Reducing Your Regrets and Forgiving Yourself for Bad Decisions

In the past couple of years, we have made a number of consequential decisions, many based on inadequate information and surrounded by unprecedented uncertainty. In my Washington, DC area psychology practice, regret is one of the most common emotions I see.


My patients have struggled because of pandemic-related decisions. Most regret making decisions about taking care of elderly relatives during the crisis. Some people feel guilty about transmitting covid-19 to loved ones inadvertently. Families who kept their children at home feel guilty today because many of their children have mental health problems. For teenagers and adults who have regrets that have left them feeling anxious or depressed, my colleagues and I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).


Barbara Roberts, director of wellness and clinical services for the Washington Football Team, said that she heard from many of her clients regretting staying in a bad relationship or not doing something they wanted to do during the pandemic.


According to a recent study, regret is a common reaction to the pandemic. It can, however, lead to a downward spiral of shame, anger, and depression if not dealt with properly.


Before the pandemic, regret was an old emotion. Study results revealed that it was often mentioned as the second most common emotion in conversation. It has been scientifically proven that romantic and social regrets usually feel the strongest – which supports the axiom that you don’t die wishing you had worked more.

The prevalence of regret has been linked to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, and difficulty solving problems. Remorse for inaction lasts longer than regret for regrettable actions. The number-one regret we have in life is that we did not take advantage of opportunities or chances that would have helped us become the people we want to be.

Rather than dwelling on the things you could have done better in the past, here are some strategies to help you concentrate on the future.


Regret is uncomfortable, so we avoid it. It does not work to ignore, distract, or suppress the pain for long, as it will return. You will only feel worse about abandoning your family on a pandemic vacation that led to them catching the Coronavirus if you drink heavily at night to drown out your regret.


Realize how much has been regretted, and how much you have contributed to it. Feel different emotions when expressing your regret.


You can increase your emotion vocabulary by using an emotion wheel. Be curious about your feelings and observe them nonjudgmentally – this is part of mindfulness.


It is also possible to observe the judgments you are making as well as your sensations and feelings. The ability to tolerate pain without identifying with it comes from accepting your emotions and thoughts without identifying with them. Strength can only be developed by being vulnerable.


It’s a common characteristic of regret to dwell on all the ways you could have done things better. Ruminating can lead to shame.


While shame can lead to self-criticism and self-blame, guilt can motivate you to take action to correct the situation. In the pursuit of important goals, self-compassion decreased procrastination and reduced fear of failure, according to a study.


As well as self-care routines, cultivating self-compassion can be accomplished by learning to appreciate yourself, imagining yourself talking with a friend in the same situation, and channeling the feelings of a loved one. Research has shown that discussing regrets with loved ones can strengthen bonds between them in real life as well.


Accepting reality and accepting yourself allow you to take responsibility and face your responsibilities. You can still act with integrity moving forward, even if you are unable to rectify the situation immediately.


Routines were disrupted by the pandemic, and the future was uncertain.


As such, give yourself a break since you weren’t at your best in terms of decision making. Let go of your regret-inducing thinking patterns.


Regret can be a powerful learning tool. It can teach you. Finding meaning in one’s life and growing as a person are two benefits of exploring regrets, studies suggest.