As a music reporter years ago, I visited Stevie Nicks at her home. It was a dream job: we spent hours in her closet, trying on clothes. We looked through her diary together. As the evening approached, she offered to put me up in her guest room. But I refused. Every now and then I still think: I should have stayed.
Regret, a negative emotion that arises when we wish we had done something differently, can range from inconsequential (like turning down a rock star) to significant.
Daniel Pink, author of “The Power of Regret”, interviewed more than 4,000 people about their relationship with this feeling. He found that regrets fall into four themes: regret for not being able to help others, lapses in moral judgment, incremental choices that result in big consequences, and stepping back when we should have been bolder.
Here are some expert tips to help us deal with the feeling.
LOOK INSIDE, OUT AND FORWARD
When we make mistakes, “we treat ourselves much more cruelly than we treat anyone else,” says Pink. Instead, look within and talk to yourself the same way you would talk to a loved one. So he look out. He suggests confiding in someone you trust or forming a “remorse circle” in which you share experiences with others.
Sharing regrets can ease the pain, he says, and help you realize that “everyone has them, and you feel less terrible and less unique.” Then he looks ahead, asking, “What lessons can I learn from this repentance?” and “How can I apply them in my life going forward?”
FIND OUT IF YOU CAN STILL DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
When Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University, asked people in two studies what they would tell their younger selves, she found that some regrets could be fixed (“cherish your family” or “put money in savings”).
In some cases, it is not possible to redo it. But if you’re consumed with regret and it’s disrupting your daily life, consider talking to a counselor or psychologist.
REFRAME A REGRET WITH ‘AT LEAST’
When you regret an action you did or didn’t take, Pink recommends shifting your thinking from “if only” to “at least.” In the case of Stevie Nicks, I changed it to “at least I tried on one of her velvet capes and did cartwheels in her closet.”
Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves