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Fighting New Year’s Regrets

santaMany people greet the new year with renewed hope and a sense of purpose.  That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about.

But for some, the new year is about regretting what came before–all the missed opportunities and mistakes of the previous year can flood back, sometimes becoming debilitating.  Here are some ideas of how to cope, if you tend to be among the regretful.

1)  Start with an honest and searching inventory of the previous year, and of yourself.

When people are feeling more depressed, that tends to show in their perspective.  They might screen out the good and be overly focused on the negative, in themselves and others.  So if you are depressed, it might be better to have a trusted friend or a therapist try this with you.  They can bring more balance.

Taking inventory means thinking about what you did this year, as well as what was done to you.  Assess how you treat others, and consider how that affects the way you feel about yourself.

It’s also time to think about the people you allow into your life and how they’re impacting you.

2)  Look to the future, rather than the past.   Be compassionate toward yourself.

It’s very hard to change if you’re beating yourself up for your previous mistakes.  You’re likely to become more depressed and paralyzed.

Instead, recognize that it’s normal and human to fail, to make mistakes, and even to behave unkindly.  If you want to become a better person, it starts with self-compassion.

3)  Focus on things that are most open to change.

What I mean is, some traits are more resistant to change.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be worked on, but it makes sense to work on other things first.  Small successes can be very meaningful.

So make a list of what you want to have happen this year, and then break it down into achievable objectives.  Start with the easiest things on the list, and work your way up.  Each success builds on the last, and that can increase self-esteem.

4)  Give yourself credit.

Even if you don’t like a lot of things in your life, there must be some things you do like.  For example, if you have loving and supportive friends, then give yourself credit for having picked them, and for being the type of person they chose to have in their lives.

You’re doing something right.  Find it, and celebrate it.  Ideally, find two or three things.

5)  Believe in your capacity for change.

Very few things in life are absolute.  As a therapist, I’ve seen people revamp their lives by making the commitment and sticking to it.  That doesn’t mean it’s a smooth path, or even an obvious one.  But you probably have more power than you realize.

Sad woman image available from Shutterstock.

Fighting New Year’s Regrets

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Fighting New Year’s Regrets. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jan 2014
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