How to Deal With Regret (18 Effective Ways to Cope)

We’ve all been there—tossing and turning at night over a choice we made or a chance we let slip by. Perhaps you think about a missed opportunity or a wrong word spoken in haste. We all face regrets, big or small.

I’ll share simple, practical steps to manage regret. You’ll learn how to release the grip of past mistakes and move forward with a lighter heart. Isn’t it liberating to think that you might soon look back at your regrets, not with a heavy heart, but with a sense of peace and resolution?

What if you could turn your biggest regrets into your greatest strengths? Let’s find out how.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Do you know that tight sensation in your chest when you think about something you wish you had done differently? That’s regret, and it’s totally normal.

Sure, you might want to push these feelings aside, act tough, or pretend they don’t exist. Who hasn’t tried to bury their feelings under a mountain of work or a few too many funny videos?

But here’s the thing—feeling regret is part of being human. You’re not a robot; you’re a person with a heart. It’s okay to be upset or sad about something from your past. Take a moment to sit with your feelings.

Remember, there’s no rush in this process. This acceptance is your first step towards moving on. So take a deep breath, and let’s tackle this together.

Identify the Source of Your Regret

Figuring out exactly what’s bugging you can make a huge difference. Is it something you said or did? Or maybe something you didn’t say or do?

Once you identify the “what” and the “why,” it’s easier to start sorting through your feelings. For instance, if you regret not taking a job offer, what about that decision is troubling you? Was it the lost opportunity, or maybe it’s how the change might have affected your lifestyle?

Understanding the root helps in crafting a plan on how to deal with the feelings associated with it. Knowing what went wrong is the key to not getting stuck in the same spot again.

Talk About It With Someone

We need a sounding board sometimes—someone to vent to without getting snapped at. When you’re ready to talk, choose someone you trust and who’s a good listener. This person doesn’t have to fix your problems or even offer solutions. Sometimes, just saying things out loud takes a load off your shoulders.

Reaching out can look like:

  • Having a coffee date with a friend.
  • Going for a walk and sharing with a family member.
  • Scheduling a call with someone who’s been through something similar.

Start with something simple like, “Hey, there’s something on my mind that’s been bothering me, and I just need to talk it out.” Chances are, they’ll be glad to lend an ear. Plus, they might even share their own stories of regret, which can make you feel less alone in this.

Realize That You Made the Best Choice Possible at the Time

Remind yourself that, back then, you were making the best choice you could with what you knew. You didn’t have a crystal ball or a time machine. You were just someone trying to make a call amid countless possibilities.

  • Think about the information you had back then.
  • Consider the pressures you were under.
  • Remember your state of mind at that moment.

All these factors played a part in your decision. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and judge past choices with today’s insights. But doing so is like scolding a past version of you who didn’t have the answers yet. Cut yourself some slack—indsight isn’t the same as foresight.

Moving forward, instead of beating yourself up, take a quiet moment and say, “Given what I knew, I did my best.” This doesn’t wipe away the regret, but it does put it into context.

"The reality of life is that every experience—whether we judge that experience as positive or negative—provides us with an opportunity to move toward becoming a higher, better version of ourselves.

We need to recognize that some of our regrets inspire us:

• to work harder,
• become more dedicated,
• motivate us to grow and succeed,
• take us down a new pathway,
• cause us to shift focus, and
• lead us to greener pastures and unimaginable opportunities

The reality is that we do the best we can with what we know at the moment. Even when we lack skills, knowledge, ability, and wisdom, when we are in a situation, we do the best we can at the moment.

...even when we regret our choices, actions, interactions our outcomes, it is important to be able to deal with our regrets, no matter how troublesome."

Dr. Monica Vermani, ClinPsych. | Clinical Psychologist | Author, A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Traumas

Accept That Everyone Makes Mistakes

Nobody is perfect, and honestly, wouldn’t life be a bit boring if we were? We all trip up sometimes—but it’s not the end of the world.

Here’s a little rundown of why accepting mistakes matters:

  • Mistakes teach us lessons—think of them as the school of life.
  • They remind us that we’re human (and not programmed like computers).
  • They can humble us, and a little humility never hurts anyone.

These mistakes, as pesky as they are, contribute to who we are today. They build resilience, wisdom, and empathy. Remember, the stories we admire most often include overcoming failures, not skipping over them.

Realize That Life Isn’t So Black and White

Life is not like flipping a switch—on or off, right or wrong, win or lose. It’s more than just blacks and whites; it’s full of greys and a whole rainbow of colors. 

