Is It Possible to Live Without Regrets?



Every day you’re faced with thousands of choices. Most are small and inconsequential so they have no long term effect on your life. However, there are a few decisions you’ll have to face that can do some real damage.

Not only can the wrong decision cost you a huge opportunity, it can lead to a much longer emotional drain in regret. It would be great to not have to deal with such a negative emotion. So couldn’t you just find a way to avoid regret altogether?

Mistakes of the Past

Avoiding the causes of regret would be extremely difficult. All regrets really stem from something you feel sorry about that did or didn’t happen in the past. Narrow it down even further and you’ll find a decision you made. And that’s all regrets really are: bad decisions.

So if you want to live a life completely without regret, all you have to do is make good decisions all the time. Of course, that’s much easier to say than to actually put into practice. No one makes the correct decision on every choice all the time. If you can find someone who has always made the best decisions, they either have had things easy or been very lucky.

Making perfect choices on every decision is just wishful thinking. If you live long enough, you are eventually going to make a bad choice. It’s something you really can’t avoid. Regret is an unfortunate side-effect of life.

That’s not a bad thing though. Far from it. Just because something doesn’t go your way hardly spells the end of the world. You have to risk making mistakes in life to actually accomplish anything. You have to work hard to get anywhere in life. And as you‘re doing that, you’ll make mistakes. Personally speaking, I’d rather risk regretting a decision later in life than always playing things safely.

Accept Your Past

Fortunately, there is a powerful thing you can do to reduce the negative effect of regrets from your past. If you made a bad decision about something, just accept it as part of your past and as who you are. If something didn’t go according to plans, just accept what happened.

The pain associated with regret only happens if you can’t get over the negatives about it. It’s only when you accept your past and forgive yourself for everything that happened when pain will go away. You don’t have to like how things turned out, but acceptance will at least get you to stop thinking so negatively about it.

I’m not saying that it will necessarily be an easy process. I know that many people have a hard time getting over their past regrets. Some will never get over them. But the sooner you face them and make them a part of who you are, the better you’ll feel about them.

Not All Regrets Are Equal

Accepting your past can help with decisions you’ve already made. What about decisions you have to make now, in the present? Well, Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Over the years, I’ve come to agree more and more with what he’s said. And you can apply what he said in a way to reduce the amount of regrets you’ll have during your lifetime.

People regret not doing something a lot more than actually doing things. In fact, if you listen to what people say they regret most, you’ll notice that they usually list off things they didn’t do. So one way to reduce regrets later in life is to do as many things as you can now.

I’ve used this strategy successfully in my own life. Since I was in a Senior in high school I had a strong desire to explore my artistic side and paint with acrylic. The only trouble was that I didn’t think I had any painting talent. Finally a few years ago, I just decided to do it even if it was terrible.

So I went to an art store and bought some basic brushes, a canvas and some paint. Then I went to the library and took out a step-by-step painting book. Within a few days I had something that somewhat resembled the photo in the book. It wasn’t Rembrandt, but it was a good beginning. I later ditched the book and started painting on my own.

Similarly, I had a desire to become a teacher. I knew I would have to go back to grad school to get my license, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go. Both of these experiences taught me that it is important to do what you want to do.

The more things you want to do in your life that you accomplish, the more you’ll minimize the regrets later on.

Regret-Free Living

Being able to recognize the things you want to do in life and actively pursuing your dreams will greatly reduce the amount of regrets you’ll experience later. In fact, one of my biggest reasons for making a bucket list and crossing off as many items on it is to make sure I don’t have any regrets when I get older.

So even though you can never completely eliminate regrets from happening, you can greatly minimize their effect. It’s basically like living without them. And I can live with that.
photo credit: Will Montague

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  1. I don’t experience regret these days like I used to. But there were times in the past when I didn’t do something because I was too hesitant to take action and that caused me to feel regret.

    • I’m with ya Justin,

      I was the same way several years ago. Very glad I made the mindset shift.

