The average person spends about 8,000 hours of their life regretting mistakes and missed opportunities from the past. But imagine—if people focused on turning regret into motivation instead, how much happier and more productive do you think the world would be?
The solution isn’t as simple as tuning out your negative emotions. In fact, naming our feelings can actually help us reclaim our own power and move forward.
Bad experiences also teach us valuable lessons, so we can learn from bad choices and do better in the future. No matter how hard we try to make the right decision every time, it’s not possible for us humans.
But regret is a miserable feeling.
And it’s amplified by guilt and shame, ultimately taking a toll on our self-esteem. If you allow regret to permeate every thought and drag you down, you won’t have much luck finding happiness or success. It’s a slippery slope into constant negativity.
Here’s the good news—there’s more to regret than feeling crummy and drowning your sorrows in a tub of ice cream.
When you face your regrets with honesty and mental toughness, regret can become a powerful tool for motivation and inspiration.
The primary components of motivation
Motivation has three primary components:
Activation. Activation happens when you have the drive to initiate a certain behavior and make a positive change. For example, deciding to enroll in an online course because you regret never getting your degree.
Persistence. Persistence is the continued time, energy, resources, and effort you put into your goal despite obstacles and setbacks. To build on the previous example, signing up for additional classes would demonstrate persistence.
Intensity. Intensity is the amount of vigor you are putting into your goal. For the student in the example, low intensity would be coasting through classes without exerting too much time or effort. A student demonstrating high intensity would be proactive and ask questions in class, diligently study for exams, and take advantage of office hours to get an A—not just pass.
Whether or not you achieve your goal is largely impacted by these three components. If you don’t make it through the activation phase, you’ll never get started. And if you lack persistence and intensity, you’ll take a much longer time reaching your goal, if you ever reach it at all.
How to turn regret into motivation
Regret is a natural part of the human experience, and it can be a surprisingly effective way to jumpstart your motivation. Ready to get started? Keep reading.
1. Stop beating yourself up. What’s done is done.
You can’t change the past, no matter how long you spend dwelling on what you “coulda, woulda, shoulda” done instead.
Before you can develop the mental toughness to harness your negative emotions and channel them into motivation, you have to forgive yourself for making the mistakes in the first place.
Once you make peace with yourself, then you can start to move forward.
Are your current coping habits healthy? Or do you waste a lot of time and energy ruminating on your mistakes, pushing people away, and suppressing your emotions?
Over time, as you pay attention to your thoughts and habits when you catch yourself dwelling on the negative, you can train yourself to stop these self-destructive tendencies.
Look for ways to counter regret with a reciprocal action. Didn’t get the job you applied for? Send out two more applications to make up for the one rejection.
Instead of thinking, “I wish I’d done things differently” over and over, change your mindset to, “This is what I regret. What action can I take now to remedy it?”
3. Search for silver linings and identify what’s most important to you.
Sit with your regrets for a short time. Don’t fall too deeply into “what if” musings, but don’t try to completely bury your regret either.
There’s often a silver lining that we don’t see on the surface. You’ll probably have to dig deep to find it, but when you do, it can help illuminate a truth or revelation.
This requires self awareness and asking good questions. As you do so, your mental toughness will begin to improve.
4. Reframe past narratives.
This exercise is challenging but beneficial. Once you’ve found a silver lining within a regret, work on viewing that regret in a more positive light.
Hold yourself accountable and focus on the good, even if it’s only a sliver.
For example, let’s say you regret being fired from your job. It’s easy to place blame on everyone and everything you perceive as a contributing factor. It’s the manager’s fault for firing you. It’s your coworker’s fault for causing a delay that affected your deadline. It’s the traffic light’s fault for making you arrive late… again.
Put yourself back in the narrative. “I was fired because I made this series of mistakes. I’m upset that I lost my job, but I did learn the importance of organization and communication. I will work on improving those soft skills so I don’t repeat the same mistakes at my next job.”
Focus on what you learned from the experience. What actionable plans can you form with this information?
5. Take action.
You’ve come to terms with your regrets. Now is the time to make a move.
Turn those regrets into motivation to change your future. Figure out your purpose in life and what makes you happy. Then consider what steps you need to take to achieve that goal and turn your regrets into wins.
Don’t let your regrets hold you back
Kintsukuroi, also known as kintsugi, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with a precious metal such as gold. Instead of hiding the flaws or throwing away the vessel, those past scars are highlighted as a form of beauty, strength, and survival.
Treat your regrets the same way—work toward progress not perfection.
As you learn how to embrace your negative feelings in a healthy way, you can move forward and achieve your goals.
Are you ready to turn your regret into motivation and jumpstart a new career? Join our team.