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This Is What I Did to Stop My Regrets From Keeping Me Awake at Night

This Is What I Did to Stop My Regrets From Keeping Me Awake at Night

“I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regrets.”

—D. H. Lawrence

Regret is a universal emotion that is felt by us all. The emotion of regret can be very powerful, and if we let it, regret can take over our lives. There are people who are good at managing their regrets, and there are some of us who are not so great at it.

For a long time, my feelings of regret dominated my life, particularly during stressful and unhappy times. I would lie awake thinking of all the things that I didn’t do, the mistakes I made, and the opportunities I stuffed up.

I would act out scenes in my head, which always began with questions such as, “What if? What if I had said this? What if I had done this?” These regret role-plays could go on for hours, and of course, the opportunity for a good nights sleep was lost. I would wake up tired, with no energy and feel unhappy. This was not a great way to start the day.

The more tired I felt, the unhappier I was about my life. I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that living my life full of regret was causing me immense unhappiness. I didn’t want to live an unhappy life, so I decided to change it.

This, of course, is easier said than done. Finding a way to manage the negative impact of regret in my life was not going to be achieved in a day, a week, or even a month. I decided that I would take one step at a time rather than rush off and look for ways where I would undergo some form of personal transformation in the hope that my regrets would magically disappear.

I knew that my regrets were never going to go away. I just had to get better at managing the negative influence they were having on my life.

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The Psychology of Regret

 The first step I decided to take was to educate myself about the emotion of regret. What I learned from reading various articles and books enabled me to better understand and manage my thoughts and feelings around my regrets in life.

Two American psychologists, Neale J. Roese and Mike Morrison, conducted a National Survey on regret. The results from the survey showed that the six biggest regrets that we have in life are based on education, career, romance, parenting, self-improvement, and leisure.

“Regret is an essential part of the human experience—something everybody has as long as they have life goals. Rather than avoid it, it’s better to try to take some insights out of the regret experience.”

—Neal J. Roese Professor of Psychology

This quote by Neale J Roese was for me an “aha moment.” Up until this point, I realized that I was living my life trying to avoid having regrets. Looking back now, I think I had become slightly brainwashed by reading too many “personal development” books, or maybe I just misinterpreted what I was reading about regret.

Somehow I had created a belief where I thought that by having no regrets I would have a happier life. I got it so wrong, and when I read what Neale J Roese said about regret, I realized that regret was actually an important part of my life experience. What I needed to sort out was how to deal with those thoughts and feelings of regret that were having a negative impact on my life.

Opportunity Breeds Regret

The report on the national survey talked about the Opportunity Principle and how our actions or failure to take action around opportunities in our life can create deep feelings of regret.

Another interesting fact about regret is that if an opportunity is denied or never presents itself to you then you are more likely to rationalize these feelings and move on. However, when you fail to take action when the opportunity presents itself to you then, you are more likely to have deeper feelings of regret. It is these regrets that are more likely to keep you awake at night.

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Mark Twain’s quote below sums up really well how your failure to take action can stay with you forever.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

—Mark Twain

By me committing to take action, I now embrace opportunities. I don’t focus on the outcome of the opportunity. I focus on how I choose to respond to the opportunity. By doing this I started to find that I would spend less time thinking at night about all opportunities that I had failed to take up.

Regret, the Power of Choice and a Good Nights Sleep

All is not lost however when it comes to “lost opportunities” in our life as we all have within us the power of choice. The benefit that lost opportunity and regret offer to us is the opportunity to choose to take corrective action.

Regret actually serves a purpose in our lives as it can remind us of what we need to do differently to move forward in our lives. We can choose to take action and create more positive feelings about our actions. When we do this our feelings of regret diminish, and once again, we are less likely to be kept awake playing out scenarios of regret in our head. We are more likely to be enjoying a good night’s sleep because we chose to take action. That is what makes us happy!!

I realized that for me to have better nights’ sleep, the more courageous I choose to be about stepping out and taking action, the better I felt about myself.

Going to bed feeling happy about myself was a key step for me to take control of the feelings of regret that were keeping me awake at night.

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Regret and Taking Action

Taking action was one key thing that I could do right now that could reduce the negative influence that regret had in my life. If I did this one thing consistently, over and over again, I would be guaranteed to get a good night’s sleep forever. If I keep taking action every time an opportunity presents itself to me and not worry about the outcome, the less likely I am to have thoughts of regret.

Here are three actionable strategies that I implemented in my life that helped me take control of my regrets so that I could consistently get a great night’s sleep

1. Move Onto Future Opportunities

Regrets are part of life, and the only way they can control our lives is if we let them. The more we think about our regrets the more influence they have over us. Dwelling on our regrets immobilizes us, and we eventually become fearful and unhappy about our lives.

Recognize your regrets, acknowledge them, and then leave them. Turn your attention to future opportunities — don’t dwell on the past.

