Everyone’s made their fair share of mistakes in their life, including you. Maybe some errors make you cringe to think about, or ones that make you laugh at your past self’s silliness, or even ones that make you nostalgic or sad to think about. The most dangerous of these, though, are the ones that stick around to haunt you long after they’re gone.
Regrets are often formed when a misstep you’ve taken in the past is one you can’t let go. You ruminate over it, mull over all the ways it could have gone differently, and even idealize an alternate timeline where you did that thing you regret not doing, or vice versa. This can lead to a fair amount of anxiety, and, simply put, it can ruin your life. Here are four ways to live a spectacular life free from regrets and anxiety.
1. Find The Roots
Here is an example. Let’s say you regret not taking up a specific job offer. You obsess over the fact that you could have had it because you’d be earning more money in a better position. This is a widespread regret, so find its root. It’s pretty easy to chase this one: it’s a missed opportunity at the heart of this pain. But here’s the thing – it looks like a missed opportunity to you now, in your current position. But was it, back then?
Ask yourself these things:
- Are you the same person back then that you are now? The answer likely is “no.” And if it’s “yes,” then are you blaming your perceived lack of self-improvement on this one missed opportunity? That blame is misplaced.
- Do you maintain the same values back then as you do now? (For example, do you consider work to be the most critical priority now, but didn’t before?) The answer likely is “no.” And if it’s “yes,” have those values been serving your goals? What has been stopping you from following through on your values?
- Do you have the same desires now as you did before, or have your goals shifted? If “no,” then this means that your old self wouldn’t have wanted that job. If “yes,” then why have your goals stayed the same? They may need an update.
- Is it as simple as you make it seem? They say hindsight is 20/20, but you’re also more likely to remember the past favorably if you live with regret now. Consider the timing, personal issues, and mental space you were in when the opportunity first came along.
- What experiences have you missed out on by missing this opportunity? Why can’t you gain those experiences now? The chances are that you can!
Follow this similar line of questioning when examining any regrets that you feel and face. Remember, the present situation and the present you are entirely different from the old you and the old problem. Keep that in mind as you ask yourself where these roots come from. You may find that your regret doesn’t truly serve your desires at all!
2. Develop Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia sounds like a complicated word, but its concept and meaning are straightforward and meaningful. It’s a kind of mindset that is one of the best ways to promote positive thinking, even amidst periods of depression. As you can probably imagine, that sort of thinking is sure to aid anxiety and regret.
So what, exactly, is eudaimonia? It refers to the state of maintaining control over powerful but irrational emotions. This means actively fighting the brain’s natural impulses a lot of the time, putting your feelings safely behind rationality and self-belief. The skill, when honed, allows you to channel your energy into more positive avenues – like problem-solving, emotional regulation, and even success.
In simpler terms, eudaimonia is often referred to as “contented happiness.” This is because it indicates a positive spirit that drives you to perform the best and most effective actions. After all, you are at peace with yourself and the world. It’s a very introspective, internal emotion involving the state of living a well-lived experience regardless of tribulations and emotions.
This means that external influences can’t get to you or harm you in a state of eudaimonia. While you still feel negative emotions, you can acknowledge them and be at peace with them because your internal world is already peaceful. It’s a formidable skill to learn but well worth the trouble. To get started, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are my emotions serving a purpose to me and furthering my goals?
- Are better options opening up to me because of my emotions and feelings?
- Can my emotions change the situation that I’m in and improve it?
If the answers are all “no,” then your emotions – like anxiety and regret – aren’t serving a positive purpose for you. Please take a moment to look them in the eye, feel them in their full force, and tell them you’re happy even with their presence.
Regrets and anxiety often crop up when you feel you have no direction in life. It’s tough to maintain positive thinking when you can’t help wondering if things would be just as bad for you if you’d done things differently. You’re not where you want to be, so you regret it. That’s where setting goals comes in.
There are many different kinds of goals, ranging from short-term to long-term and from small to large. Most importantly, when you set goals intelligently, you’re doing is giving yourself something to focus on. Tracking your progress proves your anxiety wrong and shows your regret that you don’t need it anymore.
To set reasonable goals, your goals should be:
You should be able to track your progress as you move forward in your endeavors. This avoids feelings of inadequacy and proves to your anxiety that you’re capable of improvement.
Set goals that are related to you and your desires. You want to give yourself direction and motivation, not set goals merely for the sake of setting goals.
Vague goals are a surefire way to head straight for disaster. You will work best when you are given clear terms and conditions for meeting your goals, as you can’t hedge around them or do anything less than the intended requirement.
Goals that are set with no deadline don’t work because you never actually need to fulfill them. You want to set clear time limits for each step of your goals, motivating you to achieve a certain amount by a specific time.
It’s admirable to set lofty goals but put them too high, and those feelings of anxiety and regret will start to creep back in. Your goals should challenge you, not make you wish you’d never set them. Don’t discourage yourself by setting unattainable ideals. Work towards bigger goals with smaller goals instead.
4. Practice Forgiveness
Regrets and grudges are cut from the same cloth. They both involve strong negative feelings regarding things that have already happened, cannot be changed and may have occurred in entirely different circumstances than you are in now. That’s why one way to learn to overcome regret is by granting forgiveness instead of holding grudges.
Research has found that giving forgiveness had positive effects on mental health and wellbeing. Harboring grudges can hold you back, mess with your emotions on a long-term basis, and result in a lot more pain than the initial pain is worth. In other words, those grudges are adding to the pain of your regret, and it’s time to let both go!
This is not to say that you must go out of your way to tell people who have horribly wronged you that you forgive them. That’s not necessary. Instead, this forgiveness is something that should come from within you, like something you know, personally. You forgive someone, so you let them go from your heart and no longer let yourself be jerked around by their memory.
It’s not possible to live free from regret if you are tied to those feelings still. So here are some steps to take:
· Step One: Remember That We Are Flawed
Human beings make mistakes. No one’s perfect. Your mistakes don’t define you, and in most cases, the people who have wronged you made mistakes, too. This is not to say you should become an apologist. Instead, this step is designed to lower the people you harbor ill feelings towards back down to humanity. They are not someone extra-special or extra-powerful – they’re just human. Why should someone like that have so much control over you still?
· Step Two: Find The Lessons
The experience that began your rush of grudges and regret was a harrowing and difficult one. But what did you learn from it? Reflect on those circumstances. Have you grown since then? What can you take away and do differently to avoid this in the future? What lessons can you now add to your arsenal of wisdom to empower you as you move forward?
· Step Three: Determine The Next Step
Before you release your grudges and regrets, allow yourself to determine once and for all what to do about them. Is your grievance related to someone who wronged you? If so, decide whether to make amends with them or discard them if they’re not worth the trouble. Is the grudge related to a missed opportunity? It’s never too late to try again, so decide how to do that now or if you even still want that opportunity. No matter what the grudge, there’s an available follow-through that will provide a favorable resolution for you.
Regrets and anxiety are sometimes unavoidable, and your feelings in this vein are valid. However, remember that these emotions should not define you. They serve a temporary purpose, to teach you a lesson, and then leave. Living free from regrets and anxiety means knowing when it’s time to move on and let go.