Regrets: Turn the Tables and Focus on What’s Good

We’re not contrarians but at times it’s good to look on the bright side. Take regrets, defined as disappointments over something that happened or has been done, maybe recently or long ago.

Some regrets we could have controlled and others we could not. But in any regretful situation, there can be a silver lining if we learn from these less than happy situations.

Who doesn’t have regrets? We think nobody if we’re being honest. Unlike today when it’s so much easier to leave a paper and voice trail, people risk the possibility of more regrets if they don’t think before they speak, write or text.

Here’s a short list of typical regrets:

Not pursuing a passion and turning it into a possible career.

Getting scammed online by sending money to a bot in a catfish scheme.

Not persevering enough in school, in a job or relationship to make it work.

Working too much when you knew something was not worth the effort and angst.

Not thinking before saying something to a friend or family member that ends up hurting them.

Not going to the doctor or dentist when you have a problem, and by waiting too long, it may become a more serious issue.

Not getting married or having children…or the opposite.

Not staying in touch with certain people throughout your life.

Most regrets fall into very different categories as we look back at our own list of what we wish had not occurred over time. Each set requires a different way of casting them aside, maybe like our sins or tashlich, the symbolic shedding of sins in bodies of water ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.

Not all regrets follow us around forever or hover over us periodically as an ominous cloud. And that’s a good thing.

However, once we sink into the pool of regrets, we can at least surface just enough to examine the deep recesses of our brains, try to rectify these situations by viewing them slightly differently and not make the same mistakes twice.  

We have grouped regrets into three main categories.

No. 1Minor and manageable.

You ate a pile of French fries last night when you are trying to cut back on carbs, and anything fried. You thought you’d eat just one of your dining partner’s, but oh, they were so delicious, crispy and good. So, you grabbed a good handful, with their okay. What can you do now that you’ve consumed 15 grams of fat? Or you gobbled up a giant slice of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting when you know it will give you a migraine the next day. Oh, well, both tasted so delicious.

These are not huge regrets; you can look at them as a done deal. You can’t give back the fries or the cake. So why not stop beating yourself up, accept that you enjoyed them and will try not to repeat that regret again, or at least not for another six months. Feel better? We hope so.

Other regrets that fall into this minor regret category—being late repeatedly for lunch or dinner with a friend. Try to correct that behavior which is rude and doesn’t consider the other person’s time as important as yours. If it’s a meeting with work colleagues and you’re consistently late, there are consequences. You may risk losing your job, which should be an incentive to change your ways now.

You understand our thinking, right? Make your regret a positive catalyst in your life for better, more thoughtful behavior.

No. 2. Unacceptable yet repairable.    

This type falls into the slightly worse regret category. It involves others. You spoke harshly or criticized a workman, grown child, spouse, your hairdresser or a restaurant server with whom you regularly interact. The consequences are immediate--embarrassment. You know you’re not a totally rotten person or egomaniac. It was misdirected anger that caused you to be rude and overreact.

Maybe, your hairdresser cut your hair too short, and you screamed. “I hate it!” Come on, it will grow back. Or the contractor didn’t paint the railing properly with enough sanding. You got annoyed and lectured, “Don’t you know what you’re doing?” Hey, it’s painted, but it can be repainted, yes, at their expense, you hope. These are easy fixes, but you cannot take back what you said and the hurt incurred.  

So, be a grown-up, apologize and mean it. Leave out the  “ands” “ifs” or “buts.” Period. Then tell yourself that you’ll watch your behavior when next you interact with anyone. We all have bad days and goof at times.

Does this scenario sound frustrating and familiar? You’re on the phone with a customer service rep who’s in a foreign country and barely speaks English. She is trying to help you with an online account. The problem isn’t easy to correct. You can’t hear her or understand her attempt at English. It’s annoying but subjecting that person to your wrath is unacceptable. Since it's unlikely you will get the same person again to apologize, do so on the spot and vow not to behave the same way with the next person when you dial in.

No. 3. Mega and irrevocable.   

These are the biggies, the tsunami of “I wish it had not occurred.” They can consume you if you let them. They’re harder to fix and often impossible to redo but still not out of the question to deal with in retrospect.

Rather, these are the ones writer Jancee Dunn in a New York Times article, “Regret is Painful. Here’s How to Harness It,” said should be looked at through a different lens.

Instead of focusing only on the regret, flip it and think about the positive(s) that resulted if you add in the words, “at least.” You realize in retrospect that you bought a house that has involved far too much work and expense. Your bank account dwindles each month as you fix this and that. Now, stop, slow down and look on the bright side: at least you got in on the equity train, found a good place to settle, a good community, met friends and, you tell yourself, you don’t have to stay forever. Lessons learned: you will certainly know next time to hire a more competent home inspector if that was part of the problem or also bring in a structural engineer for a better assessment of what the house needs and what and how much extra cost you may incur.

Many who bought at the height of the pandemic when they were so eager to find a house with the limited inventory that they rushed in and some even didn’t have an introspection done.  Boy do many have regrets.

This one is even harder. You’re in a bad relationship that took a toll on your emotional bandwidth and years off your life. Was everything bad about it? Was the person smart at least or funny or charming? Did you learn how to fly fish or was he a techie who helped your computer skills? Did he take you out to nice dinners or cook wonderful meals in his gorgeous condo? See, there had to be something good to keep you in the relationship.

Or even a failed marriage can offer some positives such as nice in-laws, terrific offspring or great travel. Things change, people change, and you now have your life back. This is worth all the ransom money in the world or your freedom to live your life now as you wish! Good riddance to your ex.

Hardest of all and at the top of the regret scale is one related to someone’s death. You regret not spending enough time with that person, not being patient enough, getting upset with them about the little things such as their not taking out the trash without you nagging. You also may not have told them often enough that you loved them and liked them. You can’t bring them back.

But you can turn the tables and think of the good times you spent together, laughed, said “I love you.” Know, too, that deep down you tried, and they almost always knew it.

Regrets are part of what it’s like to be human and what differentiates us from bots and other artificial intelligence technology. However, dwelling on them is toxic for your physical and mental health.  You cannot make them go away, but you can flip a switch to focus on something positive and cast the regret in a very different light.

We hope you won’t regret taking the time to read and think about this blog post!



  • FRuth Friendly

    Excellent -so well artiulated. i appreciate your comments on dealing with someone far off - India or perhaps the Phillipines — not being able to understand their comments or instructions. I probably have failed once in awhile in this situration and you have give me pause for thought. I am usuallythinking why doesn’t this company realize that this person is ill place in this job?. I am usually careful in what I say to the person when I don’t understand, but internally I am frustrated and yeas — angry. Next time, perhaps I can concedntrate on the struggle this person may be having in making her wayin the world and trying really hard to do the job. One is never too old to learn/

  • Audrey Steuer

    No regrets here! Beautiful and helpful.

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