You can’t get to age 60 without making a few mistakes. These range from small missteps, which nibble at us to larger errors, which keep us up at night. Perhaps the most harmful memories are of the times when we have accidentally hurt someone else – or ourselves for that matter!
It’s natural to have occasional regrets about the past. Some of us lament the end of a marriage, while others wish that we had had the strength to end a bad relationship earlier. From my conversations with the Sixty and Me community, I can tell that almost all women have at least some level of regret about how they prepared for retirement. What is your biggest regret?
The question is, while it is “natural” to have regrets, do they have to hurt us? In other words, are there things that we can do to come to terms with our past and start to build a better future? Can we ever reach a point that we can say to ourselves “Yes, it was a mistake, but, I did the best that I could, based on the information that I had at the time. More importantly, what I learned from this situation made me a better person.”
To get some more insight into this topic, I asked the other women in the Sixty and Me community, “How do you live life without regrets after 60?” We received so many wise and insightful responses that I wanted to share a few of my favorites here. I hope that they help you to come to terms with your own past and start building your future.
One of the worst things about regrets is how lonely it feels when we are dealing with them. Maybe we are too embarrassed to talk about the mistakes that we have made in the past. Or, perhaps, we just don’t want to burden our friends with our sad stories. Whatever the reason, having regrets can lead to isolation, which only makes the problem worse!
Several women in the community reminded us that it’s important to find someone to talk to. This could be a person in your circle of friends. Or, it could be a spiritual advisor, life coach or therapist.
When we sit alone, our thoughts swirl uncontrollably. This is especially true when we are dealing with regrets.
Sometimes the simple act of saying our regrets out loud can help us to gain perspective. Is there another side of the story that we haven’t considered? Do our small regrets sound insignificant when compared to the substance and totality of the good that we have done with our lives? In most cases, the answer is yes.
Heather from the community recommended “Consider a therapist. Regrets can go deep and accepting and forgiving yourself for (your) mistakes takes time and support. It can help having someone neutral, not in your everyday life, to help.”
Regrets are a way of punishing ourselves for things that we can no longer change. Does this sound like a constructive approach to you? Let’s stop beating ourselves up for our past mistakes. Remember all of the good decisions that you have made and the lives that you have touched. On the whole, haven’t you lived a good life? Are your regrets really so unforgivable? I doubt it!
As Marilyn commented, “Forgiving myself was the first step. Then I was able to start forgiving others.”
Marilyn raises another excellent point about forgiveness. If you really want to let go of your past, it is important to forgive yourself and the other people in your life that have wronged you. This doesn’t mean that you need to “forget” about what they did, or, let destructive people back into your life. It simply means that forgiving others will allow you to move on with your live more completely.
Don’t get stuck in self-defeating thought loops – acknowledge your regrets and move on. There is a quote that I love from the movie Slumdog Millionaire: “Everything will be OK in the end – and if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
I keep this quote close to my desk to remind myself that, most of the time, the stakes are not nearly as high as our anxious minds lead us to believe.
It’s ok to take time to remember the past. After all, this is how we learn and become better people. But, don’t dwell on bad choices. Wait until you see the lesson emerge, write it down, and then move on!
It’s also important to remember that you don’t need anyone else’s permission or forgiveness to move on with your life. As Diane from the Sixty and Me community said “Remember that some people won’t forgive you and (will) continually remind you of your mistakes – ignore them and move on!”
Most people’s thoughts swing back and forth between the past and the future uncontrollably. Living in the present is hard, but, the more you can learn to do it, the better your life will be. Remember that what’s done is done. The results of our decisions echo in the present, but, the past itself can’t touch us anymore. So, let it go.
In answer to our community question, Valerie said “No regrets! One of my favorite quotes by Lao Tsu is: “If you are depressed you are living in the past; if you are anxious you are living in the future; if you are at peace you are living in the present.’ Three cheers and a twirl to living in the present! And of course remember all our fun time memories!”
Don’t feel bad if you have trouble calming your mind naturally. Most of us, including me, struggle with this. At the same time, there are plenty of ways to train your mind to live in the present. For example meditation and yoga are both excellent tools for quieting your mind. As a nice side benefit, both of these techniques have been shown to improve your health after 60.
Regrets can be paralyzing. Unfortunately, the one thing that we can’t afford to do when we have deep regrets is to sit still (unless we’re meditating!) If you find yourself feeling sluggish, isolated or sluggish, don’t wait to get help. The longer you isolate yourself from the world the greater your chances of developing a more serious condition like depression.
As Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!” I love this advice! If your regrets feel overwhelming, take steps to reengage with the world.
Join an exercise class, establish a daily ritual of walking in the park, take up dancing. Whatever you do – do something! As you develop your body and mind, you will build up the energy to face your regrets without fear.
As you reengage with the world, make an effort to spend time with other people. This could involve taking part in social activities, or, you could even become a mentor to a younger woman.
Audrey from the community touched on the importance of mentoring when she said, “Bad choices were stepping stones for me. I made sure I never made the same mistake twice. Do I look back? Absolutely. Only when I am giving wisdom to someone younger.”
As painful as it may be to admit it – mistakes are essential to learning. Therefore, the goal shouldn’t be to avoid mistakes altogether, but, to learn quickly from the mistakes that we do make so that we don’t repeat them.
As Margaret (a different woman, not me) said, in answer to our question, “Regretting past choices or circumstances only means the lessons were not learned, which results in more bad choices until the lessons are learned! So I study what went wrong, journal about lessons learned, forgive those who’ve wronged me and LET IT GO! Everything happens for a reason – and to teach us.”
Finally, remember to give yourself a break. Not everything needs to be rationalized and sorted through. Sometimes the best way to deal with regrets is just to smile at our foolishness and move on. You’re human, so don’t expect yourself to be anything else.
Sometimes, it even helps to think of your younger self as a separate person, who is worthy of your love. For example, Lori from the community told us, “I am totally forgiving my younger self and cradle her (as if) she was here.” Isn’t that a beautiful image?
Instead of seeing our regrets as an anchor to the past, let’s see them as a light to the future. Let’s forgive ourselves wholeheartedly and without reservation. Let’s talk our younger, perhaps more confused, self and tell her “No worries girl – you turned out ok in the end!”
How do you move past feelings of regret? What advice would you give to a friend who was dealing with feelings of isolation or regret? Please leave a comment and let us know.