Consider Your Life From a Vantage Point of Regret. This Can Help You Make Better Decisions.
If today were your last day on earth, how might you spend that time?
Let’s zoom out from such a narrow span and say, what about if you had six months left to live? What might you do differently? How would you live?
And now, how about if you had one year left on this earth?
Or five years remaining to be alive?
Here is the thing: we don’t know how long any of us has. It’s unlikely, though it’s possible, that you might only have one of those timeframes left to live.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” — Steve Jobs
The way you spend today is how you are spending your life.
Are you happy with where you’ve allotted your time?
Did you put your focus and energy toward things that fulfill you? Towards things that make you feel good? Towards your physical and emotional health? Towards significant goals in your life? Towards the relationships that are important to you?
Or, did you spend time on lots of obligations? Things that bore you? Stuff that made you angry or sad? Things that do not fulfill your soul? Stuff that harms your health, mental or physical?
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” — Steve Jobs
It’s true, there are aspects of our daily lives that are not always going to delight us, though which are still important that we do. Changing our children's diapers, picking up our dog’s poop, attending that dull routine meeting at work, working on one particular project for our job that does not interest us, paying a bill, taking out the trash, displaying patience and flexibility with our partner when it’s hard (but because we love them).
But, there should still be several aspects to your daily life, every day, that brings you joy, that fulfills you, that help you to feel good physically and emotionally, and that are things you put effort into towards a greater goal that is important to you.
Ask yourself: if I were to die one year from today, what would I regret about the ways I have been living now?
Will you wish you had said “I love you” more?
Will you wish you’d been more patient? Let more things go?
Will you regret not having made amends?
Will you wish you hadn’t spent so many hours working on things you no longer enjoy? That felt like an obligation? That left you burnt out?
What will you regret having spent so much time on?
And what will you wish you had spent more time doing?
Will you wish you had moved your body more? Taken better care of your health? Put the effort in and exercised, even when you didn’t feel like it?
Will you regret not having reached out to that person again? Someone you loved and may have done wrong by. Someone with whom you may have had a falling out.
Will you wish you’d read more books? Enjoyed more stories? Learned more from the gift of the written word?
Will you wish you had just relaxed more? Not worried so much? Not let so many things get you bent out of shape?
Will you regret not having spent more time in nature? Walking in the woods. Reveling in the silence and beauty of a sparkling snowfall. Hiking and gazing at the blaze of leaves during autumn.
Will you regret always rushing, rushing, from one thing to the next? The fact that you “never had time” to just slow down and enjoy more. That instead, you were always pushing through one thing to the next, and then the next.
Will you wish you had adventured more? Bit the bullet and trekked to more far-flung places? Maybe even dared to have spent time living in another country and experiencing an entirely different culture and place?
Will you wish you had been kinder? Warmer? More gentle?
Or, might you regret not having stood up for yourself, and that you had important things you needed to say but never did?
Will you regret that you didn’t just buy the comfortable couch to enjoy in your home, or the cool one-of-a-kind shoes that would have thrilled you each time of wearing them, or the awe-inspiring trip to Greece?
Will you wish you had given that person, or that job, or that adventure, or that life experience a chance? The one you turned away from, said “no” to, turned down, or dismissed.
Will you regret having made many decisions based on fear? Rather than forging through that fear and daring to give it a shot?
Will you wish you had gone back to school to get the education needed to open the door to the job you really wanted?
Will you regret not having called your friends and other loved ones more often?
Ask yourself often: if I were to die in the near future (and this is partially true anyway because even if you live a long, full life, it tends to pass much faster than we imagine it will), what will I regret about the way I have been living?
What will I wish I had done differently?
What will I regret not having done more of?
What will I wish I had not invested so much of my time on?
What will I long to have done more of?
Remembering that you are going to die is a great way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. When you remember this, there isn’t much reason not to follow your heart.