What a waste regret is. Regret is crying over spilled milk, over water under the bridge, over things that you cannot change—essentially crying over the past. But if you could change the past, would you? The past defines you. It allows you to appreciate the present better—in a different way to how you would have appreciated the present if the past had never been. Without the past, the lighting on the present is all off. The light would be purely neutral and nothing would have any meaning. There would be no depth—just a two-dimensional image without substance.
It would never cross your mind to undo a good thing that had happened to you in the past (unless ultimately that good thing led to a bad thing—like a relationship turned sour). As to the bad things, those that happen to us and those that we do to ourselves, how often do we think “If only I could undo it! If only it had never happened!”. But if it were feasible and we could give some serious thought to the question, would we go back and change it? The past gives the present its current coloring. The past is what makes us who we are. If we went back, we would no longer be who we are and we would lose the lessons that we learned from the experience. We would have no knowledge of the experience and would know no better when faced with the same circumstances. Erasing the past mistake would only make it possible for that mistake to re-occur in the future. With it behind us, at least we can say precisely that: that it’s behind us and no longer in front of us—unless we have the extreme bad luck to go through it all again (or are stupid enough to put ourselves through it all again).
Back to regret. Assuming that the past must be lived, both the good and bad of it, for the present to be what it is (and for us to be who we are in the present), we can still regret the past, can’t we? Well, we do! And what good does it do us? I believe a second of regret is necessary. It’s in that second that we learn the lesson that must be learned from that bitter moment in the past. But after the second is over, regret only remains to ruin the present. It festers and keeps our focus firmly on the past. It futilely occupies our thoughts. It is as bad as worry. Worry is unnecessary, useless thought about a possible event in the future (and all these thoughts on this possibility do not help to avert it if it indeed comes to pass). Regret is rumination on an event in the past that cannot be changed but you wish it could be changed. It is a form of non-acceptance. If you regret something, you wish to change it, you would like to deny that it ever happened. And all this time that you spend regretting is wasted. You aren’t living. You are clinging to the past wishing it were different, instead of accepting it and moving forward—living again.
So how do you stop regret? Accept the past for what it is. Accept that you cannot change it. Realize that the only time that you are living is now—not then, not tomorrow. And as your thoughts gnaw over the bitter memory again, thwart them by dreaming of the future, hoping. Like regret, dreaming prevents you from being fully present in the present, but it successfully counters regret. When you must think (like when you fall asleep), dream and look forward. At other times, live—do not look further than the present moment. It is all you have and tomorrow, you could be regretting that you didn’t live it fully.