How to Turn Regret into Opportunity and Growth
Published on April 5, 2011 by Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. in High Octane Women
With an interesting, but likely life changing opportunity looming in my near future, I suppose it wasn’t all that surprising at a recent lunch with a friend that the conversation turned to a decision she had made a while back that substantially changed her life. For her, the change was, in many ways, very good, but in some ways not so good.
“Do you regret it?” I asked.
“I try not to live with regrets,” she answered, “but sometimes it’s hard not to look back and wonder.”
Hard? How about impossible? Everyone has regrets. The key, of course, is to try to make the best choices possible and hope that in the end the regrets will be few or none. But in uncertain times such as these, with bad news seemingly around every corner, it’s common to find a lot of people struggling over new decisions or second guessing themselves about old ones. Did I make the right choice? Did I miss an opportunity when I turned down that offer? What if I had moved when I had the chance? Should I have answered differently when my boss asked me what I thought?
Because we can never really know the answer to “what-ifs,” it’s normal to second guess ourselves, to find things we regret doing or saying (or not doing or not saying). But as it turns out, regret doesn’t necessarily deserve the bad rap it often receives. In fact, regret can be both a powerful and positive force in our lives.
Studies conducted by researchers Colleen Saffrey, Amy Summerville, and Neal Roese have discovered that contrary to popular belief, regret is highly valued by most people because it helps us a) make sense of things that have happened to us, b) gain insight into ourselves, and c) figure out ways to change for the better next time around. In fact, of the twelve negative emotions they studied, regret was considered to be the most beneficial in that it provided opportunities for self-inspection and growth.