Are you, like many of us, hoping to let go of regrets in the New Year?
You know the regrets I am talking about – the ones that give you a pit in your stomach when you think about them. The regrets about choices that you did or didn’t make.
Regrets can be hard to live with. Regrets make you think about the way your life could have been if only you had gone a different direction. And, unfortunately, regrets can keep us mired in the past instead of living in the now and seeing the potential of the future.
Learning how to let go of regrets is the best thing that you can do to help build the life you want.
Here are 5 ways to let go of regrets in the New Year so that you can look ahead to the potential of your life instead of being stuck in the past.
#1 – Identify them.
For many of us, we have more than one regret and those regrets are rolling around in our brain, doing nothing but causing us damage.
I am a big believer in getting things out of your head and onto paper. They say that thoughts are 4x more destructive left in your head than they are when they are out in the world. Therefore, I encourage you to sit down with a pad of paper and write out your regrets. It might not be easy but it will be the first step towards letting them go.
A few of my regrets, just for example.
- That I didn’t choose running over badminton in 8th grade.
- That I didn’t say yes to Shawn Miele when he asked me out to lunch.
- That I went to culinary school instead of hotel management school.
- That we moved to Boulder instead of staying in Maine.
- That I didn’t address my mood issues sooner.
It’s interesting, writing out that list was harder than I thought. I thought that I had tons of regrets but actually it seems that I only have a few. That feels pretty good actually.
#2 – Don’t kid yourself.
The thing about regrets is that we are always longing for the life we might have lived if we had chosen that road instead of the one we did. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we just know that, if we had made a different choice, our life would have been better.
But I don’t think it’s that easy. Yes, if you had chosen a different path your life might have played out differently but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would have been better.
I recently read an excellent book about regrets, The Midnight Library. In it, the protagonist Nora is given a chance to live the many lives that she would have lived if she made a different choice. And yes, some things in her many lives were better but her life definitely wasn’t perfect.
In one, she was the rock star (a past regret being that she had walked away from her band) but, in that life, her brother had died of a drug overdose. In another, she was married to the man she had regretted walking away from but, in this life, he was an alcoholic and their marriage was a shambles. In a third, she was a geologist, a career not chosen, but she was in Antartica when her mother died.
So yes, if we had made the choices that we regret not making, our lives might have been different but perhaps not necessarily better.
I know that while I regretted moving to Boulder, because I think it was the reason my marriage fell apart, I also know that, if we hadn’t moved, my daughter wouldn’t have found the high school that changed her life and that we wouldn’t have adopted the dog who helped my son get through college.
Making that choice, I believe, changed the course of my life. While my marriage falling apart was devastating, in the end it was all good. I have a wonderful life and my kids are thriving.
So, look at your regrets and recognize that the life you think you might have led had you made that choice is not based on any truth but on a story you have created in your head.
#3 – Ask yourself why?
For many of us, we don’t know why we made the choices that we did.
Did we do it because we were scared or because we were depressed or because others made the choice for us?
I know that for me, many of my regrets have to do with lack of self-esteem born from depression.
I didn’t chose running because, in spite of being told I was excellent by the PE teacher, I didn’t believe that I could do it. I chose culinary school instead of hotel management because my then boyfriend thought that is what I wanted to do. I didn’t take a look at the emotional struggle I had dealt with my whole life because it just felt like too much effort.
The key part of understanding why you made the choices you did is so that, going forward, you don’t make those mistakes again. You don’t make choices that you regret making.
Because a key part of letting go of regrets is looking to the future and the potential that is there for you and reaching out and taking it.
I know that, since I have dealt with my depression, I make my own decisions and I stick to them. As a result, I very much have the life that I always wanted to have. That life started at 50 years old but I have a lot of years left so it’s ok.
#4 – Where are you in your life?
Speaking of where I am in my life, I know that now my regrets are fewer than they were in the past. I believe that it’s because I am happy.
Back in the days when I wasn’t living the life I wanted, when I was a stay at home mom with no identity of my own, in an unhappy marriage, struggling with depression and lack of follow through, I spent a lot more time focused on my regrets.
If only I had made a different choice, my life would have been so much better.
Now, because I am happy, I can look at those regrets and recognize that the choices I made got me to where I am today. Yes, I might have wished I had a degree in hotel management but I also know that being a life coach and growing my own business has been incredibly satisfying.
Take a look at your life. Are you where you want to be? Do you think that you focus on regrets because of how unhappy you are in your life? Do you constantly say ‘If I had just made that choice instead of this one my life would be better?’
I get it. I do. But what I can tell you is that, while you can’t change the past, you can change the future. Try not to think of yourself as who you could have been by focusing on the past but instead think of who you can be by seeing the potential for yourself for the future.
Because it never is too late to live the life you want. Again, I didn’t find true happiness until I turned 50 when I made the decision to move to NYC and never look back. I built a life for myself full of love and success and if I had stayed in the past, mired in my regrets, I never would have gotten there.
#5 – The Many Worlds Theory.
Ok, this one is kind of strange and feel free to skip past it if it’s too much for you but I just learned about something that I never knew before.
Some scientists who study quantam mechanics believe in the concept of the multiverse, specifically the Many Worlds theory, which posits that there isn’t only this life that exists but that there are a number of other universes, in each of which we are living a different life, different lives based on choices we made.
If you follow that idea, then it is possible that there is another you, or many other yous, living the life that you might have lived had you made a different choice. That somewhere out there, I had a hotel management degree or I was an Olympic runner or that I had faced my depression early on.
Somewhere out there, I am living many different lives, lives based on the choices I made.
For some reason, this idea gives me a lot of peace. The idea that the life I could have lived had I made different choices is happening somewhere, that I am experiencing the things I have always wished I was experiencing, makes me profoundly happy. I know I will never know what that life is but I am happy that a different me is living it.
I know – this all sounds very far fetched but I wanted to share it with you in case it resonates like it does with me.
I hope that I have been helpful in showing you how to let go of regrets in the New Year.
Regrets are based on ideas in our head of how things could be, not on any kind of truth. Spending so much time focusing on the theoretical doesn’t get us anywhere. In fact, it holds us back.
So, take some time to take stock of your regrets, push back on them so that you can take away some of their control on your life. Take stock of why you have them so that you don’t make choices the same way again and take a good hard look at where you are in your life and what you can do to change it.
And, finally, think about that other ‘you’ out there, living another life, one that isn’t perfect but that is full of human fallibility and love.
Now that you know how to let go of regrets go out there and do it!
I know you can!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.