Why Regret Is Good for the Present

Oct 17, 2019

This summer Productive Learning clients finished workshops with powerful experiences. One of them was Life By Design. It was a yearlong course and its essence was that you can design your life into anything you want.

Clients and trainers explored unwanted emotions like anxiety, worry, fear, regret. They dug into how they influenced behaviors and manifested unwanted experiences. Clients learned to make thier feelings useful by focusing on how to react to them in the present and thus, creating extraordinary futures.

Our facilitators love the business of personal development. It’s a constant bootcamp for being mindful in the present. But as we take note of how we react to the present, we must understand our history without letting the wrong messaging from regret get in the way.  

The social script tells us that we shouldn’t look back. The problem with this notion is that it’s impossible not to examine our past. At some point or another, you’re caught in the whirlwind of re-living a memory. Maybe it’s an awful argument, the bored days you spent at a former job, wonderful summers with your grandparents or how a loved one’s death changed you.

“Leave the past in the past”, “don’t look back”, “let go of the past”, there are so many messages that delving into the past is wrong—that the past’s grip prevents us from moving forward. That’s because so many people get stuck with regret.

In our usual way of shattering notions of the social script, we at Productive Learning know that there’s much power to be had from regret. We know it’s not the popular opinion but, listen up: there’s a difference between examining the past as a way to guide us into the present and examining the past as a way to blame it for our present struggle.

Regret feeds into the belief that our lives are meant to be perfect. The only reason you regret something is because of a false storyline you told yourself about how something should’ve worked out. If only your son would’ve stayed in school, if only your friend hadn’t gotten in that car, if only you had said what you wanted to say. If only….

But looking back with regret means you haven’t learned to use your past for empowerment. You’ve judged yourself or another harshly and bad judgments breed resentment and more regret.

If you have past regrets you’re stuck on, we want you to pause in the past. There’s something there. That regret you feel has a message for you. Consider what story you’re telling yourself. What are you still angry, hurt, upset about? What memory brings you joy and why?

To grow our mindset we must understanding our emotional system. By examining our past with awareness and mindfulness, we not only make peace with regret, we also use it to empower our present. That’s how we create extraordinary future outcomes.

Replacing old beliefs and habits that hold us back with healthier ones means you must be able to lovingly speak with your regret. You must trust its message. Perhaps regret is informing you of unhealed wounds. Perhaps it’s picking up on notions of unworthiness. Perhaps it shows you need to give yourself more time to forgive. How do you treat that part of you that’s obsessed with parts of the past you can’t let go? Are you harsh in judgment?

We are meant to look back for a reason. Our emotional system is trying to inform us while our self-preservation tries to prevent us from painful moments happening again.

In Productive Learning workshops we approach this crux with delicacy. We can use the past to determine who we want to be in the future and apply its lessons to the present. Our workshops are safe spaces for looking back with support and guidance. Through participation, you train your thinking to empower itself with the past and present—mindfully looking back means you’re able to use it to bring vitality to the present.

As part of our yearlong series on writing love letters to our emotions, this month, we write to regret.

Dear Regret,

I have a permanent home in the past. I’m constantly there, re-living the pain or longing for the moments of happiness. But mostly, I tend to dwell on you in ways that keep me stuck in beliefs of unworthiness and fear.

My script carries a lot of disempowering self-judgement with “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve…” Unaware of my thinking I’ve used you on a default setting that tells me how things should’ve played out perfectly.

Today, I’m making peace with you. You’re teaching me what I don’t want to repeat and make better choices at present. It’s not about making things perfect for the future, it’s about me being my best self at this present leg of the journey.

This awareness brings a vitality to my present experiences. By mindfully using my past and grounding myself in the present, I can lessen regrets about the future.

I’m going to decorate that home of mine in the past with awareness and gratitude for all I’ve lived through. I’m going to make it ok for me to visit comfortably by listening to your messages.

To all my regrets, thank you!

Love, Me