This was first published on ksl.com
Our regrets can haunt our present and cause us to miss opportunities to show up today. We also fear that bad decisions mean we weren't good enough, and we grieve the lost opportunities down the roads we didn't take.
But, we can't change the past. Worrying and stressing over past mistakes just robs today of its potential joy.
It is interesting to note that a recent study published in the journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people experience more regret over the things they didn't do than the things they did. Is that true for you? Do you regret the chances, trips and opportunities you didn't take or try?
Either way, every second you spend agonizing over the past, you are missing opportunities to be present, connect with people around you, or do things that matter now. If you spend time in regret on a regular basis, here are some suggestions for ways to let go of the past.
Make sure you have experienced the grief and painWhen you lose opportunities or make mistakes it is natural to feel some regret and grieve for the loss. You must allow yourself to feel these emotions and sit with them. They are part of the human experience, and it is healthy to allow yourself some time to feel disappointed, but you don't want to live there.
You might give yourself a limited time — like one week or one hour — to fully feel the pain and regret and then be done with it. Decide that it doesn't serve you in any way to live there, so you are going to chose to be present and make good choices today.
Stop asking 'what if' questions
You cannot change the past, so spending time imagining how things could have been if you had made different choices doesn't serve you at all. Instead, ask yourself "What will happen if I keep regretting this decision for the rest of my life? What is regret giving me? What is regret going to create in my life? What would life look like if I let regret go?"
The best way to forgive yourself for past mistakes is to choose the belief that human value is unchangeable, infinite and equal: all humans have the same value. This means your mistakes were interesting lessons that taught you things, but they don't mean anything about who you are and they don't change your value.
If you choose to see your past choices as the perfect classroom for you and believe they served you in some way, it is easier to forgive yourself. Everyone makes some mistakes and you are not worse or less than because of yours. They are nothing but lesson experiences.
Spend some time writing out all your regrets and disappointments. Make a list of all the times life didn't go well for you, you lost or were mistreated. Then make a list of all the things that went your way. Write all your wins, good-luck experiences, and positive turns of events. Make sure you write down all your blessings and the positives in your life. Understand that the nature of this journey is that life is filled with both good and bad experiences and they all are meant to teach you things.
See life as a perfect classroom
Whichever road you took, it taught you things your soul needed to learn. That's how the universe works. You never miss the perfect classroom experiences for you because the universe knows what it is doing.
The amazing Eckhart Tolle said, "Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness." If you believe this and trust the universe, you will see that it is always conspiring to teach and grow you. Even the losses can be lessons and blessings.
See mistakes as locations on your journey
What is a mistake anyway? Is there such a thing? Maybe all your choices were the perfect classroom choices for you and not mistakes at all. You could choose to see mistakes as locations on your journey, not a reflection of who you are.
I went through a series of bad relationships. Those were life experiences that taught me many things, but they didn't change my value and they didn't define who I am. They were just things I experienced. I have traveled through divorce, being a single parent, experiencing financial troubles, etc. These experiences were interesting parts of my journey, but they aren't about my value.
Do a regret exercise
Make a list of the choices you regret. Then write down 10 positive things that each of those choices has brought into your life. This is an exercise Viktor Frankl, author of "Man's Search for Meaning," recommended to his patients. If you can see the positive impact those wrong choices had on your life, you will feel differently about them. Seeing the lesson will lessen the sting.
Often those choices taught you important things about the kind of person you don't want to be. They made you less judgmental of others. They helped you become who you are today. Thank yourself for making those choices and choosing those beautiful lessons. You were right on track in your perfect classroom journey (or you can choose to see it that way if you want to).
Forgive other people for their mistakes
The way you feel about your own mistakes and the way you judge or criticize others for their mistakes are intricately tied together.
If you are quick to judge others and see their faults as making them unworthy, you will likely also see your own flaws as making you unworthy, too. If you decide to give everyone the infinite, unchanging value I mentioned earlier, you will find that you feel your unchanging value, too.
You love yourself the same way you love others, so a powerful way to feel better about yourself is to forgive others and let them be worthy despite their mistakes, faults or flaws. Make this a daily practice. The more you see them as worthy and love them where they are, the more you will also love yourself.
Life is School
Understand that your life isn't a test where you have to perform well and earn your value. It isn't a contest that compares your performance with others; it is a school where you are here to learn and experience things that will help you become smarter, stronger and more loving.
Stop comparing yourself with others. They are in a different class. You are the only one in your class.
The classroom of life requires you to experience wins and losses. It wants you to get to experience regret, guilt, shame and pain so you can fully understand the human experience. But these experiences don't determine who you are or they don't change your value, and they definitely don't define you. Let the past go. It is over and gone. Be present today and show up with trust and love. Keep your focus on the good you can do in the world today.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.