Make The Most of Your Regrets
“My regrets keep coming back to haunt me. How can I resolve them and move on?”
This question was raised during the Q&A portion of a public talk I recently delivered called The 4 Steps to Skillful Endings.
The second step in that process is to Resolve Regrets and in my talk I had suggested this employs the quality of willingness . . . to acknowledge our humanity and fallibility. Making mistakes, lapsing into rash or thoughtless action with varying degrees of negative consequence is part of the human experience. It turns out none of us are perfect. Most people have regrets in the domains of finance, career, relationship or health.
Having regrets is an opportunity to right-size our egos, become aware of faulty or magical thinking, course correct, and move forward. There is no need to deflate or inflate the consequence of our actions, but to hold an accurate self-assessment and see ourselves as we are. I call this having a realized ego. We get it right sometimes; we get it wrong other times. We are magnificent beings capable of great acts of love, and we can be petty and small-minded, even cruel. Mindful practice reveals our ego’s fingerprint, which unlike our literal fingerprint, can be re-shaped.
If our regret is about how we have harmed another, we can apologize or make amends, as long as doing so is not ill-timed or invasive. How the apology is received is none of our business. Our happiness cannot be tethered to another person’s acceptance of what we offer.
Here is a way to work with regrets so that we are not victimized by punishing, shame-filled thoughts that make us lose site of our positive qualities and innate goodness:
Whenever the thought of a past blunder arises and makes you wince, immediately practice compassion by saying, “May So-and-So be happy now so that what I did in the past no longer harms her/him in any way.”
Practice this every time the thought arises, whenever you notice the wince, and over time you will link your regret to loving-kindness. Make the positive connection. Eventually the regret will no longer trigger you. The memory may arise from time to time, but with consistent practice, you will begin to see what has happened with healthy detachment, objectivity, possibly humor and always with compassion.
Perhaps this is what Thoreau meant when he wrote: “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”
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