Four Powerful Ways to Embrace Life with Regret and ADHD

Do you find yourself repeatedly going over the details of your previous interactions? Do you persistently search for anything you could have missed or said that was out of place? Individuals with ADHD tend to replay events, painstakingly reviewing the details of possible mishaps or situations that could have happened years ago. 

What happens, as “Nancy” once shared with me is “there’s a constant conversation in my head that slows me down from moment to moment, makes it hard to focus on tasks, and keeps me from feeling good about myself and what I’m doing.” (transcribed with permission). 


ADHD and Negative Self-Talk 

The more you chew over past events and situations, the more you end up spinning on a hamster wheel of self-doubt making it difficult to move forward.  This is because when you fixate and rehash situations in your mind, it magnifies the circumstances, causing you to feel stuck and powerless.  

Your brain goes into fight or flight from an outpouring of stress hormones. Cortisol, Norepinephrine, adrenaline, and other stress hormones flood your prefrontal cortex (the frontal lobe area of your brain) where you access your executive functions, such as the ability to focus, sustain your effort, manage frustration, and regulate your actions and emotions.  

Although ruminating can lead to excessive worry, there are positives to thinking about our mistakes and where we can improve. According to Daniel Pink, in his book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, Pink's research shows that when we think about our mistakes, we improve our decision-making, boost our performance, and enhance our lives.


Here are four ways to embrace life with regret and ADHD so you can live a more productive and meaningful life.  


Let Go of the Fear of Making Mistakes  

The fear of making mistakes has you already living in regret before you make another choice to do something different. 


You may have experienced missed opportunities, which have led to disappointment and reduced your self-esteem. You may feel guilty and blame yourself for past behavior and mull over what you “should” have done or said. You may fear that you will repeat the past, instead of adjusting and changing due to your experiences. The result is you may feel frozen and stuck.


Quick Tips: 
• Let your fears guide you wisely rather than act as barriers. 
“Should’s” are other people’s ideas of what is right for you. Rather than obliging others around their expectations, consider what you want and your own standards.
Avoid getting stuck in “what if’s” that haven’t happened and may not happen. They only serve to deplete your energy and postpone action.
• Ask yourself, “What’s true right now?” to propel you forward, rather than dwelling in the past.

Practice Self-Compassion   

Because of responses you may have experienced from peers, teachers, and family members, there could be a tendency to hear what was meant as feedback as an assault on your character.  

When you live with ADHD, this feedback from others, even if well-intended, can become internalized as harsh, internal dialogue. 


Rather than berating ourselves for past failures, we can all benefit from practicing self-compassion, a process pioneered by psychologist Kristin Neff. This starts with recognizing that being imperfect is part of being human. 


According to Pink, and referenced in his book, our slip-ups are part of our common humanity and Pink's extensive research found that human regrets fall into four basic categories:

“Foundation” regrets are when we didn’t act responsibly, such as when you may have chosen not to exercise or chose fun instead of future progress. 

“Boldness” regrets are when you may have chosen not to build that new business. You regret what you chose not to do. 

“Moral” regrets are when you broke rules or caused harm to others. 

“Connection” regrets, which are apparently the most common, are when you regret staying in touch with people you care about. 


Quick Tips:
• Speak to yourself with kindness, the way you would a friend. 
• Allow yourself to view the situation for what it is, rather than a defining feature of your character. “I didn’t clean my home today, but that doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person.”
• Try to find the silver lining in the situation.  “Even though we lost touch, I’m thrilled we have the relationship we have now.” 
Reflect on your fumbles. Do they fall within the categories above? According to Mr. Pink, it’s almost always true they will. You’re human, after all.


Make A Choice and Move On

When you live with ADHD, the tendency to replay what-ifs and anticipate future scenarios can be emotional protection for making the “wrong” decision.  In the long run, anticipating mistakes, and scrutinizing potential consequences depletes energy and keeps you from moving forward.


Quick Tips:
Reflect on your future self, one year, five years from now, or whatever makes sense for your situation.
Consider where you want to be and what choice today will help you get there.
What step will help you take more responsibility for yourself, jump into that creative project, live according to your values, or reach out to someone who matters to you. (Using Pink’s four foundations). 
Focus on the outcome you want. Your choices may not be perfect but making a choice can make a profound difference. 

Reveal Your Regrets

It can be tough to navigate disappointments, failures, and the rollercoaster of emotions you experience without getting mired in self-defeat. 


Rather than being consumed by a tormented internal dialogue, revealing your regrets acknowledges and relieves these intense responses, which can become even more dysregulated when living with ADHD. When you get out of your head, and use language to process, understand, and learn from your experiences it helps you move forward and live better.


Quick Tips:
Talk to someone you trust about your experiences. This will help you work through and clarify your actions and emotions. 
• If appropriate, repair the situation and make amends. 
Strategize with a timer to avoid going down a rabbit hole and over-analyze! 
• Journal your thoughts. Getting them out on paper allows you to stream-of-consciously process your thoughts. 
To conclude, four powerful ways to embrace life with regret and ADHD so you can live a more meaningful life are:

Let go of the Fear of Making Mistakes

Practice Self-Compassion

Make a Choice and Move On

Reveal Your Regrets


Experiment with any or all of these and let me know how it goes for you!




 PS. Need more assistance embracing life with regret and ADHD so you can live a more meaningful and productive life?

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some actions you can put into place now!


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