“If you allow yourself to live in a paradigm of regret— where harsh voices condemn you for your mistakes and curse your attempts to step into the unknown — you will lack the ability to imagine an open and hopeful future.” – Dan Cumberland
Turning 30 should be one of the best moments in a person’s life. I joked with my mom for years that I’d be “real grown” when I hit that milestone. The plan was always to have no debt, a savings account I could be proud of, and the flexibility to vacation, date, or shop, whenever I felt like it. I struggled so badly in my early 20’s that I made these (and other) declarations to have something to work towards. I convinced myself that regardless of my stumbling in that stage, I’d be doing much better once I reached this stage.
When my 30th birthday came, I thanked God for seeing another year. Within a few days, I came face to face with an emotion I’d silently struggled with for years: regret. I regretted not meeting my own expectations and setting them too highly to begin with. I regretted not graduating college sooner, and time wasted in meaningless relationships. I regretted becoming a mother too soon, and not saving enough money to do life properly. Whatever could have made me feel bad about where I was, I thought it and internalized it.
A few months prior to my 30th, my astrological friend warned me that upon my Saturn’s return, I’d experience a lot of emotional shifting. What I assumed would be a few bouts of crying actually caused my existing anxiety and depression to intensify. Insomnia, overeating, and a lack of productivity were very normal for me some weeks. When it didn’t “wear off,” I quickly realized how problematic my feelings of regret had become, and why I hid it from others for so long.
The truth is, feeling regret can be painful and embarrassing, making it difficult to acknowledge and heal from. It can be a constant reminder of your mistakes, that if you hadn’t made them, you might not have experienced as many strenuous incidents. In a blog post about why the psychology of regrets can be harmful, author Dan Cumberland says, “the regrets of your past instill fear of the unknown in your future.”
Knowing my plight, my friend suggested that I get into the habit of journaling my feelings and thoughts as they occur. In taking her advice, I discovered the origin of several toxic thoughts and beliefs. I discovered what some of my triggers are, such as overly using social media, not prioritizing self-care, and failing at balancing life. Journaling freely allowed me to create a system to manage my triggers and emotions before they spiral out of control. I practice giving myself grace when I need it instead of when it’s too late. That I have actually made progress and can recreate new expectations for my current life have also boosted my self-esteem.
I don’t consider journaling to be the only way to deal with regret, as therapy and meditation are helpful methods, too. However, this practice has benefited me by uncovering hidden traumas and life patterns. My energy isn’t spent on regret as much as it was before, and when it does pop up, I am better equipped to manage it. Journaling has single-handedly unlocked my access point to happiness in my 30s and I’m grateful for the change.