You see, when you realize that not everything is a straightforward choice between right and wrong, it can ease the burden of regret. We understand that:

  • Perfect outcomes are rare—if they exist at all.
  • No decision is completely right or wrong—each has its ups and downs.
  • What seems like a mistake now could open doors we never expected.

Maybe the job you didn’t take led you to a passion you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Perhaps the relationship that didn’t work out gave you strength and wisdom for the future. Embrace life’s full spectrum, and remember that every experience, good or bad, contributes to the person that you are today.

Learn From Your Experience

There’s a bit of wisdom that’s as true today as it was when your grandma might have said it: every experience has something to teach us.

  • What did this experience teach you about yourself?
  • How has this shaped your values or choices moving forward?
  • Are there skills or insights you’ve gained because of this?

It doesn’t need to be a big revelation. Sometimes, the lessons are small and personal, like learning to trust your gut or to speak up for what you need. So, take a little time, and be a student of your own life.

Make Amends if Possible

If your regret is tied to a falling out or a mistake that hurt someone else, making amends can sometimes act as a salve for both parties. It’s not just about saying “I’m sorry,” though. It’s about owning up to your actions, showing genuine remorse, and, if possible, taking steps to rectify the situation.

Taking action to correct your wrongs can alleviate the burden of regret. For example, if you missed an important event, find another way to show your support and care to the person affected. This not only helps heal relationships but also helps you forgive yourself.

Remember, making amends is sometimes not about the outcome but about the intention. Even if the other party is not ready to forgive, you have done your part to reconcile, which is a significant step in overcoming your own regrets.

Forgive Yourself

Let yourself off the hook for being human. Everyone makes mistakes, even the people who seem perfect on the outside. You owe it to yourself to move on from self-blame.

Think of it this way: if your best friend made a similar mistake, wouldn’t you tell them it’s okay, that they should move on? So, why not extend that same kindness to yourself? Sometimes, we need to be our own best friends.

And remember, forgiving yourself doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. You might have to forgive yourself for the same thing more than once, and that’s okay. Each time, it chips away a little more at the wall of regret you’ve built.

Related: How to Make Peace with Your Past? (25 Tips + Expert Insights)

Put the Past Where It Belongs—In the Past

"What you don't want to do, is to focus on "what you missed out on" for extended periods of time. Regret is like holding a 5-pound weight. If you hold it for a few minutes, it's no big deal. But if you hold it all day, then it is torture.

Thus, as soon as you notice the "regret thoughts" enter your mind, realize you have a decision to make. You can either:

• Continue to focus on regret and what you missed out on, or
• You can focus on something else.

It's extremely tempting to focus on those terrible thoughts—because there is often a little bit of a zing or a rush within the regret! "It's no big deal if I think about this just for a little while," we all think.

The problem is—it is a big deal. That little thought snowballs... Not to mention, it's this zing or rush that makes it so tempting to want to go down that dark road! In other words, regret can be very addictive."

Marie Pettit, LCPC, NCC | Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Founder, Sunflower Counseling, Montana

It helps to acknowledge that the past had its time and place. It’s had its turn. Now, it’s ‘now’s’ turn.

And remember, life keeps moving forward, and so should you. Engage in here-and-now moments. Plan a trip, start a new project, or try something out of your comfort zone. These actions redirect your life’s energy from past regrets to present opportunities.

Put the “What Ifs” and “Could Have Beens” to Rest

Ruminating over “what ifs” and “could have beens” scenarios can feel like an endless loop in your mind. It’s as if you’re replaying an old movie that never gets any better.

Instead of what if, ask yourself, “What now?” Shift the focus from past possibilities to present opportunities. Here’s what that looks like:

  • List down the things you can influence today.
  • Name the doors that are open to you right at this moment.
  • Consider the skills and insights you now possess that you didn’t have before.

For instance, if you think, “What if I had taken that job?” counter it with, “What now can I do with my current job to improve my satisfaction?” This technique helps shift your focus from hypotheticals to actions you can actually take.

Lastly, setting a limit on how long you’ll allow yourself to dwell on these thoughts can also help. Give yourself five minutes to ponder the “could haves,” and then consciously decide to move on to something else. It’s like setting an internal timer that signifies when it’s time to refocus on the present.

Focus on the Present Moment

The present is called a “gift” because it’s an opportunity to start fresh, and that’s not just a cheesy saying. Focusing on the now is where the magic happens—where you can make changes and feel the richness of life.

First, try this: Pause and notice the small things around you. The warmth of the sun on your face, the comfort of your favorite mug in your hand, or the sound of laughter from someone you love. These are the tiny threads that weave the fabric of ‘now.’ Let those details be anchors that bring you back to the moment when your mind wanders to past regrets.