2. Accept That You Cannot Change What Has Been Done

There is a great book I read about regret written by Arthur Freeman called “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities.”

In this book, Arthur Freeman talks about how regret will quickly disappear once we realize that the situation is done and finished. There is no going back, and we can’t change what has happened. The secret to dealing with our regret starts at the moment we decide what we are going to do next. It is our attachment to the past that breeds these feelings of regret, and once we let go of the past, we take more control over our future.

When you are being kept awake at night by your regrets, you are living your life in the past, and you have no control over the past. The more you look toward the future, the more control you have over your life.

When you are lying in your bed at night, the first thing you do is think of one future opportunity that makes you feel good. Do not go to bed if you cannot think of a future opportunity because, trust me, those regrets will come flooding into your thoughts.

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If you are really struggling read Arthur Freeman’s book as he provides lots of tools and strategies on how to unblock your attachment to the past.

 3. Make Your Regrets Work for You

Turn your regrets into lessons of learning. Put your regrets into context, acknowledge them, and then use them to motivate you to take more positive action.

This strategy I have used a lot, and it works. I always wanted to be a writer-speaker and coach, but for many years, I did nothing about it. I would lie awake thinking about my failure to take action, which of course meant that I never did anything about it for years. Then my parents died suddenly, and my life was thrown into chaos and pain.

As I went through the process of healing in my life, I realized that my regrets were not serving me well. In fact, they were preventing me from living the life I desired, and I needed to change that. So started writing with no expectation I just started. I didn’t want to live with a regret that I had never given it a go as a writer.

Here I sit today writing this article and so thankful that I took a regret and made it work for me.

I still do have the occasional sleepless night thinking about what I should have done, but my regrets today are not consuming my life. I have consistently more good nights sleep now than I had when my regrets controlled me and kept me awake night after night.

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilence Coach who is passionate about thriving and growing in a complex world

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

What do I want to do with my life? It’s a question all of us think about at one point or another.

For some, the answer comes easily. For others, it takes a lifetime to figure out.

It’s easy to just go through the motions and continue to do what’s comfortable and familiar. But for those of you who seek fulfillment, who want to do more, these questions will help you paint a clearer picture of what you want to do with your life.

1. What are the things I’m most passionate about?

The first step to living a more fulfilling life is to think about the things that you’re passionate about.

What do you love? What fulfills you? What “work” do you do that doesn’t feel like work? Maybe you enjoy writing, maybe you love working with animals or maybe you have a knack for photography.

The point is, figure out what you love doing, then do more of it.

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2. What are my greatest accomplishments in life so far?

Think about your past experiences and the things in your life you’re most proud of.

How did those accomplishments make you feel? Pretty darn good, right? So why not try and emulate those experiences and feelings?

If you ran a marathon once and loved the feeling you had afterwards, start training for another one. If your child grew up to be a star athlete or musician because of your teachings, then be a coach or mentor for other kids.

Continue to do the things that have been most fulfilling for you.

3. If my life had absolutely no limits, what would I choose to have and what would I choose to do?

Here’s a cool exercise: Think about what you would do if you had no limits.

If you had all the money and time in the world, where would you go? What would you do? Who would you spend time with?

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These answers can help you figure out what you want to do with your life. It doesn’t mean you need millions of dollars to be happy though.

What it does mean is answering these questions will help you set goals to reach certain milestones and create a path toward happiness and fulfillment. Which leads to our next question …

4. What are my goals in life?

Goals are a necessary component to set you up for a happy future. So answer these questions:

Once you figure out the answers to each of these, you’ll have a much better idea of what you should do with your life.

5. Whom do I admire most in the world?

Following the path of successful people can set you up for success.

Think about the people you respect and admire most. What are their best qualities? Why do you respect them? What can you learn from them?

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You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.[1] So don’t waste your time with people who hold you back from achieving your dreams.

Spend more time with happy, successful, optimistic people and you’ll become one of them.

6. What do I not like to do?

An important part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is honestly assessing what you don’t want to do.

What are the things you despise? What bugs you the most about your current job?

Maybe you hate meetings even though you sit through 6 hours of them every day. If that’s the case, find a job where you can work more independently.

The point is, if you want something to change in your life, you need to take action. Which leads to our final question …

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7. How hard am I willing to work to get what I want?

Great accomplishments never come easy. If you want to do great things with your life, you’re going to have to make a great effort. That will probably mean putting in more hours the average person, getting outside your comfort zone and learning as much as you can to achieve as much as you can.

But here’s the cool part: it’s often the journey that is the most fulfilling part. It’s during these seemingly small, insignificant moments that you’ll often find that “aha” moments that helps you answer the question,

“What do I want to do with my life?”

So take the first step toward improving your life. You won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Andrew Ly via unsplash.com

Reference

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