10 Keys to Letting Go of Regret

There are two types of pain you will go through in life:
the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.
Discipline weighs ounces, while regret weighs tons.

– Jim Rohn

Do you have regrets?  If you are human, you do.

Perhaps you regret taking a job or not taking a job, ending or not ending a relationship, letting someone get away with bad behavior, not showing enough love or caring, choosing a different career, investing or not investing your money, living in a different location and, on it goes?

The question is: “Do you obsess over your regrets?”

If you do, it stands to reason that, in your secret self, you believe that if you had NOT made that choice in the past, your life would be much better now.

FAULTY THINKING ALERT!!!  You can never, ever know the truth about what would or would not have happened.  You don’t want to be a victim of your own thinking.

I have always believed that there are only two emotions in life – “fear” and “love.”  Other emotions fall under these two categories.

All regret stems from fear: fear of having lost or missed something that can never be recovered or fear that the past will repeat itself.

It has often been said that worry is a total misuse of the imagination.  So what about the haunting nature of regret?


The Nature of Regret

Regret is like Lyme disease.  Unless treated, it will rear its ugly head when you least expect it.

These “shouldda, woulda, coulda’s” of life are a killer of the present moment’s possibility of joy, imprisoning you in the past and manipulating your future choices.

Furthermore, regret can have a major impact on your health.  Obsessively focusing on regret and blaming yourself can affect your sleep and mood.  It can be the fuel for negative habits like binge eating or abusing alcohol and drugs.  Regret can sway you to push others away or not take risks that might help you grow.

Isabelle Bauer, clinical psychologist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, reports “People with severe life regrets had more cold symptoms, such as nasal congestion, coughs, sneezing, fever and headaches.”

“Obsessing or ruminating over regrets can also lead to depression and anxiety as you kick yourself over and over,” adds psychologist Neal Roese, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.

– Lucille Ball

Here is the good news:

By learning techniques to rearrange our maps to match the way things ‘really’ are ‘now’ rather than the way we want them to be, we can eliminate a great deal of stress.


Letting Go of Regret


First you must recognize that other possibilities/choices exist.

Figure 1.

Observe the paradoxical cube in Figure 1.  Which end do you see projected outward?  It depends on your “perspective.”  You have choices.

Now, observe Figure 2.  If I darken one end of the cube (Figure2.), the shaded end appears closest to you.  In fact, it is very difficult to make the other end come forward.  Your choices have now become limited by influencing your perception.

Figure 2.

Suppose you were shown Figure 2 first and were convinced that was the only way the box could be shaded and, you believed it.  Many believe that regrets are permanent, unchangeable.  How often do we limit our own choices by what we believe to be true?

In order to grow, we must ramp up our awareness.  In order to change, we must be willing to switch our perspective and see possibilities that were previously invisible.  And, this requires courage, resolution, and grit!

Switch your perspective and move past regret.

Changing your perspective can help you let go and reframe your thinking.  You can learn to manage regrets.

We interpret our past experiences through the lens of our mental maps without ever questioning their accuracy.  It is natural to assume that the way we view things is not only the way they really are, but the way they should be, given our past.  Our attitudes, choices, and actions grow out of these basic assumptions.”

QUANTUM LEAP THINKING: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind (Sourcebooks) pgs. 70-73

Proven Techniques

Now, here are a number of proven techniques that have worked for my clients.

Warning:  Some of these techniques are extremely simple yet effective, some require practice and some may seem a bit harsh.  They all work.


Here are 10 KEYS to empower you to switch perspective and let go of ‘regret thinking’.

1. Interrupt your thinking.

First, learn to catch yourself when you are obsessing and STOP.  By interrupting your thinking, you can hit your ‘pause button’, take a breather and reframe your thinking.

Every time you catch yourself regretting, notice the thought, say to yourself, “Isn’t That Interesting!” and reframe your thinking.  Email me if you would like a further explanation.

2. Reframe your thinking.

Reframing is an extremely powerful tool for managing negative thinking, including regrets.

Reframing how we think affects how we picture or hold images in our mind which, in turn, determines what we feel. Images and pictures that we visualize as big, bright, close, and vivid have greater emotional impact than images that are small, dull, and far away.

Think of reframing as making a movie—re-creating, changing, editing or tinkering with the elements that make a mental picture or image. This is where the power of your imagination comes in.

I am going to share one of the 28 video links from my book “IMAGINE THAT! Igniting your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance.”  Here, I explore the skill of reframing.  This is one of the most powerful mental tools I teach clients.

Link Alert: enter the URL https://vimeo.com/mapes/2-2 in your web browser and then the password “reframing” to see and hear an example of what this reframing exercise might look like.

Regret is an appalling waste of energy, you can’t build on it – it’s only good for wallowing in.

– Katherine Mansfield

3. Face the reality of your past.

Life Fact:  Given your knowledge, emotional maturity and awareness at the time of the circumstance that triggered your regret, YOU MADE THE BEST DECISION YOU KNEW HOW TO MAKE.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

― Voltaire

4. Get real with your thinking.

Don’t simply try to remove the regret. Instead, own up to your choices, mistakes and feelings, but allow yourself to move on.

Like all fears, there is always a payoff for hanging on to your regrets.  Ponder these questions:

By hanging on to regret…

…What does it keep me from doing?  What do I get to avoid doing?

…What or who do I get to avoid confronting?

…What do I get to avoid saying and to whom?

5. Write down your regrets.

What doesn’t get clearly acknowledged, doesn’t get changed.

My clients often wonder “why” they acted or didn’t act, and this is often where people become stuck.

List your regrets and any questions you keep asking yourself.

For example, you might wonder why you responded the way you did. Go through your list and change the “why” questions into “what’s next?” This will help you overcome the feeling of being stuck.

Research has shown that writing about recent emotional experiences daily, helps put them in context and leave them behind.

6. Choose to turn regrets into a learning experience.

Regrets can be important learning tools for the future. Try to look for the lessons learned and recognize that life lessons make you wiser.

Regret may be a signal to change.

  • Go back and look at the event that caused you regret as an educational moment.
  • If you regret a situation where you had no control, get the weight off your back and choose to let it go.
  • If you regret a situation where you did have a bit of control, ask yourself: “What is the lesson I learned and how can I apply it to my life today?”

7. Apply what you’ve learned.

What you regret may also be a signpost to what you have learned about yourself and others. Having this knowledge decreases the chances of making a similar choice in the future. Apply the wisdom you’ve gained to future choices.

8. Turn regret into gratitude.

Gratitude heals.  Regret helps us identify and clarify what is and is not important to us.

Turning regret into gratitude allows you to view the past differently and weaken the hold of regret. When you catch yourself thinking a regretful statement, change it to a statement of gratitude. This can help you start thinking about the past in a positive light:

“I regret not spending more time with my grandfather before he passed.” Change to: “I am grateful for all the wonderful times I had with my grandfather.”

“I regret not getting my Master’s Degree.”  Change to: “I still have the time to go back to school.”

“I regret losing my temper with my parents.”  Change to: “I am grateful I had the time to apologize.”

9. Practice self-forgiveness by writing a letter to your “younger-self.”

Regret can cause resentment towards yourself and others.  Instead, learn to forgive yourself. Not only will this reduce your feelings of regret, but it can improve your self-esteem.

In order to forgive yourself quickly, I would encourage you to write yourself a letter.

This exercise is both emotional and extremely effective.  This emotional and cognitive tool will start to heal your feelings of regret.  Write a letter addressed to your younger, past-self and, in the letter talk to your younger-self like you might talk to your closest friend or child.  Be compassionate.

Remind your younger-self that you deserve the best in life, even if you made mistakes, because you are human and it is natural to make mistakes and learn from them.

10. Act now to avoid regret in the future.

My wife, Susan Granger, would go to extraordinary lengths to fly from the East Coast to California numerous times a year to visit her parents when they were alive.  I once asked her, “Why.”  Her answer: “So I don’t have regrets in the future.

So, make a short list of what you can do now to avoid regrets in the future.  What actions can you take?  It may be as simple as writing a note expressing your love or gratitude.

In Conclusion:

Regrets are like a plague.  There is no upside to hanging on to them.

Follow these 10 Keys for letting go of regret and you will live an exceptional life.