking, climbing, and weight lifting. Be sure that you don't let your feelings lead you to practice any of these things unsafely; always do your research and use safety precautions when attempting new physical activities.

Let go of control

Letting go of your regret may also involve letting go of control. No one likes to feel like they don't have control over their lives and the situations they find themselves in, but in reality, there is just so much that you don't have direct control over. Rather than despairing over this, learn to release it.

What does this look like in application? For someone who feels like they're always late to social events because of their partner taking too long to get ready, it may be accepting that there's nothing you can do to hurry things along. Text or call whomever you're meeting up with to politely let them know when you will be arriving, and don't stress over being a tad bit behind.

By doing so, you're accepting that you're going to be fashionably late, and you can be happy knowing that your partner took time and energy to look their absolute best to go out to meet friends. A lot of letting go of control involves changing your outlook, which can be a difficult process at first, so take baby steps until you can comfortably loosen your hold on the reigns. 

Work towards forgiving yourself

It's easy to say that "everyone messes up," but it's harder to apply the same thing to yourself. However, the only way forward is to forgive yourself. Treat yourself with the same consideration you would with a close friend. Offer yourself understanding, patience, and even affection.

Self-love can be difficult for many to administer when faced with their inner critic, but embracing your humanity is key to letting your regrets go and living your best life. That means you must stop beating yourself up for little things like cheating on your diet, sleeping in, or forgetting little things. It also means forgiving yourself for the bigger things, even when you know you were in the wrong.

Do all you can to repair the past, then show yourself a little love by moving forward. You're just as worth forgiveness as anyone else on the planet. And what's more, it's most important that you forgive yourself over anyone else. Establishing a good relationship with yourself takes time, effort, and a change in your mental attitude, but it's worth every second of the work you put in. You've got this! 

Realize that everyone makes mistakes

You're human! Making mistakes can be a beautiful part of life. Regret is a valuable tool to teach us to improve, but it's time to let go of it and lean into learning. You've heard it over and over: Everyone makes mistakes. It's an easy phrase to nod along to but harder to truly apply to yourself.

Now is the time to let it sink in. Let it be your mantra going forward as you begin your journey towards letting regret go from your life. It's time to stop looking backward and keep a steady eye on the horizon instead. You have your entire life before you, filled with untold potential and wonder.

Get out there and make more mistakes, grab your deserved successes, and remember that you're not exempt from the "everyone" rule. Live the life you truly deserve as another flawed, wonderful human being, and let regret go.