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Regret Part 3: Stages of Regret

The most effective way to manage regret is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. Of course successfully accomplishing that takes practice and patience. But if you are like most people you had already experienced regret many times in the past. So it’s necessary to learn to overcome that regret once and for all so that it doesn’t inhibit your successful application of successful principals.

Just as psychologists explain that there are various stages in the grief process, I believe there are stages that a person goes through when dealing with disappointment and regret because of missed opportunity. Loss of a loved one will trigger grief, and the loss of a missed opportunity can certainly have a similar impact on a person and activate regret. Here are the stages of regret that I’ve observed in the aftermath of missed opportunities:


Denial – Usually this stage is relatively brief, depending upon the magnitude of the opportunity that got away from you. The challenge of this phase is to realize the reality of your new situation and fully accept it, rather than trying to change what is already behind you.

Pain – After the brief feeling of denial it is likely that a missed opportunity will leave you with a stinging pain, resentment, or bitterness – or an injured pride and bruised ego. Rejection hurts – even when it is in the form of missed opportunity – and we cannot change that. But what we can change is how we respond to it and how long we stay in this painful phase. Once you feel the sting, recognize and fully acknowledge it. Then let go of it. Otherwise if you wallow and linger in your regret too long it can quickly evolve into self pity or depression, two emotional conditions that will certainly hold you back from moving in a positive direction. 


Anger – Once the pain of regret subsides, many people get mad. They feel angry at themselves, at others, or at circumstances they have no control over that kept them from seizing their opportunity. But it is important not to remain in this state of mind for long, because anger is a destructive force that causes tunnel vision and turmoil. The good news is that anger can be a powerful motivator. Instead of letting it consume you or fuel more explosive fury, channel that anger like jet fuel to propel you forward into aggressive positive action. Work harder to meet your goals and capitalize on your next big opportunity.

Depression – If you sulk around in a cocoon of stinging pain and fuming anger for long enough you eventually burn yourself out and slip into a state of deep depression. The challenge of this phase is to overcome your sadness and despair, getting past these emotions to regain a more detached perspective. If you feel you need to talk to someone or even work through this phase with a therapist, then do it. Taking proactive steps to combat the onset of depression is always a healthy approach. Seize the initiative, in other words, and battle your way back before your dark emotions drag you down. You have to disengage your painful emotions from the situation and get a more objective and dispassionate viewpoint so you can calmly observe the missed opportunity. Then you can learn priceless lessons from it that will serve you for the rest of your life and help ensure your ultimate success.

Acceptance – During this phase you have come to terms with your new circumstances and make a conscious decision to move forward. You realize what you have learned, what you can do differently if faced with a similar opportunity in the future, and that now you are wiser and better equipped because of your experience. In this phase you actually figure out how to live with and accept your new situation in a positive light. Acceptance is empowering because it allows you to start planning your next step to move you closer to achieving your lifelong goals.


Rebuilding – After passing through the stages of regret it is now time to rebuild, regain your balance, and rekindle your efforts to reach your goals and dreams. Rebuilding is the only choice you have if you intend to make forward progress. Otherwise you will stay down in the valley of regret under a burden of “should haves” and the hopeless futility of trying to rewrite the past.

Rebuilding is all about returning to a state of equilibrium. It is about redirecting your focus and effort to what lies ahead, instead of what you’ve left behind. After experiencing the feeling of regret and getting beyond it you can redefine yourself, measure yourself by a renewed standard, and reformulate yourself in a new light. You were able to successfully overcome a difficult experience that would have easily derailed or defeated a person of lesser character and weaker determination. Give yourself credit for that and rejuvenate your spirit. 

To rebuild essentially means that you remove emotional pain and negative thoughts by replacing them with positivity. You integrate your experience into a renewed self-concept and personal identity. This allows the knowledge gained from the incident to become internalized, where it will give you inner strength and valuable insight.

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