Regret: wishing we would have done something differently
so that we would have had a different outcome
We all have things we regret. Feeling regret can be useful when it allows us to look at our actions, learn from them and make different choices in the future. Feeling regret becomes not useful when we keep replaying a past event in our minds, wishing we could change something that’s already happened.
Regret looks like this: My boyfriend broke up with me. I kissed another guy at the bar one night. I wasn’t thinking at all. I feel so bad and I never wanted things to end.
Useful: It’s useful to ask ourselves why we did it. Was I actually happy in that relationship? If I was unhappy, how could I have handled this differently? Was I feeling insecure and wanting to feel wanted? What was the underlying reason for my action? It’s not usually as simple as I was drunk and wanted to kiss someone. Going deeper can help us learn.
Not Useful: I’m a terrible person for what I did. I’m never going to meet anyone new. He should love me anyway. I’m never going to be happy now. It’s his fault I kissed someone else because he didn’t pay attention to me.
In the Useful thoughts, we take responsibility for what happened without beating ourselves up about it. We learn. What we did might have been something we think is wrong, but we had reasons for doing it. These reasons aren’t justifications, they are understandings. In the Not Useful thoughts, we act like a victim and blame ourselves or someone else.
Once we’ve learned from what happened, the next step is to realize that we don’t actually know what the best outcome would have been. We don’t know that it would have been better if we hadn’t done the thing we are regretting. This doesn’t mean that we want to do it again, it just means that we realize that we can’t change what happened and that we don’t know what the future outcome of it will be.