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Regrets: Having too few to mention

A rather patronising phrase of Mr GB Shaw's, but last weekend in Wales, attending my (dare I admit it) 20-year high school reunion, I glimpsed its reality.

Mine was no horrendous Hollywood-version of high school. I have been looking forward to returning to this magical place since the last get together 10 years ago. I was fortunate enough to attend Atlantic College, one of the United World Colleges, where students aged 16-18 are sponsored from all over the world to represent their countries in the aim of promoting international understanding and world peace. It is a unique and amazing education I thoroughly enjoyed.

But looking back, I've often felt it's almost a shame I was a teenager when I went. Caught up in concerns of boys and acne and ‘being cool', I'm not sure I always made the most of that incredible opportunity. And just like in years since, despite having good intentions, I made mistakes, some of which I groan to think of. Things I wish I could erase or put right: people I could have been nicer to, others whose feelings I hurt, moments where I wish I'd tried harder, been bolder, done more or avoided completely.

Regrets. Those things we look back on with longing or sorrow. That clutching, strangling disappointment or distress about things we wish could be different.

They don't do us any good. Regret is a form of stress and is accompanied by all those dangerous stress-related health implications. Recent studies have also linked regret and remorse over missed opportunities to depression.

All the wishing in the world won't change the past. Yet sometimes those voices of self-recrimination about what has been can be deafening and we allow ourselves to be paralysed by thoughts of what we did or didn't do. Regret, in that way, is self-perpetuating, creating further loss (of time, self love, action etc) stuck dwelling on those past mistakes or events.

An alternative is to make peace with the past, let it go, and do something different. Take positive action, not out of reaction to past disappointments, mistakes or habits, but proactively, from a place of empowerment.

Some thoughts on dealing with Regret:

Look for the Source

Thinking about moments of regret, ask: what did that ‘regretful' behaviour stem from? What was the underlying cause? Perhaps a fear, shame or a need to control? I personally have regretful moments from when I didn't think things through or consider my behaviour from others' perspectives, where I opted for instant gratification over long-term benefit, or acted from fear of rejection.

Once we are aware of our negative triggers that lead us to undesirable results, we can work on them and recognise a different course of action for the future.

Recover with Grace

It's bad enough that we've made a mistake, incurred a loss, realised we could have done better … but then to beat ourselves up about it, wasting more energy, time and self-worth is adding fuel to the regret fire. Self-flagellation doesn't improve the situation or make anything up to people we've hurt. It does mean we remain focusing on the regretful incident and stuck there. Learning from our mistakes and taking positive action to make amends wherever possible safely puts out regret's flame, helping us to move on.

Focus on the Present

Being stuck in the past stops us not only enjoying, but also taking action in, the only part of our lives that we can actually control — the present moment. Focusing on what we have and can do now, rather than what we cannot change, empowers us to move forward.

“This too shall pass” — one of my mum's favourite sayings.

Everything changes. Looking back five years, or even one year (never mind 20), we can see how circumstances, feelings, relationships, our bodies, perspectives and priorities have all evolved, shifted and adapted. Let go of self-recrimination and disappointment. Allow it to pass.

We all make mistakes

We can all look back and see things we may have liked to do differently, but generally we're doing the best we can given where we are at any given time (emotionally, developmentally, experientially). Knowing that mistakes are part of growth and learning, and that we all make them, perhaps we can show a little more compassion to others and ourselves regarding regretful incidents.

Accept Responsibility

Making excuses, pointing fingers and blaming may create illusions of short-term relief to past sorrows and disappointments, but far more empowering is to recognise our part in past events and accept responsibility for our actions and reactions. Owning our past and knowing we could do something differently in future, stops us feeling victim to what we cannot change.

We are exactly where we are supposed to be

To be here in this moment, who we are today, the past couldn't have gone any other way. Our past holds our lessons and the opportunity to learn from them and define ourselves, not by what we did or didn't do, but by what we do right now.

Avoiding regrettable actions and decisions in the first place is preferable. While not always possible, I know personally there have been times I've ended up in situations where I know I knew better, but did it anyway. This visualisation is a great tool for helping avoid those regrets. If you're ever questioning your conscience, at the point of decision before taking action, try this:

Imagine standing at a fork in the road. Take a look up the left road. This is the path of the action you're feeling dubious about. See the consequences of going against your better judgment and ignoring your conscience. Where do you end up? What are the outcomes? Who could be hurt by taking this action? How are you hurting yourself? When you have really seen what that choice holds, then look up the right road. Sense the light, relief and wholeness that come with following your heart and being true to your higher self. Consider your options, decide which road to take and imagine yourself firmly stepping toward your chosen path.

I enjoyed a fantastic reunion weekend, making up for lost time: attending every talk and meeting, catching up, reconnecting, being present and making the most of that opportunity. I realised that youth isn't wasted on the young, it's all just part of the learning curve. And while I couldn't put everything right, and there's plenty I'm working on, I may just get there when 30 years rolls around!

This great article by Dr. Leahy for the Huffington Post offers more practical tips on handling regret: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-leahy-phd/no-regrets_b_1676117.html and to learn more about Atlantic College and the UWC movement see: www.uwc.org

Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner with Benedict Associates Ltd. Telephone 295-2070 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com for further information.

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Published August 13, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm)

Regrets: Having too few to mention

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