Not Letting Regrets Ruin the Quality of Your Life

At school, maps helped us understand the shape of the world, protractors helped solve the puzzles of geometry, and books of every shape and size helped us learn. But learning is often a process that involves acquiring tools and information. Unfortunately, when we’ve been out of school for many years, a large number of people leave learning behind.

Learning isn’t just about books and maps, it’ about taking the time and energy to fit in self-improvement in our busy lives. Wouldn’t be nice to enjoy the quality of life you want minus a few or even no regrets as you look back on each day, week, month or year?

Biggest Regrets

New research is exploring how those regrets we have can shape our lives for years to come. What types of regrets impact most people? In one recent study, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign asked adults to describe their most memorable regrets. Lost romance was one of the top regrets for most people, but there were many other lost opportunities that these older adults wished they had done.

In the journal, Social Psychological & Personality Science, most of the respondents said they regretted not getting the education they wished for or having the career they envisioned. Having a stronger financial picture came in next, closely followed by wishing they hadn’t made parenting mistakes or the health and lifestyle choices they made. Additionally, new studies have found that women experience stronger feelings of regret than men by an astounding ratio of almost three to one.

One area of the new research focused on the cognitive processes behind these kinds of emotions. Researchers at several leading universities have described regret as counterfactual, meaning that the brain wants the outcome of certain things to be different than the actual outcome, and uses regret to ‘look’ past that disappoint, like a lost opportunity.

Tips for Managing Lost Opportunities – How do you cope with feelings of lost hope or regrets? Here are some ways to do just that.

  • Triage. Try triaging what you want to focus your energy on and what regrets you should let go. Doing that will help you enjoy the present and future with more conviction.
  • Understand what regrets mean to you. People who have regrets about the long ago past tend to pine for things they should have done. More recent regrets tend to revolve around things you did, but wish they hadn’t done. Remember this when you make decisions and choices that may impact you for a long time.
  • Laugh more, worry less. There’s an old adage that says, “Yesterday is history so why worry about it, yesterday’s gone.” That’s not entirely true because the past does ripple through the present, but try to find more humor in what nags you and you’ll be better at coping with lost opportunities.
  • Change the channel. When thoughts of regret start hounding you on an ongoing basis, try to “change the channel” and ignore them. When you learn to switch negative thoughts with positive thoughts it will have a positive impact on your brain health and well-being.
  • Surround yourself with “non-regretters.” When you have a support system of positive people in your life-people who don’t continually brood for what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve happened-you can’t help but ramp up your quality of life.

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