After the struggles with December, I hear from lots of people who struggle with the ‘freshness’ of January. It’s the sense of no longer being inside a year where an event or situation took place. Something that we’re holding onto seems less “current” when we have to say “last year” or “last summer” and this sense of leaving something behind and having to look ahead can actually compel us to do something to seek attention and validation and ultimately make the past current.
A big part of the reason why we “go back” is due to regret – this sense of wishing that we’d done things differently and even if what we think we should have done differently is actually irrational, then feeling disappointed, sad, guilty, remorseful or even ashamed.
“I wish I’d done things differently!” We only wish this because we think that “everything” would have been different.
It’s the whole One False Move mentality – if I had just done X or hadn’t done Y then Z wouldn’t have happened. When we have an overactive blame thyroid, languishing on regret becomes rumination and obsessing and next thing, we’re doing something in the hope of easing the regret. This takes the form of the whole seeking attention and validation, or basically attempting to return to the relationship or situation for another round, or even trying to right the wrongs of the past with someone new.
If I had a pound for every person who has gotten in touch with me because of regrets they feel about a parent or lover who was addicted to something or unhealthy in some other way who has then gone on to have a relationship with someone similar who they attempt to fix their problems and right the wrongs of the past with, I’d be probably be typing this on a private beach somewhere.
Regret hangovers are what happen when you want to go back and change the past, when you want to have a shot at making the preferred outcome happen and when you’re basically attempting to undo what’s already done.
The more you meddle, the more regret you clock up, the more you resist the reality that the past is done and that if you want to truly improve anything, it’s about living your life well now, not trying to do live versions of Quantum Leap. Remember that series? Often the outcome didn’t change although sometimes it was delayed.
You won’t have a regret hangover if you minimise the amount of time you spend living in the past or beating yourself up – this means not beating you up for what you didn’t know or do at the time or not beating you up for other people’s behaviour. It also means not languishing on ‘mistakes’ – why keep throwing something back in your own face? That’s torment.
It seems so easily forgotten but the past is the past for a reason – it’s already happened. It’s done. Each moment you spend living in the past actually turns the present into a similar past. It just becomes an extension, a continuation of the same story.
You don’t know that if you’d done things “differently” that the outcome would be any different.
As an individual, you can evolve out of regret.There are things I’ve been and done in my life that I’m not proud of and there are things that have happened that I’ve really wished hadn’t happened because no child/teenager/young woman should experience these things. But I did experience them. No matter what I do in my life, the past is done and happened but I’ve stopped letting it define me.
The danger with regret is that it affects how you see a situation, person or problem. How you see things becomes the problem in itself because you can become fixated on this ‘solution’ being applied to your perception of things whereas when you have a reasonable level of self-esteem and are willing to entertain a perspective where you’re not owning an entire situation and making you responsible for Other People’s Behaviour.
A friend was telling me about how there was a problem on a work project and they advised the coworker who was investigating the issue to take an overall look before latching onto the first idea that sprang to mind. The coworker ignored the advice, decided that they thought that the problem was X and spent a few days pursuing this investigation and trying to solve it, when it turned out that there was a wider issue.
Regret is often latching onto this idea that what you feel regretful about was the determining factor for the outcome. Possibly, but possibly not. Possibly if it’s you and only you in the situation and you had a great deal of control over what you could do, but not the case if there are things beyond your control like people and circumstances.
If you see you as the ‘problem’ for another person’s behaviour, if you want to regret something, regret that you’d burden you with other people’s BS. Regret that you’re still adopting thinking and behaviour that disempowers you and then resolve to do better by you.
Regret hangovers grow in size when you feed them with a cocktail of blame, shame, guilt and obsessing followed by doing stuff off the back of these feelings in an attempt to prevent what you perceive as an unfavourable outcome, only to open you up to further pain.
There are always things that you could have done differently. It’s very rare that you’re going to go “Yeah, there’s not a damn thing I would change about this day, week, month or year”. There are always things that you could have done differently but you can’t, although you can influence your present and future experiences by doing things differently moving forward.
Whatever you wish you’d done differently, use it to grow and learn from the insights gained. Things happen for a reason, it’s just not always very clear what that reason is at the time. In no longer punishing myself like some sort of persecutor, I’ve come to trust that it might hurt or piss me off now, but at some point the reason for why I did something or why it happened will become clear. The less I fixate on it, the more my perspective shifts.
You have to choose to be done and you also have to forgive you for where you’ve erred. You also have to be careful of letting you picking you up on everything you feel you’ve done ‘wrong’ steal away gratitude, happiness, and general good feelings about the things you do do well, as good memories.
Regret hangovers last and hurt a hell of a lot when you realise that how you feel and what you’re doing hasn’t changed significantly since the original point of regret and so that’s how you get over and reduce regret hangovers – go easy on you, remember the good stuff and avoid repetition of what you know hurts. The more you beat you up, the less self-esteem you have to move forward and also the less perspective you have. Improving your self-esteem is a good regret hangover cure.