How To Turn Regret into Growth

August 19, 2021
Reading time: 3 minutes
Change, Self Improvement


I am always introspective around my birthday, which happens to be this month, Virgo. This is also the month leading up to New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and is dedicated to looking back on our past year. But whatever your reason or preferred season for self-reflection, I don’t think there is ever a bad time to take an honest appraisal.

Traditionally, this month is when we do an inventory of our past year, not only in preparation for the year to come but to engage in a process called teshuvah, which means ‘to return.’ By taking the energy to think about all the things we did that we wish we hadn’t and all the things we wish we had (but didn’t), we can actually correct those things, making it as if they had never happened at all, on a spiritual level.

Is it a fun process? Mmmm, depends on how you’ve behaved this year! But, if you’re anything like me, there are a few words that you’d rather had remained unsaid or even unthought. But, before you disappear into a shame spiral, hold on.

We mistakenly believe that life is meant to be a straight line from wherever I am now to wherever I need to get to. Not true! Failure is an intrinsic part of life–it is actually built into the system. We are meant to fail. We are meant to mess up. We are meant to say the wrong thing, be too self-involved, wrapped up in our ego, or sometimes do hurtful things. In fact, there is a phrase in the Talmud that says, “a person can never really understand wisdom, unless they have failed it.”

Failures do not make us a failure. In fact, our mistakes actually make us better, stronger, wiser people. The point is not to take those times we fall as an indication of who we are, but rather that there is something that we need to pay attention to and to change within ourselves or about how we are living our lives.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

We’re going to err. It is going to happen, and it is going to continue to happen. But instead of beating ourselves up, or avoiding something out of the fear of messing it up, embrace the idea that you need it. Failure, error, mistakes are all things that you need that give you the opportunity to become better.

…As long as you learn from them.

So now what? You’ve done it wrong. Failed. Flubbed. Erred. Fumbled. Fell flat on your face. How do you get from there to the next positive, right thing? What is the process of snatching the growth and opportunity from the jaws of defeat?

It’s so simple.

It starts with saying to yourself, “I made a mistake, and this is an unfortunate but necessary part of life.” Then consider how it went wrong and what you’d do differently next time. If you hurt someone, apologize.

Next time you fail, and you will, skip the part where you feel shame and embarrassment. You can skip your reaction, excuses, or wishful thinking that it had never happened at all, too. Instead, accept the error as a necessary part of being human.

But what about really bad things?

Accepting accountability for where we’ve went wrong also means accepting the consequences for those mistakes. The internal process doesn’t differ, but that doesn’t mean you won’t still have to bear the consequences.

But what about people who keep making the same mistakes over and over?

Some people seem to be slow learners! I believe that part of the reason this happens is because they’ve internalized their errors. I did something bad, so I’m bad. I failed, so I’m a failure. They let their mistakes define them instead of inform them. The danger in not learning from our mistakes is that some people give up on their process, and they give up on themselves.

In all honesty, it’s not fun to see our flaws, and at times can be painful. But if we are willing to really see ourselves – flawed and all –that is the first step in transforming into who we are destined to become. With no regrets.

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