How to train your brain to deal with regret

Regret is a human emotion – something most of us will experience throughout our lives. But all regrets are not created equal. There are actually two types of regret: the kind you experience when you think about actions that went wrong, and the regret you feel when you think about things you didn’t do. As you get older, the things you haven’t done tend to outweigh the regrets over the stupid things you’ve done. For example, you may regret not accepting a particular job you were offered or deciding not to go back to school.

Here are three things to remember when you regret the path you didn’t choose:

how green is your grass

You often regret it when things don’t go well. You’re having a bad week at work and you’re thinking about the other things you could be doing right now that wouldn’t have this problem. You check social media and see a friend getting promoted in another industry and you feel bad about your own situation. You have an argument with a colleague or your boss and feel like you would have been better off doing something else.

When you feel bad about yourself and your situation, it affects both how you perceive the world and how you interpret things that are going on around you. You’re more likely to see more problems at work if you’re already feeling bad about some difficulties. Also, you interpret situations that make you feel bad in the worst possible way. If your boss hasn’t emailed you about a project, you’re more likely to assume he’s mad at you than that he’s busy and hasn’t gotten to his inbox yet.

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As comforting as it may be to assume that your life would have been rosier if only you had chosen a different career path, first of all, you should become more clear about your path. Are you really that dissatisfied with your work or are you just going through a difficult phase? Are you overlooking some of your accomplishments, ignoring some of the great co-workers you have, or skipping some of the perks of your current job? Spend some time thinking about what makes your current career path a good one.

And remember, it’s easy to just think about the wonderful things that would have happened if you had done something different. But every job has its troubles. No matter what you do, you will have some stages of combat. Don’t assume that you would have avoided work-related difficulties if you had made other choices.

Actually, it’s not too late

Of course, if you’re sober about your current career and feel like you’ve hit a dead end, it pays to realize that there are always steps you can take to change your situation. Even if you have commitments that are currently preventing you from leaving your job, you can start preparing for a different future. Take some courses at a local college or university. Talk to friends and colleagues who have jobs you’d like to try and learn more about what their companies are looking for in new hires.

Taking steps towards a new path can also make you feel better in the short term. It can make the pain worse if you also feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. Knowing that you have options to exercise when you want can make the present more bearable while you prepare for the future.

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Take a mental journey through time

One of the causes of work regrets are decisions you have made when choosing not to take up an opportunity. When we get the chance to take on a new role or job, we often focus on the skills we don’t already have. It’s natural to assume that someone else is better qualified for the role and that it should be given to that person instead. As a result, we are closing a path that has been opened.

The next time one of these opportunities presents itself to you, try a different exercise. Project yourself into the future and look back at this moment. Ask yourself if you think you might regret not trying something new. If you feel like you missed this opportunity and will regret it later, then use that as a strong reason to accept the offer, even if you don’t feel quite ready to accept it.

This mental time travel ability is generally useful when contemplating possible regrets. It is valuable from time to time to imagine yourself looking back at what you have done at the end of your life. Ask yourself if there are things you would not regret. If so, add these activities to your plans while you still have the opportunity.

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