We all make mistakes. As the world becomes increasingly competitive we push to maximize efficiency and productiveness, pursuing perfection with no room for mistakes. This attitude is reinforced through sports, college, your credit record, driving record, insurance record, family, friends, taxes, career, etc. To avoid mistakes we follow the rules, blend in with the crowd (most of the time), and make sure everyone is happy. “Death is not our biggest fear – it’s taking the risk to be alive” (see Happiness Blog). Living a life unique to us can involve risk and result in disapproval and temporary loss of our sense of security.
The perception of our mistakes plays a key role in shaping our Integrity. Integrity is the value we place on ourselves and refers to the quality of a person's character. To act with integrity is to act in a way that accurately reflects a sense of who you are; to act from motives, interests and commitments that are most deeply your own. The natural tendency when we do something without integrity is to justify our actions and make ourselves right. Or we may say the action was deserved, making the other person wrong. Both of these are avoiding reality by denying our own sense of truth and responsibility for our actions. The problem is not the original mistake but the lie we tell ourselves that causes damage to our integrity and the relationships with others we have wronged.
Regret should not be confused with taking responsibility for our past. Taking responsibility means that we make a concerted effort to change the behavior pattern that resulted in the mistaken choice, and the beliefs and feelings that empowered it. We need to move on by making peace with the past: drop our defenses and the lies we may have told ourselves, face up to the reality of our actions and their consequences, and forgive ourselves. Forgiveness has nothing to do with feeling sorry or apologizing, neither of which changes anything. From a higher perspective there is no right or wrong. There are choices and experiences, cause and effect. True forgiveness can only be granted by ourselves, but judgment gets in the way. We need to separate our inherent worth from our actions. Also, if we can forgive ourselves then we can more easily forgive others.
Absolutes: We cannot change the past - we can learn from it. No one benefits from being punished.
If we regret something, we haven't learned from it and wasted that chance to learn, the only true mistake we can make.