Next, remind yourself that this moment is the only one you can control. You can decide to breathe, to smile, to take a step towards something good.

The Zen saying goes,

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

So, plant something today, maybe it’s the seed of forgiveness, maybe it’s the start of a new project or habit. Make the present moment your playground and experiment with the joy of being active in it.

Give Yourself Time

Good things often take time—like a lovely stew or deep friendships. And the same goes for working through regret.

Allow yourself the space and time to process, heal, and eventually, make peace with the past. There’s no official timer that dings to tell us we’re done with our regret—it just happens gradually.

Look at your own pace. Some days, the progress might be so small you barely notice it. But other days, you’ll see just how far you’ve come, and you’ll know that giving yourself time was the kindest thing you could do.

Engage in Activities You Enjoy

Fill your days with things that light you up inside. Whether it’s painting, jogging, cooking, or anything in between—it’s about finding joy in the activities that resonate with you.

Think about what you loved doing as a child or something new you’ve wanted to try. The act of learning and engaging in a new hobby can also be incredibly refreshing and can develop new areas of confidence and skills.

Moreover, the joy derived from these activities creates positive memories and associations. Over time, these positive experiences can start to overwrite the negative feelings associated with regrets.

Focus on Things You Can Change

It’s easy to feel helpless about past decisions, but the power lies in focusing on what you can control right now. This shift in focus can significantly impact your emotional health and overall outlook on life.

For instance:

  • If you regret not pursuing further education, look into evening classes or online courses that can help you advance your knowledge now.
  • If relationship regrets are bogging you down, work on improving your current relationships or building new, healthy ones.

The key is to move from a passive state to an active state in addressing your life’s circumstances.

This approach empowers you to take charge of your journey. With every small step, you reaffirm your ability to shape your life, which can be incredibly liberating and build resilience over time.

Find Another Opportunity to Try Again

Maybe last time didn’t turn out as planned, but who’s to say the next chance won’t be the one that changes everything? It’s about keeping your eyes open and being ready to jump in when you spot a glimmer of possibility.

Start by reflecting on what exactly you want to try again.

  • Is it a career move?
  • A relationship?
  • A personal goal like fitness or learning a new skill?

Then, stay active in environments where opportunities might arise. Networking events, educational workshops, or even just staying engaged in social media groups related to your interests are all good bets.

It’s about maintaining a growth mindset and readiness. Every experience, even a regretful one, teaches us something valuable that can be used to succeed in future endeavors.

Set New Goals for the Future

There’s something exhilarating about setting new goals. Establishing what you want to achieve gives you a sense of direction and a purpose to strive toward. Goals can be like personal promises—commitments to yourself that you’re determined to keep.

Begin by identifying what is important to you now. Things change, and what mattered yesterday might not hold the same weight today. Consider these questions:

  • What do I want to achieve in the next year?
  • How can my goals align with my values and passions?
  • What are small, actionable steps I can take towards these goals?

Once you have your goals mapped out, keep them visible. Stick them on your fridge, write them in your journal, or set them as reminders on your phone. Seeing them regularly will solidify their importance and keep you motivated.

Related: 23 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important for Success

Seek Professional Help if Needed

Sometimes, regrets can be overwhelming, making it hard to cope with everyday life. In times like these, seeking professional help can be a profound step forward. Therapists, counselors, and life coaches have the expertise to guide you through the maze of your feelings and help you find effective strategies for coping and moving forward.

These professionals act as neutral third parties: they’re there to listen, not judge. With their skills and tools, they can help you understand the root of your regrets and teach you how to handle them in a healthy, constructive way.

 It takes guts to reach out and ask for help. By doing so, you’re prioritizing your well-being and laying down a foundation for a happier, healthier future—one where regret has less power over your life. After all, the bravest step is the one that leads you to ask for the support you need.

More Insights from the Experts

“When we feel regret, it typically means we made a choice, and then something terrible followed that choice. After feeling regret, we usually tell ourselves one of two things: “I knew better…” or “I should have known better…”

The “I knew better” Regret

When we feel regret because we “knew better,” that is usually a sign that we didn’t stick to our own boundaries or enforce our boundaries with others.

  • I regret saying yes to this party, and I knew I needed to be up early.
  • I regret signing up to volunteer for this event, and I knew I was overbooked already.

Many of us feel guilty for saying “no.” So often, we say “yes” to something when it just doesn’t quite sit right.

