Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 87 - Turn Regret into a Life Changer

It's pretty safe to assume that everybody, at some point or another, has felt regret - about a missed opportunity or failed relationship. It might be just the vague sense that you’ve made a mistake. When Abigail Stewart, PhD, and professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, started tracking regret among women in their late 30s, she found that pain can quite often be turned to an advantage. Specifically, her study showed that people who took action on the basis of their regrets—getting a job if they felt they'd left the workforce prematurely, going back to school if they had not pursued higher education earlier—scored higher on all physical and psychological measures of well-being later on in life.

The key is acknowledging that thing you wish you had done, done differently or done better, without fixating on it. In other words, regret can become the death of hope or the motivation to achieve your dreams.

To transform your regret into a booster:

* Stop obsessing. Stewing over something in your past only holds you back from enjoying life in the present and future. At the very least, it’s no way to cope. A study in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience suggests that ruminating about the past more closely resembles avoidance than problem solving.

* Figure out how to make up for what's happened. Once you've identified a regret, ask yourself whether you can do anything to make up for it now. If you regret not making a different career choice, then look into ways you can change careers. Break down your plan into bite-sized pieces. Small steps may feel like you’re dragging out the process, but because they're more manageable, small steps also boost confidence. This strategy ensures success in the long run.

* Reframe your past. If your regret can't be corrected (the ex-boyfriend married someone else; the person you never told your feelings to has died), research has determined two effective approaches, both of which involve coming up with a positive narrative about that past event. You don't have to do anything to counteract the problem directly. The goal is to figure out how to accept what happened in your life and not allow it define you.

Strategy 1) Put the best face on things. The key is to pinpoint each of the ways the thing you regret contributed positively to your life story. Frame your thoughts in "if…then" constructions, such as "If I hadn't moved far away from my family, I wouldn't have met my husband" or "Had I gotten married then, I wouldn't have pushed myself to start my own business."

Strategy 2) Come to terms. This requires deeper work. You have to make peace with whatever happened, often forgiving yourself and anyone else involved. Through this lens, your conclusion sounds something like "I regret that I didn't see that family member more in the years before he/she passed, but the decision made sense for who I was at that time."

However you choose to get past your regrets, prime yourself for success. Stay focused and positive. If you follow the steps and make an effort, you can moving past the past.

Remember, we humans seem to be able to deal with almost anything life throws at us. It's all in your perspective.

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