What If? Learning to Let Go of Regrets

By Marcia Bender

There is an old saying that has no known author, “Live your life as you would have wished you had lived it as you lay dying.” At first read, this sounds rather morbid…but when you really think about it, it makes profound sense. How often have you thought: “Would have…Should have…Could have…Wish I had?” I would venture a guess that you have even said these words aloud from time to time, and that you have often heard friends verbalize the very same thoughts.

Regret is one of the most felt but least discussed of all human emotions.

After countless years of study, I have come to the conclusion (and remember, you do not have to accept this as your personal belief system) that many of the decisions that are made in a lifetime are predestined. Hence, when looking at major life decisions from a metaphysical standpoint, the element of Karma within the cycle of reincarnation must be considered. Put simply, the soul returns to the physical reality countless times in order to interact with other souls from past incarnations and, most importantly, to learn the lessons that were not completed in past lifetimes. The acceptance or rejection of this belief system will greatly affect the choices that we make.

In this context, let’s talk about regrets—and we all have them. It is difficult for me to put “aside” my belief system, but I intend to do just that for the remainder of this article. I want to deal with regrets and what we can do about living with them and not allowing them to control and dominate our lives and our thoughts. It is natural to spend time internally focused, looking back over our lives, as sifting through the past is one way that we can find meaning and enrich the future. However, sometimes this reflecting on the past can turn on us and cause depression that affects our moods and our mental health.

Regret can pull us out of the present and keep us stuck in the past. I have a little sign in my office that reads:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the Present.”

When I was teaching high school English, I used to tell my students that one of the biggest “little” words in the English language is IF. When I was a child I would often say to my mother “…but, what if?” in response to something she would ask me to do. She would always make me laugh when she would answer, “If the horse had not stopped to do his business, the farmer would have gotten the crops to the market on time!”

If is not a reality, it is a fantasy. “What if?” is not what is. Still remembering the old teaching days, there was a wonderful poem that I used to read to my students by John Greenleaf Whittier, and I will never forget the last lines: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

Regret and the anger, grief, self-blame, and frustration that go along with it are extremely energy-draining emotions. Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., says, “Regret is a teacher; the key is to get its message and then let the messenger go.”

Cornell University psychologist Thomas Gilovich, Ph.D., says that regret comes in three emotional flavors: hot, wistful, and despairing. When you find out that the person you have been dating is married, you are going to experience regret as the “hot” emotions of anger, embarrassment, and irritation. When you think about how quickly your children have grown up and wish you had spent more time with them, your regrets will fall into the wistful category, where nostalgia and sentiment dominate. When you realize that you invested all your money in a reckless way, you may experience regret as helplessness and utter desperation.

Gilovich also found that short-term regret is stronger for actions you took than for inactions that you decided not to take. On the other hand, long-term regret is stronger for actions and opportunities that you passed up, than for actions you took.

There are several different ways to approach regrets, put them away, and get on with your life and the decisions that you did make:

If you are constantly thinking about something that you didn’t do, such as finishing college, pursuing your singing or acting career, writing the great American novel, etc., do it now! It is possible to accomplish an unfinished goal at any time in your life.

If you are regretting the fact that you let the best man or woman in the entire universe go because you were in a hurry to marry the wrong person, let it go! There are times when it is possible to rekindle an old love, but these are few and far between. You can still come to peace with the wrong decision by rationalizing the reasons that you made the error in the first place. “If I had married Rick, then I wouldn’t have the wonderful children that I have now.”

If you are constantly regretting an action that you took, one that really hurt another person, make amends if possible. If this is not possible, do something good for someone else and let yourself feel good about the fact that you may have “hurt” someone in the past, but now you are doing something good for someone else. I often call this “random acts of kindness.”

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how much you focus and obsess on something that you did or didn’t do, it will change nothing and only make you feel depressed and unhappy. If you really can do nothing about a regret from the past, the best advice is to try to find a positive side to it, and if there is no positive side and nothing that can be done to change the situation, attempt to look to the future, knowing that you have learned a lesson and will never repeat the negative situation again. Try to be kind to yourself; you are a spiritual being on a human journey.


Knowledge is the Greatest Power, so Walk in the Light.

Marcia began her career as a school teacher, working with preschool through inner city high school students. She has worked with all aspects of Metaphysics for over 40 years and specializes in Tarot and Numerology. Marcia’s clients and students are in every state and throughout Europe. Marcia has taught over 400 students to “read” the Tarot for the purpose of self-guidance and to use the powerful symbolism of the Tarot to reach higher levels of spirituality. Her column, Spiritually Speaking, originally ran for 8 years in Attitudes Magazine. Email marlou2000@aol.com.

This entry was posted in Tips and Tools. Bookmark the permalink.