Maybe we say yes to a job that we know is underpaid. Maybe we agree to take a client outside our normal hours. Perhaps you’ve reluctantly agreed to be the volunteer coach for the kids’ soccer club.

Why do we do this? Because many of us are fearful of saying “no” or being perceived as confrontational. We have to start to believe that resenting someone and regretting our decision is a worse outcome than saying “no” upfront.

One of the most compassionate things we can do for others is lean into the hard conversations up front. Say, “No.” Say, “Not this time.” You have a right to advocate for your preferences and needs.

The “I should have known better” Regret

Sometimes, we don’t know better, but our inner critic tells us, “I should have known better.”

This kind of regret typically happens when we are just living our life, making decisions as best we can, and something unpredictable comes out of the left field.

When this happens, we tend to blame ourselves. We need to stop blaming ourselves when something unexpected happens that causes a regrettable outcome.

All of us are doing the best we can.

One of the best ways to deal with this kind of regret is to remind yourself: “I made the best decision possible with the tools and information I knew at the time.” If you reflect on this statement, you might surprise yourself.

There might have been actually no possible way you could have “known better” because you didn’t have all the information, or you couldn’t predict the future, or maybe you were choosing between two terrible options.

You made a decision based on high hopes and good intentions. That’s all any of us can do.”

Nicole Rainey, LMHC, ATR | Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Art Therapist | Owner, Mosaic Creative Counseling

“In my case, I didn’t immediately call 911 when I watched my father have a stroke, and he ended up permanently paralyzed. When the doctor looked at me and said, “We could have reversed his paralysis if you had called sooner.”

My whole family’s life changed because of that event, and I blamed myself. I replayed that moment repeatedly in my mind and questioned myself why I didn’t do things differently.

Regret is tied to anything that we personally consider to be a missed opportunity, and we question if things could have been different if we had made a different choice.

Feeling disappointed and sad at the thought that you missed out on something is normal. We often think that our life circumstances would be different and we would be happier if only.

We can either dwell and get stuck in the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, and become resentful, wishing the past could be different. Or we can allow ourselves to find the emotional peace and freedom that comes with having a change in perspective.

Here is my REGRET formula that I created for myself to help me with self-forgiveness, and I am sharing it with you. I hope you will find value in these words and move through past regret.

REGRET formula:

  • Remember to give yourself grace, knowing you made the best decision for yourself at that time.
  • Encourage yourself by stomping out the ANTS (autonomic negative thoughts) and replacing them with this statement, “Despite it all, my current situation is not my final destination.”
  • Gratitude is an attitude that you can use to focus on what you have vs. what you don’t.
  • Reach for opportunities to fly through open windows when doors close.
  • Encourage yourself by using a mantra I created, “Nothing that is good and meant for me will ever miss me.”
  • Take time to enjoy the journey and know that one event is a semicolon, not a period in your life story.

Although my father became paralyzed, using this formula was the therapy I needed to get unstuck and move forward with enjoying my life.”

Dr. Renetta Weaver, LCSW | Neuroscience Coach | Clinical Social Worker

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people feel regret?

People often feel regret when they believe their decision or action (or inaction) has led to an undesired outcome. This could be about anything from career choices to personal relationships or even missed opportunities for personal growth.

Is it possible to live without any regrets?

While it’s virtually impossible to live without any regrets, since making decisions is part of life, we can learn to manage and minimize feelings of regret by making mindful choices and learning from past experiences.

Can regrets affect my mental health?

Yes, chronic feelings of regret can impact your mental health, potentially leading to stress, depression, and anxiety. It’s important to address these feelings constructively and seek help if they’re overwhelming.

Final Thoughts

Everyone has moments they wish they could redo. But remember, regret doesn’t have to be a permanent shadow in your life.

Instead of letting it keep you down, you have the chance to use what you’ve learned today to make tomorrow brighter. You’re not alone in this; everyone faces regret at some point, but not everyone learns the art of moving past it.

As we close, think about this: What new choices will you make today that your future self will thank you for? Let’s choose to live with less regret and more joy, starting now.

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Clariza is a passionate writer and editor who firmly believes that words have great power. She has a degree in BS Psychology, which gives her an in-depth understanding of the complexities of human behavior. As a woman of science and art, she fused her love for both fields in crafting insightful articles on lifestyle, mental health, and social justice to inspire others and advocate for change.

In her leisure time, you can find her sitting in the corner of her favorite coffee shop downtown, deeply immersed in her bubble of thoughts. Being an art enthusiast that she is, she finds bliss in exploring the rich world of fiction writing and diverse art forms.