Still kicking yourself for that ill-advised email? Do you lie awake regretting your long-ago decision to give up your dream of being an artist? It might be time to let those second thoughts go.
Dwelling on regrets can hurt self-esteem and is a contributor to the kind of ongoing stressors that take a physiological toll on the body, says New York psychologist and author Linda Sapadin.
And a study by German researchers published last year in the journal Science found that people who are able to let go of regret have an easier time as they age than people who wallow in it, calling the trait “a critical resilience factor for emotional health in older age.”
How to pull yourself out of the what-ifs? Sapadin recommends thinking of remorse as a guidepost for future change.
Instead of beating yourself up, turn regret into a “rallying cry” to do better next time and plan ahead so that you don’t repeat the mistake, she suggests. “You can get inspired by your regrets by thinking of regret as a call to do better,” she says, “not to feel bad about yourself.”
What about wrongs that can’t be undone—like feeling that you didn’t spend enough time with your children when they were young? Sapadin suggests taking that as motivation to spend more time with them now.
“We all regret some things,” she says. “But we become better people by not just bemoaning our regrets but doing things today that might make up for it.”