How Regretting The Past Steals Our Future

Photography By Bradford Chase

The past sat heavily on my shoulders, and memories once again flooded my brain.

Most stirred up feelings of regret, some disappointment in myself and others, and feeling remorse for my actions resulting from poor decision making.

I admit, I made some of those decisions while various substances altered my mind; not an acceptable excuse, more of an explanation. Ideas conjured that way never work out as planned.

My pangs of guilt come as heartache over the pain I caused others.

But regret is little more than hoping to change the past to create a more pleasant memory, and I’ve yet to meet anyone with that power.

The past is the past, and we can’t undo it.

Facebook and other social media platforms are silent instigators of regret, allowing us these memories in snippets missing context, provided by timelines of misinformation.

They have a power to bring back people and places from time gone, and trigger personal regrets if we allow misdirected memories from others to cloud our reality.

Science tells us our brains react with more electrical activity when provided negative input. It’s why good news doesn’t sell.

Insecurity, unworthiness, inability; these keep every news media and ad agency rich from our futile attempts to overcome past disappointment.

This same regret creates emotional toil, and we struggle to remove unpleasant feelings by drowning them in alcohol, hiding behind mood-altering drugs, or let anger build inside until our actions spark more remorse.

The cycle is relentless, but there is hope.

Heather Edwards, a noted psychotherapist, provides us with 8 ways to help move from regrets and open our future to a brighter outlook.

  1. Accept that humans are fallible creatures. It’s cliché, but we all make mistakes. This is a good thing because mistakes are tools for healthy learning. Prolonged regret however, can interfere with all areas of your life–relationships, career, health; so we need to accept both our likelihood of making mistakes, and the understanding that to dwell on them does not change them.

2. Ask, “How am I benefitting from self hatred?” If you, the situation, or the people you love are not improving from your self-loathing, then stop it. Do something else. What would be better? Focus on that. Stop “should-ing” yourself. Stop rehashing the unchangeable past! As Zig Ziglar says, “The problem with pity parties is very few people come, and those who do, don’t bring presents.”

3. Catch the negative self talk in action! It can seem so automatic it’s not noticed consciously, at first. Slow down those negative messages. Listen to your internal monologue. Do not accept those statements as fact. Deliberately challenge them and change them to positive statements. Perhaps even the opposite thought is closer to the truth. When I say to myself, “I’m an idiot! I never should’ve done that!” the resulting feeling is shame. When I say, “Whoa, I could’ve done better. I’ll try something else next time.” The result is a better mindset, and different action in the future.

4. Figure out what triggers your negative thoughts. Do certain people, situations, or memories trigger the negative self talk? Prepare ahead of time with affirming statements so they empower you to stay strong when confronted by them. Practice deep breathing, positive imagery, or take a time-out to regroup and rebuild your inner core.

5. Realize our thoughts affect our feelings and behaviors. Buddha, Norman Vincent Peale, Gandhi, Lao Tzu, William Shakespeare, Miles Davis, Steve Jobs, Zig Ziglar, Carl Sagan, and Albert Einstein all recognized the power of thoughts. They shape our intentions, feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Make your thoughts work for you and not against you.

6. Focus on gratitude. Finish each day thinking about three things you value and appreciate. Spend more time and energy thinking about the positive than the negative. You’ll notice a gradual shift in feeling calmer, freer, and happier.

7. Embrace your positive qualities. Everyone has them, sometimes we need to dig deep to remember what they are. Pause and take stock. How did you get to where you are in life? What attracts people to you? What makes you funny, loving, reliable, smart, interesting, or a multitude of other desirable things? Own up to your values and contributions. They exist.

8. Genuinely apologize and forgive yourself. Regret and resentment keep you a prisoner of negative thoughts and emotions. Allow yourself the freedom to accept your imperfections, mistakes, and lapses of better judgment. Apologize to those affected and trust you will be a stronger, wiser person going forward.

Don’t wait for tomorrow. Each day just lengthens the past we are trying to move away from. Start fresh right now with a statement of personal forgiveness, acknowledging regrets cannot ever change the past, and think about how each moment going forward brings with it new hope for a brighter future.

I take pictures & write stories. Sometimes I get paid. A perpetual student of life who gets lost on purpose. Clap. Hit Follow. Come along for the ride.

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