Researchers studying the aging process have found that one aspect to aging well involves learning to let go of regrets.
Harboring thoughts about regret is known to influence one’s immunity to fight colds and flu bugs. If left to fester, regret can interrupt sleep patterns and even lead to feelings of depression.
There are two forms of regret. One form is associated with missed opportunities, inaction, or things not done. The other is regret about things said, or actions done. These are things that may have been embarrassing or not shown us at our best.
The research has proven that regret over missed opportunities is most disruptive to our mental and physical health. Wondering about what might have been looms large because of all the ‘imagined’ possibilities that might have changed one’s life. But let’s be clear, those thoughts are ‘imagined’, not facts or reality.
The term used to describe this thought process is counterfactual thinking: the human tendency to create possible alternatives to past situations. The “What ifs?” or, “If I had only tried …” thoughts that occur when thinking about how things could have turned out differently. Replace those thoughts with, “So what if I didn’t …? What’s done is done. Moving forward …”
If you decide to remedy a regret, it is best to approach it as an opportunity for personal growth. Be sincere. Be direct. Do not drag out the process.
Regret is not all bad.
It can serve a useful purpose in life. It is like the check engine light on the car dashboard indicating that something or some thought needs to be addressed.
Research about regret has revealed that most people 65 and older get happier as they age. This outlook is influenced by their having a ‘bigger picture’ perspective about life. Their focus is more on the journey and less on the nitpicky details.
When older people are questioned about their primary regret, there is a common refrain: “I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying. Worrying solves nothing.” Worrying corrodes the present moment and can waste days, weeks, months and years. Time wasted that cannot be recovered.
To prevent regret from taking over your thoughts here are a couple of tips:
1. Focus on the short term, not the long term. A key tenet of mindfulness is to live in the present. 2. Instead of worrying; prepare. Be a rational thinker and planner. 3. Adopt an attitude of acceptance. There isn’t always a neat solution to situations. Sometimes it is best to just let it be.