Effective ways to overcome regret

“If only I could’ve….”

“I wish I hadn’t….” 

“I should’ve….”

“I wish I’d ….”

The idea of looking back at things and how we could’ve done something differently is tempting. Be it that college course that you let go of or that one time when you lost your temper and said some unkind words – we are constantly dwelling on the past.

This awful nagging pain in our hearts about all the things we could have done, said, or achieved makes us feel stuck. Lingering and lasting regrets, the kinds that we hang onto for years, keep coming back to our minds as we continue living an alternate life in our heads.

We are excellent at torturing ourselves. In the prisons of our complex minds, we are the best dungeon masters. But well, this talent of ours does more harm than good. It obstructs our progress and damages our mental peace.  

Now, if you have been trying to decipher ways to overcome regret, trust us, you are not alone! But we need to know how it works in order to practice ways to overcome regret. Let’s try to get some answers.

Effective ways to overcome regret

How Does Regret Work?

According to the book ‘Mastering the Art of Quitting’ the most common forms of regrets fall into these four domains:

  • career,
  • romance,
  • parenting, and
  • education.

Now, these categories are not surprising. So what exactly do we learn here? What is that one common thing among all these domains that gives us the unbearable feeling of regret?

Well, research by Prof. Neal Roese showed that people regret missed opportunities the most in their life. 

Now, do you see the link?

All the domains mentioned above – education, career, romance, etc. – have the possibility to change our life. And that’s why any error in them appears large. 

Another thing the research makes obvious is that we regret the chances we do not take the most. And these two principles pan out similarly in a majority of cases.

As per Daniel Gulati’s informal study on people’s career-related regrets, published by Harvard Business Review, the top five regrets are:

  • “I wish I hadn’t taken up this job offer only for the pay.”
  • “I wish I had just quit earlier.”
  • “I wish I had the courage to start my own company.”
  • “I wish I had used my time in school/college productively.”
  • “I wish I had acted on the now-or-never moments in my career.”

If you analyze these points carefully, you will find that four out of the five are related to inaction. And all five are associated with the loss of an opportunity. 

Do you wonder why we are so hurt by missed opportunities and the chances we didn’t take so much? 

Well, there is a reason.

We have a psychological immune system in the body. Our brain doesn’t want to remain overwhelmed, so it tries to make sense of things. A human mind continuously rationalizes. 

“I should have left that stupid job earlier… But maybe staying there taught me a lot.”

My marriage was a downward slide from the beginning… But I wouldn’t have my beautiful children if not for that.”

We do this all the time. We rationalize things and decisions in a way that makes us feel better. But what do you do when you didn’t take that chance? When you missed the opportunity? When you did nothing at all? 

The hard fact is you have no experience. You have nothing to learn from, and hence it is extremely difficult to find something positive out of it. And as time passes and we grow older, it becomes even more difficult to rationalize why we didn’t make those decisions. 

Ultimately, we are left with a pain in our hearts that just won’t go away, no matter what we do.

Now you know how regret works. So, how do we deal with this pain? How do we find ways to overcome regret? 

How to stop regretting?

effective ways to overcome regret

Human minds are really good at creating an alternative reality and dwelling in could-be scenarios. But even though regret is a part of life, it can stagnate our progress. It’s good to think about wanting to be somewhere else and in a better place. In that sense, regret might also sprout growth. However, it might also give rise to a cycle of negativity and self-doubt, which is counterproductive. 

So if you are struggling to find ways to overcome regret, we are going to give you some solutions. Hopefully, with these, you might be able to put some much-needed distance between yourself and your regrets.

1. List down the lessons that you’ve learned and use them as reminders whenever you need.

Many times when people say they don’t have any regrets, they don’t necessarily have to be in denial (though they might be). It is possible that these individuals might have used their past experiences of regret as a learning. In fact, regret can genuinely be a part of your growth if you learn from your past mistakes and try to change the outcome this time. 

So one of the most effective ways of overcoming regret is to list all you learned from that experience. Now it’s not always easy to find the silver lining; we get it. If you can’t find anything positive and only the wreckage of that decision you made in the past, just try to use it as a lesson. Instead of thinking, “everything is so wrong right now,” try to think of what this difficult time is teaching you. 

None of us can change the past. But sometimes, the key to our future lies in the lessons we have learned from that past. 

2. Try escaping your headspace for a while to break the cycle of regret.

If you are wondering how to stop regretting or how to move on, our advice is simple – don’t think about it for a while. 

See, one of the most common forms of guilt or regret is due to a lack of achievement. We feel guilty for falling short of our potential. In this way, we miss the important tasks at hand. Then, we feel guilty for being lazy. And then the regret of feeling the guilt. Argh! Don’t get us started.

So to come to the main point, a powerful solution for ‘how to stop regretting’ is to just do something. Maybe getting up and working might be a tad bit better than sitting and lamenting on all that is messed up.

See, regret has its own inner psychology. It feeds on itself and keeps growing all the while. 

Hence, fill your life with different things to break this toxic cycle of self-criticism

Stay busy and get the work done. Try not to allow yourself the time to sit and wallow over what went wrong.

Now, we can’t really escape the regret, can we? So, when the guilt and regret come back at the end of the day when you are lying on the bed, it won’t be that heavy. 


Because you got stuff done, pal. You had a productive day where you worked hard. 

This way, you get the job done and get the upper hand over your regrets. Cool right?

3. Try to forgive yourself.

Having regrets means you fell short of some imaginary standard you set for yourself. However, we must learn to accept that a part of being human is falling short of the mighty expectations we set for ourselves. And when that happens, maybe it’s okay to try to forgive yourself.

Now even as we talk about the ways to overcome regret, let us tell you that there is no magic solution. But processing the situation and forgiving yourself might be the closest we can get. Try to forgive yourself (and actually mean it). 

Think of yourself as your best friend or a person you dearly love. What if they made the same mistake and realized their errors? You would show compassion and forgive them. Right? 

So try unlocking some of that compassion for yourself too.


We are humans, and as difficult as it is to accept, we are eternally and helplessly flawed creatures. And therefore, we mess up more times than we can think of. We do things that we wish we didn’t do or maybe did differently. 

But instead of learning from our mistakes, we have unhealthy habits of dwelling on them. And no matter how appealing it sounds, it’s not healthy. Hopefully, these ways to overcome regret might help you break through this cycle. 

Now that you have read about the steps to overcome regret, the next step is to search for satisfaction in what you currently have. To learn about the ways to find self-satisfaction in life, click here.

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