When is the last time that you reflected on a lost opportunity, thinking, “If only…”
“....I was more motivated.”
“...it hadn’t rained.”
“...I didn’t have so much work… then I could have….”
Though the official National Coulda Should Day has passed (June 17), that feeling of regret may not have. The feeling of regret has been identified as one of the most commonly experienced emotions, felt by all of us from as early as the age of two. Some regrets are small, like coffee or tea, and others are bigger, like jobs or relocating. But regardless of the size or impact, everyone knows how it feels to think, “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
In fact, this feeling is so universal that the third Saturday in July has become known as “Toss Away Your Could Have and Should Haves” Day. Created by author and motivational speaker Martha J. Ross-Rodgers, this day is intended for everyone to let go of the past and live for the present.
But what does it really mean to let go of regrets, and how can we do it?
Feeling wistful for an opportunity to make a different choice or wondering whether life could have been different is a normal and expected way to feel at times, and while we may all know someone who claims to live without regrets, many of us have them. And that’s okay! It is when ruminating on the past clouds the present moment that that trouble can start.
In these cases, it can be helpful to pause and explore those thoughts and feelings to determine whether they can be resolved through an activity like journaling, meditation, making amends, or if the troubling thoughts are impacting your daily life, talking with a professional.
One path to peace may lie in thinking about your “couldas and shouldas” in a new way: as experiences to learn from. Negative experiences can offer insight into what we want in life, even if framed as examples of what we don’t want.
Have you ever thanked your regretful choices or experiences for helping you see what is the real priority for yourself? Put pen to paper and write a thank you note to your past choices for teaching you lessons that are valuable today!
If you’re nagged by regret for passing on an opportunity, thank that feeling for helping you realize that you want to be more decisive in the future.
If feelings of shame for past choices are a burden on your spirit, thank them for showing you what your true values are, and decide how you will act in the future.
If you find yourself ruminating on past conversations and wishing you had done something different, change the script and your response in your mind. Say what you wish you had said! And, recognize that all humans make mistakes and have regrets, and none of us are expected to go through life with a perfect score for making good decisions.
In fact, a study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that repeating positive affirmations about future choices can boost confidence and improve stress management by creating skills for effective future problem-solving. You can use this skill to let go of your “couldas and shouldas” by noticing when they come to mind and intentionally repeating a mantra like, “I am living in the present, where I make positive choices,” or “I am always learning and growing as a person.” These little reminders can help us remember that we are all doing our best!
Which of your mistakes are you the most thankful for? What have you learned from times when you wish you had done something different? Today, honor who you are, who you have become, and the strength that you have gained as a result of being brave, resilient, and vulnerable enough to make mistakes. Then, thank them and set them free to make space for your next step.
For times when it isn’t that easy, Wellview is here. Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. Our mental health specialists can help you to create a life that you love, where you feel confident.
– Heather Fuselier, NBC-HWC, CPT, CRC