      Sure, we all have minor regrets – maybe even the occasional massive regret. But stop living in the past. Keep moving forward. The past is done. Start your new journey to a better and more rewarding future.

      That’s how I feel.

      Great post!

      • I like the way you put that, Brock. The past is done and you can’t change anything that has already happened. Just accept your past as best you can and work towards a better future. That’s the first step to a better future.

    • I’ve had those times when I hesitated. I think hesitation is the biggest causes of regret too. It’s usually a good idea to just do it.

  2. Samuel Clemens was a very smart man!

    I used to spend my life looking backwards, thinking of how things should have been. That is a miserable existence. Somehow I was able to get myself turned around and realized that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I had changed a single thing. I love my life! Regrets, a few, of course, but nothing that I’d be willing to sacrifice everything I currently have to change.

    Now I live by the motto of choosing what I do by what will be a better story at the senior center. They all involve trying new things. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least I tried and can’t regret sitting on the sidelines when life passed me by.

    Thanks for the reminder that living is doing.

    • Hey Tammy, I try to choose what will make a good story when I’m older too. I agree that living really is doing. It’s just good to get out there even if it doesn’t work out. You can’t sit on the sidelines when life is going on all around you.

      You’re right that if you look back on your life and how things should have been too much, you’ll just end up being miserable. That’s how I was too until I turned it around.

  3. The regrets from choices or mistakes become part of who I am and I wouldn’t be the same person without them. But the regrets that keep me up at night or when I say something stupid or try to be funny and it comes out wrong. I wonder if it’s cause I think that often those are the regrets I can do something about.

    • Miranda, you make a good point. Mistakes and choices you make, even if they are bad ones, become a part of who you are. If you take those away, you won’t really be the same person. Those regrets can make you who you are just as much as your successes.

      I’m with you on the ones that keep you up at night. I used to focus too much on the stupid things I said or the words that came out wrong. It took a lot of effort to let those go, but they don’t bother me as much anymore. I’ve found that in most cases they weren’t as bad as I thought.

  4. Ah ha! The good old bucket list – what I wonderful tool for a regret less life.

    When faced with an opportunity that scares me, but it’s something I know I’ll regret if I don’t do, I try and remind myself that inhibition stings 100X more than actually taking actions.

    I think theses are words to live by right here, “I’d rather risk regretting a decision later in life than always playing things safely.”

    Great post Steve!

    • Chris, those are good words to live by. I think regrets of the things you didn’t do are usually worst. Living without regrets means taking a few risks.

      I like the way you look at opportunities that scare you too. It’s kind of the way I look at them. I just ask myself if I’ll be mad for not taking the opportunity and if the answer is yes, I go for it.

  5. Regrets can slow you down if we let them. Like the do it anyway attitude to eliminate those regrets. We only have regrets because we let fear get in our way. Hit that fear head on and do it anyway. It builds personalities.

    What happens when we look back at the regrets, it is like a farmer making a row in a field, if he keeps looking back to see what the row looks like he will make a crocked row, if he keeps looking forward the row will be a straight row.
    Great post.

    • Debbie, that farmer analogy is a great way to look at regrets. Keep looking back at the past and you stop looking towards the future and where you’re going.

      Fear does often get in the way of opportunities. You can’t eliminate fear, but you can control it. Maybe that’s where it builds personality. Whatever it is, you can’t let fear or regrets stop you or else you’ll just end up with crooked rows in a field.

  6. This is a great post. I think sometimes, though, you can make a good decision that turns bad, and you may end up regretting it. There’s no reason to, though, because you really tried to do the right thing at the time.

    • That’s true. It’s like the old proverb, “the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions”. Even what you think might be the best decisions can turn ugly. Of course, not all good intentions turn bad. And really, you can’t let the thought of that stop you or else you’re just letting fear control you.

  7. I think it is rare to live completely regret-free, but it is an excellent ambition! There is certainly no point dwelling on something you are powerless to change.

    • Yeah, you definitely can’t change the past. It’s much better to just let it go, accept it and think about your present and future. It’s true that a completely regret-free life is rare, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live as if you don’t have any.

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