6 Ways To Deal With Regret — So You Can Look Toward The Future

When left unchecked, regret becomes paralyzing and prevent you from moving forward. Dr. Lucy Brown and Dr. Helen Fisher share the research.

Black and white image of a woman in her 30s smiling away from camera, long curly light brown hair KIRAYONAK YULIYA / shutterstock  

Regret is one of the most powerful human emotions. It is difficult to forget and tough to overcome.

When left unchecked, regret can become paralyzing and prevent you from moving forward. It can lock you up inside your own mind, preventing your happiness as it weighs you down with fear, anger, and sadness.

Despite the challenges, it is crucial to find ways to deal with regret and learn how to be happy.


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Here are six scientifically proven ways to overcome regret and be happy

1. Find the lesson

At its core, regret can be viewed as your mind ruminating over a missed opportunity. Whether you didn’t do something and now wish that you had, or you did something and now wish that you hadn’t, your choice of action or inaction directly led to the feeling you are now experiencing. Take some time to sit with that realization.


Think through the circumstances under which you made the choice that you made. What was your hoped-for outcome? What external factors influenced your decision? Did you, deep down, believe that your choice was the best, or simply the easiest?

Revisiting the situation with the benefit of hindsight can lead you to a deeper understanding of your decision-making process and the things that are truly important to you, ultimately guiding you toward better choices in the future.

2. Find the silver lining

Every decision has a myriad of consequences, both good and bad. When you have regret, the negative consequences become stuck at the forefront of your mind. Yet many times, we can directly trace something good that is happening now to a seemingly poor choice in the past.

What was likely to happen if you had made a different decision back then? What most likely would not have happened? Of course, this step requires a great deal of speculation, since no one really knows how each small decision affects the course of her life.


Still, seeking out the good that came from a regretted decision can help you find perspective and realize that things do have a way of working out for the best.

3. Forgive yourself

A lot of the pain of regret is rooted in self-blame and anger. Yet only hindsight is 20/20. In retrospect, it may be very easy to see where you went wrong. In the moment, however, you were doing the best you could with the information that you had at the time.

Forgive yourself for being an imperfect human, and you will go a long way toward overcoming regret and moving forward.

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4. Embrace change

Humans tend to get a sense of peace and stability from living a predictable life. Yet nothing is certain in life but change. Sometimes regret is mixed up with grief over losing a person or situation that felt comfortable and secure. Yet there are absolutely no guarantees that whatever you regret is the only reason that your life has changed.


Life is made up of a seemingly endless number of small choices, and only rarely does a single event change its entire course. If you can learn to embrace change, or at least accept its inevitability, then this aspect of regret will fade away.



5. Become more adaptable

Hand in hand with embracing change is learning to adapt to the shifting winds. Take some time to analyze what is holding you back, and make a conscious effort on learning to overcome it.

The more adaptable you can become, the more regret will fade into the background as you take on the challenges of new adventures.


6. Focus on the future

Ultimately, there is nothing you can do to change the past and regret only keeps you stuck looking backward. Take an inventory of your life as it currently exists, and the things that you have to look forward to.

Find ways to break out of a rut, schedule exciting new experiences with your friends and family, and start working toward your biggest dreams. With so much on your plate, the pain of regret will soon be replaced by hope for the future.

Regret is a powerful emotion, and it is easy to get stuck in a cycle of fear and sadness. Following these six tips, however, will help you learn what you can from the past and embrace the future, letting go of regret in the process.


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The Anatomy of Love is a collaboration between Lucy Brown, PhD and Helen Fisher Ph.D., a biological anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and Chief Scientific Advisor to the dating site Match. She is the author of the book The Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, among other titles.

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