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It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret” ~ Jackie Joyner-Kersee, US athlete

Do you have regrets about anything you’ve done?

Have you ever regretted not doing something?

Those things you did or didn’t do. Those words you did or didn’t say.

Many of us have experienced the feeling of regret in our lives.

I know I have and more than I care to admit but we all have and that is part of being human.

I would find myself replaying in my mind all those things I really wish I’d said or done at the time, but let slip by. I’d ask myself: “If only I’d …” and “What if I’d …”. It’s always a pointless, frustrating, and thoroughly depressing way to think.

Now, I’ve come to realize that regrets are a total waste of time.

When you constantly look back at what you should – or shouldn’t – have done, you’re never happy with what you actually did achieve. You’ll be forever haunted by disappointment. You’ll mourn for what might’ve been, rather than celebrating what you have now.

Regrets keep you imprisoned in the past, stuck firmly in situations you can’t change. No matter how much you desperately want the outcome to be different, history can’t be re-written.

Instead, I’ve been learning (and still am) how to have as few regrets as possible. What follows are some tips which help me. I hope you find them useful too.

1. Choose to reject regret

Having regrets is a choice we make. You can stay focussed on how you did or didn’t act yesterday and let it affect you in a negative way today. This mindset holds you back. Alternatively, you can look ahead and use what has already happened to influence your future decisions. This attitude pushes you onwards. I choose not to dwell on regrets. Do you?

2. Change your outlook

When I fail at something, it’s ok because I use the failure to learn what went wrong and apply these lessons the next time I try. If I miss an opportunity, it’s fine because the circumstances obviously weren’t right for me at that precise moment. I believe that more suitable opportunities will come around again. Try consciously viewing things from a positive, forward-thinking perspective and you’ll stay less stuck in the past with your regrets.

3. Be true to yourself

Are you nervous at the thought of being yourself? Many people worry needlessly over what others will think and say about them. They live according to what others expect, just so they don’t lose face or go down in their estimations. Unfortunately, this also stops us from doing what we want for ourselves. Start making decisions based on what the ‘real you’ needs, not the persona you’ve created for everyone else’s eyes. You’ll have fewer regrets if you’re true to yourself in every part of your life.

4. Do what’s right for you

To avoid having regrets, always make the final decision based on your own best interests. I’m not talking about being selfish in a nasty way but, rather, that you fully value yourself in everything you do. By all means, listen to the views of people you trust. Take into account their advice and opinions as you weigh up the pros and cons of a situation. But, ultimately it’s you who has to live with the consequences of whatever you decide to do.

5. Aim for high standards

What you stand for is important – the values and ethics that guide you. Never betray your integrity or compromise your personal moral code in anything you do. More than likely, you’ll lose the respect of those around you if you ignore your own principles. Indeed, you’ll almost certainly lose your self-respect and that can be extremely difficult to deal with. Knowing that you acted with a clear conscience is a lot easier to deal with than behaving in an unscrupulous manner.

6. Follow the best course of action

Have you ever looked back at a situation and wished you hadn’t taken the easy way out? The temptation is to settle for the option that gives us the least hassle or the one that saves the most time. But, often that isn’t what’s best for us. The things worth having the most usually involve the greatest effort on our part. For our sense of achievement, it’s a good idea to stretch and challenge ourselves occasionally. Take a few risks, climb some metaphorical mountains, push your limits. You don’t want to feel the pang of regret that you never got anywhere because you didn’t at least try.

7. Follow your dreams

What’s your dream? It might be to do with work: maybe you want to find a job you love; become a freelancer; set up your own business, or switch careers. Or it could be you’d like to travel; or write your first book, or something equally special. We all have dreams  – some are big and ambitious, while others are small and more realistic. No matter … go after it. Research what practical steps you must take to turn the fluffy dream into a concrete reality. Be prepared to be in it for the long-term as success rarely happens overnight. Persevere. It’s heartbreaking when you give up on a dream. It’s an even bigger tragedy when you don’t give it a proper shot.

8. Treasure your good health

Being fit and well is a true blessing that most folk don’t fully appreciate until they lose it. My dad suffered a major stroke that left him disabled, unable to walk without a stick. What was his biggest regret? Not making the most of the years when he was healthy, he said. Think about all the stuff you would be forced to miss out on without good health. For me recently, I spent a few weeks out of action in hospital and felt very frustrated at being limited in what I could do. Squeeze every drop of benefit from being fit and well, right now while you can. The day will arrive – sooner or later – when you’ll need to slow down.  You might end up wishing you’d done a lot more while you were able.

9. Trust your intuition

How many times have you looked back at a choice you made and thought: “I should have gone with my gut feeling”? We’ve all got a natural instinct about whether or not something is right for us. Start paying attention to this inner voice. Trust what your intuition is telling you. If you have a bad feeling about a situation, be cautious about your next step. Of course, you might still get it wrong after going with your gut instinct. But, at least, you’ll learn and fine tune how you react in the future. When events don’t turn out exactly the way you’d hoped for, avoid falling into the self-blame trap:  you did what you judged to be right for you at the time. Try to accept that fact and don’t beat yourself up for getting it wrong. No one can predict the future, not even you.

10. Find your ideal work/ life balance

Unless you’re careful, work can have a negative impact on the rest of your life. You put in extra hours, stay late at the office, or bring the job back with you through the front door. Even when you’re self-employed or work at home, it’s important to have a divide that protects your social life. If you don’t, pretty soon work pressures will eat into the quality time you spend with others.  Having a strong work ethic is great, but not when it’s at the expense of your health or relationships. You won’t ever be able to recover those precious moments you missed out on with family and friends because you were too busy.

11. Express yourself freely

Too many of us aren’t comfortable in sharing our feelings with others. We try to keep the peace by pushing our emotions to one side, bottling them up until they explode during an argument or, worse, until the resentment we hold inside makes us ill. On the opposite side, telling people how much they mean to us is often just as awkward.  Words are left unsaid. We end up desperately wishing that we’d spoken up sooner. Instead of hiding what you really want to say, practice how to express yourself more freely. Be positive, diplomatic and constructive while putting your points across. This spirit of openness will either make or break the relationship. Sometimes, you have to let go of the unhealthy ones before they do any more damage.

Treasure the love you receive above all. It will survive long after your good health has vanished.” ~ Og Mandino, American essayist

12. Put relationships first

Having a pile of money, flash cars and the latest gadgets is all well and good, but these have a temporary value. After all, it’s possible to buy newer and shinier replacements for the old ones. But, it’s much more difficult – impossible even – to replace a loving relationship or a wonderful friendship once they’ve gone. Material things come and go, but it’s our deep bonds with other people that really matter the most. We become so busy and pre-occupied with our own lives, that we let once-great friendships wither and die due to neglect. Take a moment to remember all the friends you’ve let drift away simply because you lost touch. Sad, isn’t it? Cherish those relationships you have just now. Build lasting friendships. Devote as much of your energy and time as you can to the folk closest to you. Above all – never take your loved ones for granted.

13. Enjoy life!

Have you given up on being happy and settled for merely getting by? Many people don’t allow themselves to experience joy. Ease up on worrying – it never solves anything. Worry is like a huge weight on your back, dragging you down. Laugh loudly and be silly. Explore what true happiness actually is for you, rather than accepting a pale imitation. The biggest regret you can have is not enjoying your life to the full when you had the chance.

Regrets are a natural response to what’s happened to us in the past. Let them go. You can’t change what’s already been. But you can choose how you act from now on so you have as few regrets as possible in the future.

How do you deal with regrets?