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Letting go of regret


Regret is inevitable, but we don't have to hold onto it and the pain it causes.

Regret is inevitable, but we don't have to hold onto it and the pain it causes, says Hamilton Beazley, Ph.D., scholar-in-residence at St. Edward's University, Austin, Texas. The author of No Regrets: A Ten-Step Program for Living in the Present and Leaving the Past Behind (Wiley, 2003), Beazley has developed a way for people to let go. Here's Beazley's 10-step process to letting go of regret:

1. Describe your regret in writing, defining the events and the outcome. Consider who was involved, what happened, how you feel about what happened, and the desired outcome that didn't take place.

2. Describe in writing your role and the role of others in causing the regretful situation. Consider what you did, who you hurt, those you blame, and the past and present consequences of holding onto the regret.

3. Identify and counter toxic thought patterns that support the regret, such as perfectionism, a fantasized ability to predict future events, extreme thinking, or an exaggerated sense of control over people and events.

4. Describe and grieve the losses caused by the regretful situation.

5. Make amends to those you harmed, if anyone. Apologize and change your behavior so you never face that particular situation again.

6. Identify and apply the lessons and gifts the experience provided. For example, have you made new friends or gained an opportunity to help others, a different perspective, or a deeper appreciation of life?

7. Develop compassion for yourself. Accept that you did the best you could at the time, given who you were and the circumstances. Develop similar compassion for the other people involved.

8. Forgive those you blame for the regretful situation. They may not ask for forgiveness or deserve it. That's OK. The reason you forgive is to find freedom for yourself, not to help the other person.

9. Forgive yourself for the part you played in the regretful situation.

10. Live fully in the present. Refuse to return to old regrets except to benefit from their lessons, and let go of new regrets as soon as they appear.

Mastering this 10-step process will help you find relief from the anger, shame, guilt, and pain caused by regret—which should reduce stress, too. Of course, each step is easier said than done. Some tools that could help along the way: purposeful journaling, prayer, or meditation; sharing with others; and visualizing yourself handling situations differently or enjoying your future success.

“Fortunately, you don't have to do the steps perfectly,” Beazley says. “Even a modest commitment can reduce the negative influences of regret and help you demand the most from the present.”

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