How to Have No Regrets


The Good thing is you have an opportunity to not have regrets.


Many people have relationship regrets, whether they’re related to friends or romantic partners, says Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. The relationship road not taken is a big source of regret among people she sees. Career-focused romantic partners may find themselves either living in different areas or faced with one partner making a sacrifice to be with the other.

“Given the day and age we’re living in now, many, many people feel they shouldn’t have to do that for someone else, and so they don’t,” she says. Later, they may have the great career, but regret that they didn’t try harder to make the relationship work, she says.


While lost friendships are often considered unimportant compared to romantic partners, their loss can be just as painful and regrettable, says Neal Roese, PhD, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and author of If Only: How to Turn Regret Into Opportunity.

When you put in too many hours at work and let those friendships drift away, you’re setting yourself up for regret. Roese has coauthored several studies on regrets and their causes and says that not making time to maintain friendships is a big one, especially because it can be harder to make new deep friendships later in life. This is especially true at work, where friendships with colleagues can boost both happiness and productivity.


It’s easy to end up sitting at your desk all day or blow off working out because you’re tired when you get home. However, failing to make time for regular exercise can affect everything from your overall health to your creativity. As we get older, establishing a regular exercise habit is even more important.

A March 2016 study in the online issue of Neurology found that regular exercise can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years. Saltz says that many people know better, but don’t heed the potential consequences of their actions when they’re younger. “It’s a firmly rooted early belief that I’m invincible, or I’ll be young forever, or these issues of later just don’t pertain to me,” she says.


Similarly, Saltz says compiling a routine health history–including check-ups and routine testing such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and others–is important in the long run. If you’re not compiling a health history and, when possible, sharing health concerns and history with a medical professional, you risk missing important warning signs. Many treatments are time-limited, and early detection can make a big difference in outcomes, she says.

Living in a chronic state of being overscheduled and under a variety of pressures can lead to a number of stress-related behaviors and problems, says stress expert Mary Wingo, PhD, author of The Human Stress Response: The Biological Origins and Responses to Human Stress.

There’s even evidence that prolonged stress can predispose people to mental illness. Wingo says it’s important to find ways to mitigate that stress before it causes damage.

“Sit down–by yourself, with a therapist, self-help group, etc.–and list every single stressor,” Wingo advises. Then make a conscious effort, the way you would if you were going on a diet or quitting smoking, to eliminate what stressors you can, she says. Adopt stress-relieving habits like meditation, exercise, and other practices that are helpful to relieve stress.


Whether it’s fear of not making enough money, disapproval from others, or other concerns, many people let fear rule when it comes to making decisions, which is a common source of regret, says Hal Shorey, PhD, associate professor in the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University.

Instead of taking healthy risks and following their passions or intuition, some people worry that they won’t meet certain standards they, or others, have for themselves and instead make choices that aren’t really right for them.

Some regrets we just get over. We rationalize or explain them away. But other things linger. I think that the key question that a lot of people like to talk about these days is, let’s say you’ve reached the end of your life, or maybe you’re on your deathbed. What are your deathbed regrets? If you look at these, there might be a recipe for how better to live your life.


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