As we get older, it becomes harder to not think about our possible regrets. Whether it was an embarrassing moment, a personal mistake or a missed opportunity, some of us beat ourselves up over them such that it can become a barrier to our own happiness and self-appreciation. Of course, dwelling on our past negative experiences is not going to make our life in the present any better (nor can it erase the experience altogether). A simple solution to overcoming regrets is to let go of them and to live in the present moment. But that’s easier said than done, right?
To let go of the regrets and embrace the present, it is helpful to think of how we can do this practically. This involves mindfulness training. In this day and age, where we are easily distracted by the screens in front of us, we are in need of mindfulness more than ever. Psychologists define mindfulness as the state of active and intentional attention on the present moment. Research shows that just two weeks of mindfulness training can improve reading comprehension, memory capacity and the ability to focus.
Mindfulness-based therapies can provide people with tools to actively pursue the present. Examples of mindfulness-based interventions include emotion regulation, decreased reactivity and increased response and flexibility, interpersonal benefits (couples) and intra-personal benefits (daily self-practice). There are many simple, practical ways in which we can become more mindful. These include:
-Practicing a small act of kindness
-Finding some pleasantness at work
-Paying special attention to daily activities
-Unitask (the opposite of multi-tasking)
If we can practice these sort of activities consistently, we will be well on our way towards being more mindful and reap in its benefits.
Positive psychology shows that being fully engaged in the present, short-term activity can produce long term benefits. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it “flow,” the state of complete immersion into an activity. The experience of flow can be achieved through engaging in a task that has clear goals with specific responses (ie, during a game of chess). Flow leads to improved performance, learning and skill development.
While regrets and probing heavily into our negative experiences can be detrimental, daydreaming and thinking ahead may also adversely affect our contentment. The very act of thinking about something, even if pleasant, can make us less happy. Studies on mental well-being show that nearly half the time, people are thinking about things other than what they are actually doing. Results from the study demonstrated that happiness was more affected by the fact that people drifted off than by the actual activity they were doing. Thus, being fully present in the moment can really make people happier with their lives.
All in all, we must embrace the present moment if we want to be content with the experiences of the past and ensure peace and happiness for the future. This starts with, well, the present. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”