10 Ways to Have Fewer Regrets
If you ever find yourself thinking things like, “I didn’t get nearly as much accomplished this week as I wanted,” or “I should have spent more time with the kids this week,” you’re not alone. Many people have regrets at the end of each week over things they did or things they wish they would have done.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says regret means “to feel very sorry for.” Regret may stem from a minor issue like forgetting about an appointment or it could involve a major issue, like committing a crime.
According to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, these are the six areas where Americans experience the biggest regrets:
Many people experience big regrets near the end of their life. They may think things like, “I should have kept in contact with my brother all those years,” or “I should have worked harder to make my marriage work.” And sadly, for many people, it’s too late to create positive change in their lives or to undo the damage that’s been done.
But, the good news is, by addressing the smaller regrets you experience at the end of each week, you may prevent yourself from dealing with major regrets at the end of your life.
Whether your regret stems from inaction—like not speaking up for yourself—or from taking the wrong action—like hastily quitting your job—everyone makes mistakes. But sometimes, pride gets in the way and prevents people from admitting their regrets.
While beating yourself up for a mistake you made or rehashing all the reasons you should have known better won’t be helpful, taking a few minutes to acknowledge your regrets can help you learn from your mistakes.
It’s healthy to regret hurting someone else, living too far inside your comfort zone, or taking a risk that didn’t turn out well. Labeling your emotions and acknowledging your regret can turn your regrettable moments into opportunities for growth.
Without clear long-term goals, you’ll likely end up with regret at the end of the week. Do you want to take better care of your health? Do you want to get a college degree? Do you want to parent your children differently?
Consider what you want your life to be like in 5, 10, and 20 years down the road. Thinking ahead is key to creating the kind of life you want to live—with fewer regrets.
Establishing weekly goals will help you turn your ideas into action. Ask yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish in the next seven days so I have fewer regrets at the end of next week?”
Maybe you want to lose one pound. Or perhaps you hope to go a whole week without losing your temper.
When you write down your goal you’ll increase the chances of success. So whether you make a poster, write it on the calendar, or make it your wallpaper for your laptop, put your weekly goal in writing.
Identify one step you can take each day to get a little closer to your weekly goal. Your daily objectives may include things like, “I’m going to exercise for 20 minutes,” or “I’ll spend 15 minutes cleaning my closet.”
Make your objective a clear action step. It can be as small or as ambitious as you like, but keep your expectations reasonable. And with each successful day, you can build momentum and motivation to keep going.
Set yourself up for success by making it as easy as possible to meet your daily objectives.
If you want to exercise before work, pack your gym bag before you go to sleep or leave your running shoes next to the bed. If you want to write a book, schedule time every day to write and mark it on your calendar. If you are tempted to plop down on the couch and watch TV instead of working on your book, put the remote control in a hard to reach place so you’ll be less tempted to turn it on.
Setting yourself up for success can increase the chances that you’ll meet your goals. A few little strategic changes could be all you need to skyrocket your ability to succeed.
Think about the things that are likely to derail you. Perhaps an office party could be the downfall to your diet. Or maybe a busy week ahead may mean you have little time to spend with the kids.
Think about the obstacles you’re likely to encounter this week. Develop a plan to help you resist temptation or overcome those challenges. When you have a clear plan in place, you’ll be better equipped to meet your objectives.
Accountability can be a key aspect to staying motivated and there are lots of different ways to hold yourself accountable. It’s important to find the strategies that will work best for you.
Marking each day you go to the gym on a calendar that hangs on the refrigerator may be all you need to stay on track. Or, you might find an app that lets you track your daily progress.
Some people may find they need others to hold them accountable. That may mean working out with a friend every day or it may mean posting a photo of yourself at the gym on a social media accountability group.
Consider what will help you stay accountable throughout the week. Then, you’ll be more likely to stay motivated to reach your daily objectives.
Take a few minutes every day to reflect on your progress. Think about what you did well and how you could do better tomorrow.
Writing in a journal may be a good way to track your progress. A simple journaling exercise may involve writing down the steps you took to get closer to your goal.
Then, at the end of the week—or once a month—read back over all the steps you’ve taken. Reviewing the progress you’ve made can motivate you to keep working hard so you’ll have fewer regrets in life.
Celebrating small milestones along the way can make your hard work more enjoyable. Decide ahead of time how you might reward yourself for a job well done.
Perhaps after you make it to the gym 30 times, you’ll purchase a new shirt. Or, maybe you’ll invite your friends over for a dinner party when you’ve successfully saved $1000.
Just make sure your rewards don’t sabotage your goals. For example, don’t treat yourself to a buffet because you stuck to your diet all week. The last thing you want is for your celebration to impede your progress.
While it’s important to acknowledge your effort and achievement, it’s equally important to recognize the steps you can take to continue improving.
Take time to identify what you want to do better next week. Do you want to go to the gym for 10 more minutes each night? Do you want to wake up 15 minutes earlier? Identify concrete things you want to do and establish a new weekly goal for yourself.
With consistent effort and hard work, you may find you’ll have fewer regrets at the end of each week. And knowing that you’re striving to become better in the future can help you turn your regrets into learning opportunities that propel you forward toward your goals.
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Roese NJ, Summerville A. What we regret most … and why. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. September 2005.
Rogers T, Milkman KL, John LK, Norton MI. Beyond good intentions: Prompting people to make plans improves follow through on important tasks. Behavioral Science & Policy. 2015;1(2).
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