Learning how to let go isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly satisfying and can leave room in your life for better things. “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength,” Ann Landers once said. “However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
One of the things we should let go of is regret.
Few people go through life without wondering about the path not taken or wishing they’d made a different decision at a critical crossroad. “That’s part of being human,” says Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. “The second-guessing typically starts in your 20s over things like not pursing a relationship or choosing the wrong major in college. And in midlife, your doubts are more likely to be about past choices—that you didn’t quit an unsatisfying job years earlier or have children when you were younger.”
How can we get past that kind of regret? If you find yourself constantly asking, “What if?” that’s probably a sign there’s something missing from your life, and you should consider listening to those daydreams, says Miller. For example, if you’re kicking yourself that you settled for a stable job instead of pursuing your love of acting, try out for a production by your local community theater and see what happens.
Not all remorse is easy to let go. We can’t go back in time and un-say something unkind or re-do thoughtless actions that hurt someone. We can, however, apologize and make amends as best we can – and then move on. Understanding that your challenges and blunders have made you the individual you are today is a great way to forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes so you can be a better you tomorrow.
Also make sure you’re not blowing a situation out of proportion. You may be reliving something over and over while the other person has already moved on. That awkward thing you said to a co-worker you’re obsessing about? Maybe she didn’t give it a second thought. The fight you had with your family that’s causing sleepless nights? They likely forgave you long ago and forgot all about it after you apologized. Try to look at the situation objectively. Maybe you’re being overly dramatic or neurotic, when in reality, the best thing for everyone is to just leave it behind.
How can you move forward while you’re still looking in the rear view mirror? You can’t. That’s why you need to let go of regret.