Regret is a clinical condition.

It's a stasis of the heart and mind, and it can paralyze you. 

One reason is that there is an unresolved issue from your past, something you did that was a mistake. It is holding you back from moving forward.

One of the most memorable mistakes I made at work was the time I emailed someone in my department at a corporate job years ago and complained about his lack of communication. I knew I was out of line, but the reason the mistake really stuck with me for so long is that I never really resolved it. It's like there was some glue attached to that email, and the glue stuck on me more than him.

Why is that?

My theory about regret is that we lock into the incident, the experience, or the words we chose to use at the time. And the only way to loosen up the tight grip of regret is to take action as a way to free up the glue, even if that doesn't actually resolve the issue. 

In a business setting, this can be difficult.

If you offended a business partner and have regrets over what you said, but then the business partner leaves for a trip for a few weeks or even leaves the company and relocates to Miami, you're stuck using email or making a phone call. The good news is that we don't need to actually make amends. That really is out of our control, and honestly, we might have screwed up so much that there's no way to really resolve the problem. I have regrets about someone who was close to me growing up, but that person passed away years ago. There is no way to seek restitution or resolution.

Here's the main point. I don't have to stay stuck. It doesn't matter if the issue is ever fully resolved. What causes regret to float away and release you from its grip is when you make the effort, when you make the phone call or arrange the meeting--when you confess to the wrongdoing. In business, that can take many forms: A coffee meetup, a heartfelt email, a conversation in the hallway. You should not expect results, and maybe the feedback will be negative and even make you feel more uncomfortable.

No matter. The goal is action. The goal is freeing yourself from the sense that something needs to be done--that "something" is for you to make an attempt, but not always to actually resolve anything. The reason regret takes hold is that you didn't take the proper steps to resolve it. The issue is with yourself, not with the other party. Regret sinks in and sticks around because you know you haven't done enough, and until you do, it will linger.

This can be freeing, though. Think of your biggest regrets in life. Maybe it is a business relationship or something to do with your kids or maybe related to a spouse. It's best to stop thinking about how it was never resolved--maybe it will always stay that way--but it is important to think about the steps you can take. The steps release you from regret.

In my case, I can't resolve anything. That colleague from my corporate days is a distant memory. My other unresolved issues (if you must know, it was with my brother) will never be resolved. But maybe by writing about these topics here, or maybe by documenting the thoughts in a journal, I can at least discover where I went wrong and fess up.

What about you? What actions can you take to start greasing the hold of regret? If you think of something, I'd love to hear what you plan to do and provide some support. Just drop me an email and explain the issue and your plans.