We have all experienced it at one time or another in our lives: we made a life-changing decision –we decided to get married as soon as we graduated from High School; move away from our families; have children, not have children – and later we regret these decisions and wonder what life would have been like had we chosen the path not taken. We torture ourselves about why we decided what we decided; we chastise ourselves for not having thought about it longer, or studied it more, or gathered more information. We can’t sleep at night, we are tormented by our thoughts that go over and over the decision we now regret, as though trying to undo what we did and get another chance. Is there a value in all this?
Regrets can paralyze our lives and prevent us from moving on because they keep us stuck in a time warp. But they can also teach us something. As we reflect on our decisions, we can learn more about that particular situation, we find options, even if only in our minds, and imagine different scenarios. This is a painful but helpful exercise, because it provides us with valuable information so that, if a similar situation were to occur again, we would be better equipped to respond to it in a way that is most appropriate. This exercise could also reduce a tendency to make impulsive decisions , because it encourages more reflection on our part.
If we stay stuck in regrets, on the other hand, we can become so obsessed that we become unable to make decisions in the present because regrets cast doubts on our abilities to make good choices. Obsessive thinking about decisions we made in the past erodes our self-confidence and maintains insecurities and lack of closure. In conclusion, obsessing about past decisions won’t help us, but reflecting on them and learn from them is a valuable and growth-promoting experience all at any stage of life.
Regrets, seem to have a different value at different ages. When we reach middle age, for instance, there is a general tendency to evaluate what we have achieved and where we have failed so far. This is typically the time most susceptible to regrets. What is the best way to deal with them?
As always, a middle ground is the best way to be. We need to accept that whatever we did we cannot change now. We need to accept this as part of who we are. We need to stay in the present, not in the past, and focus on what can still be done, rather than what cannot be recaptured. We learn much more from our mistakes than our successes, so let’s look at what we did as a learning opportunity.
As we approach old age, we tend to become more tolerant of our past mistakes, and regrets play a less significant role in our lives. This is possibly because, at an older age, we are more focused on making the best of the present, as we have little time left. We have acquired the wisdom to know that life is made of good and bad decisions, that we are not perfect, and neither is anybody else. This allows us to live better with our regrets without letting them take center stage.
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