Is it ever too late to change the things we regret?

Regrets are things that can be challenging to admit to having and to think about; after all, they are about things in the past that can’t be changed, or can they be? Is it ever really too late to change something we may regret? Even if something specifically can’t be changed, perhaps the way a person feels about it can be? I think that if someone can work through how they are feeling about something, then maybe some good can come out of changing a regret, in whatever way that can happen. Such feelings could even be turned around and become a positive part of people’s lives rather than miserable reminders of life gone by that is out of reach to be changed.

The potential in an example

To illustrate this thought, I will take losing touch with an old friend as an example. A few years, or even a decade or more could go by where two, previously close, friends barely speak, if at all. I think this happens to everyone at some point in their lives and at varying levels. In the end, something may happen to make one or both of them realise that they should get back in contact with each other. Are those lost years seen as a regret? Perhaps. But dealing with that situation and getting back in contact with each other may be something very positive. Perhaps their friendship will grow even stronger than it used to be as a result of this. What was once a regret could now become a stepping stone to something better between these two people, which could in turn enrich both of their lives. Regrets come in all shapes and sizes, but I think that sometimes they can lead to better things if they are only realised and acted upon by people. Realising and being open to what regrets you have are potentially empowering, depending on the situation of course. Like with most situations, admitting something needs to be changed is the first positive step towards it being able to happen, or to at least attempt the process.

Changing your ways

I think it is very easy to stay stuck in your life and to think that nothing will ever change. The truth is, it probably won’t if nothing is ever done to try to make it change, and that has to usually come from the individual themselves – no one else. I think it can take someone who is strong-willed to change their way of thinking; to potentially turn a regret into an opportunity, but I also think that most people are strong-willed, but they may just not realise that they are. If I take the above example, one or even both of those people could have regretted losing touch, but it takes just one of them to make the first move. Perhaps one of them has to strive to make a date work for them to meet up and not let the opportunity pass up. It may even be nerve-wracking getting in contact again after a long time, but in the long run the benefits would have the potential to outweigh those original feelings of anxiousness. Changing aspects of your life is not always easy to do, and it can take commitment to make such alterations, but it can also be extremely beneficial if this change is carried out. If people never try, they will never know if it can work.

Life in the past

I think that when you are a child you are told about how difficult it is being an adult, and how your school days are actually the best days of your life. If you hate school, I’m sure that would be difficult to hear, but I think as a child you also see adulthood as something that is full of freedom, and exciting choices to be made as well as having the opportunities to do whatever you want to do.

Personally, I always thought that I would make sure I didn’t regret anything, but unfortunately life isn’t always that simple. Sometimes you don’t know that you will regret something until years later, or even realise that one moment can make a big impact on your life as you look back on it. I have often wondered if regrets can still really be regrets if you had a good reason for doing whatever it is in the first place. And can they truly be regrets if it is something that can be changed? If a twenty-year-old wanted to go travelling but then didn’t, what is to stop them going travelling when they are older? It might not be the same, but it would still occur if they did it years later.

Whoever the person is, and whatever the situation is that occurs, it could be argued that having regrets is a waste of energy. Why bother focusing on things you can’t change? But that is why I ask the question of ‘is it ever too late to change the things we regret?’ I think it depends on what it is that we regret, but in theory and at some level, I don’t think it is ever too late. With a lot of things in life, it is not too late to change something, even if it is only in a small way. If it is causing emotional distress to a person, hopefully something can be done to ease that, but talking about such regrets can be a positive thing, and also a potential way of dealing with them and working out how to move forward alongside them. Some regrets don’t always need to stay regrets.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach