Life’s too short to waste it on regret.
It’s usually around the December year-end break that high performers take a moment to reflect on the year that has just passed. That’s when they realise that there were people they neglected or things they failed to get around to doing because they were so busy building their careers.
And that’s when the regret bites …
Regret is a terrible thing. It leaves us with a sense of emptiness, sadness, disappointment and helplessness – with a feeling that something we did or didn’t do should or shouldn’t have been done. And what makes the affliction even worse is that the helplessness causes us to feel that there is nothing we can do to correct the situation – that’s exactly why one feels regret. Regret can therefore hold you hostage for many years if you don’t consciously negotiate your release.
So is there anything we can do about regrets we may have?
Yes, there is. Here are a few suggestions.
Let’s first distinguish between regret and blame. Accepting responsibility for a regret is not the same as accepting the blame for something. Blame is about something that you have done wrong as in being malicious, unethical or illegal. In such a case, accepting responsibility involves accepting blame. However, in a case where you’ve just not done something you would have liked to have done and there’s no ethics and so forth at play, it’s about accepting that you were the one responsible for the action or lack of action.
The key reason for accepting responsibility is that you’ll never take remedial action for something for which you don’t believe you’re responsible – you’ll always believe it’s someone else’s responsibility to do so. And the regret will never be resolved.
Once you’ve accepted responsibility, the next step is to get to a point where you can forgive yourself. That sometimes requires a lot of courage and determination. Most people find it easier to forgive someone else than to forgive themselves.
Ethical conduct involves being fair – and that means you need to be fair to yourself by acknowledging that you got something wrong because you’re human. One of the indications that a diamond is genuine is that it has a flaw. Few diamonds are indeed flawless, while synthetic diamonds, like cubic zirconia, are flawless. My point? One of the signs of being a genuine human is that we humans have flaws. When we accept this reality, not as an excuse but as a fact of life, we can more easily get to a point where we can accept our failures.
Try not to repeat your mistake
Once you’ve forgiven yourself, you’ve set yourself free to not make the same mistake again. That will show you genuinely are sorry about what happened. If you do indeed find yourself repeating the mistakes of the past, you haven’t really experienced regret. You’ve just experienced embarrassment.
Move forward with optimism and hope
After processing your emotions and coming to terms with what you have or haven’t achieved during the past year, make a decision to hold your head up high, look and move forward with confidence and be a better person by changing your behaviour in appropriate ways.
When one experiences regret, one is usually aware of what contributed to the regret. THAT’s the secret to making the necessary changes. You have no desire to change something that you feel is fine. You’ don’t experience regret when you’re not aware of what you have or haven’t done, so see the regret in a positive light – it has made you aware of something you want to change. And that’s brilliant!
You can’t embrace new opportunities in the new year while you’re still carrying bags of regret, so deal with it ruthlessly so that you set yourself free to embrace the many opportunities that await you!
Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine (www.hrfuture.net) and a leadership development expert who specialises in developing leaders of all ages. In 2018, he was named by US web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the “Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter”.