How to Deal With Regret

How to Deal With Regret

Years ago, when I was a music reporter, I visited Stevie Nicks at her home in Los Angeles. It was a dream assignment: We spent hours in her closet, trying on outfits. We paged through her diary together. As dusk approached, she offered to have me stay in her guest room.

I said no, but do you know why? Because she was a “night bird” who slept until lunchtime, and I was worried that I’d wake up, as usual, at dawn. What would I do for six hours?

Every once in a while, I still think: I should have spent the night at Stevie Nicks’s house.

Regret, a negative emotion that pops up when you wish you had done something differently, can range from somewhat inconsequential (like never learning an instrument or turning down a rock star) to significant (not making amends before someone dies).

Daniel Pink, author of “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward,” surveyed over 4,000 Americans about their relationship with the emotion. He found that regrets fall into four main themes: We regret failing to reach out to others; lapses in moral judgment; incremental choices that result in big consequences — like smoking or working too much; and holding back when we should have been bolder.

The emotion is common and often painful, Pink explained, but it can also be a source of insight and growth. “We want to use our regrets as data,” he said, adding that thinking about them “can clarify what we value most in life.”

Mulling over our regrets can also “provide a template for our future actions,” said Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University who studies the subject.

To help us reckon with our regrets, I asked Pink and Dr. Kowalski for a few tips.

When we make mistakes, “we treat ourselves much more cruelly than we treat anybody else,” Pink said. Instead, try to look inward and talk to yourself the way you would a loved one. If your friend regretted a terrible boyfriend, for example, you’d probably extend compassion, Pink said.

Then, look outward. Pink suggests confiding in someone you trust, or forming a “regret circle,” in which you trade experiences with other people. Sharing your regrets can take away the sting, he said, and helps you realize that “everyone has them, and you feel less terrible and less singular.”

There’s some evidence that writing about a negative experience, like regret, for 15 minutes a day for three consecutive days can help to “defang it,” Pink said.

Then try looking forward, Pink said. This involves asking yourself (and, if you’d like, writing down): What lessons can I draw from this regret? How can I apply them to my life going forward?

When Dr. Kowalski asked people in two studies what they would tell their younger selves, she found that some regrets could still be corrected (“cherish your family” or “put money in a saving account”). Can you change course, or make amends?

In some cases, a redo isn’t possible. But if you’re consumed with regret and collateral emotions like anger, disappointment and despair, and it’s getting in the way of your daily life, consider talking to a counselor, Dr. Kowalski said.

When you’re overcome with regret about an action you did or did not take, Pink said to switch your thinking from “if only” to “at least.” In the case of Stevie Nicks, I’ve switched from “if only I’d stayed over at her house” to “at least I tried on one of her velvet capes and twirled in her closet.” That’s a pretty cool “at least.”

In 2016, two close friends, Pamela Robinson and Catrina Dyer-Taylor, founded the 40+ Double Dutch Club in Homewood, Ill. (no men, no kids, just women age 40 and up). We went to Chicago for the group’s third annual National Play Date — where women ranging in age from 40 to over 80 (!) spent the weekend jumping rope, hula hooping and playing hopscotch. We dare you to look at these photos and video and not smile.

Read the article: Jumping for Joy

Many of us forget to breathe when we’re in front of a screen, and there’s a name for that: screen apnea. It occurs when you have multiple screens open — texts are pinging, emails are multiplying — and you realize that you’re barely breathing. We talked to experts about how to combat it.

Read the article: Checking Email? You’re Probably Not Breathing.

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