Guilt and regret are powerful forms of clutter. They can be small, but continuously present at the back of your mind, weighing on you for years. Or, they can overwhelm all of your thoughts and be the ultimate distraction.
Obviously, if we could find a way to avoid guilt and regret completely, we would. This is an impossible feat, though, as we’re human. We aren’t perfect. We do things that disappoint others and ourselves, and we simply strive to keep these disappointments to a minimum.
How we handle the guilt and regret in our lives can play a large part in how much they clutter up our thoughts. Large regrets may never disappear completely. Even after apologies have been given and wrongs rectified the best they can, you still might carry some guilt with you the rest of your life. Conversely, and thankfully, most small regrets can be alleviated by taking actions to rectify the situation.
The following plan of action will not work in every situation, but in many situations it can help to assuage the guilt and regret that comes with unintentionally saying something hurtful or acting in a hurtful way:
- Stop being defensive. When we have done something wrong, it can be easy to turn to the defense. Being defensive, however, isn’t helpful when we’ve actually done something wrong. Fight this reaction, and try your best not to make the regret worse.
- Acknowledge your mistake. As quickly after you recognize you’ve done something to disappoint others or yourself, acknowledge this mistake.
- If appropriate, apologize. Not all guilt-inducing situations call for an apology, but many do. If your situation would be improved with a heartfelt apology, step up and give one. Even if the apology should have come years ago, an apology is almost always welcome. Don’t apologize, though, if you’re not sincere. An insincere apology will only exacerbate a problem.
- If appropriate, provide restitution. Similar to an apology, not all guilt-inducing situations require restitution. However, if your situation would be improved through an act of righting the wrong, do it. If you borrowed a friend’s car and got in a fender bender, paying for the repairs and a rental car while her car is in the shop are good places to start to provide restitution.
- Do what you need to do. Not all guilt and regret comes from wronging someone else. If you are carrying guilt because you have failed to act in some way or procrastinated on something that is important to you, now is the time to act. Schedule time to do the thing you need to do. Stop making excuses and take care of what needs to get done.
Stop guilt and regret from cluttering up your mental space: say the thing you need to say, and do the thing you need to do.