You really can change your life before it’s too late…
What is your greatest fear? For many people, it’s death…and the possibility of physical suffering as the body shuts down. But along with that, there often is a deep emotional fear of ending our lives with regrets.
Most of us have an idea of what it means to live a fulfilled life, but oftentimes people don’t even realize until they’re approaching their final days what exactly their regrets might be.
Psychologist Neil A. Fiore, PhD, has come close to dying twice—while fighting in the Vietnam War and from having “terminal” cancer. As a result, he decided to alter the course of his own life and now motivates people to make significant changes in their lives. Here’s Dr. Fiore’s advice on how to make changes (no matter what your age) so that you won’t be left wishing you’d lived your life differently…*
REGRET #1: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. If you find yourself consistently overworking, you may be a perfectionist trying to avoid criticism by working harder and longer than you need to.
To avoid this regret: You’ve probably heard that you should break up projects into smaller segments rather than trying to do everything at once. Most people think this approach simply gives you more control over what to do when, but it also helps you avoid getting bogged down in perfectionism…and prevents you from getting overwhelmed by trying to finish projects in one shot. Instead of saying, I must finish all this work perfectly, say, I choose to begin this project by working on an outline or making some calls for 15 or 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
If you tend to work too much, you probably don’t make much time for fun. Solution: Schedule fun. Earmarking time specifically for fun allows you to avoid any guilt during your time off.
REGRET #2: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Being your own person—whether it’s in your personal relationships or your professional life—takes courage. You must be willing to deviate from society’s expectations…and to overcome fear of criticism.
To avoid this regret: Pay attention when your actions aren’t in sync with your true beliefs.
Helpful: Recognize when you act in a habitual—but false—way by saying to yourself, I’m reacting this way out of fear. But I am now strong enough that I can choose to stand up for my true beliefs. Then make a conscious decision to act in a way that supports your true beliefs. Even if you’re not sure of what your true self is, you know when you’re acting falsely to fit in. When you start acting in new ways, others may try to pressure you to conform to their rules for your life, but resist.
REGRET #3: I wish I had stayed in touch with friends and loved ones. All of us have friends or family members we’ve lost touch with.
To avoid this regret: Make a list of friends or relatives you’d like to reconnect with, then schedule specific times every week when you will call, text, e-mail or visit. Instead of saying, “I should call Amy,” put Amy on your calendar for, say, Wednesday at noon. After a few weeks, keeping in touch will be automatic because it’s so rewarding to have these warm, supportive connections.
REGRET #4: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. It’s often scary to express our true emotions—so much so that we may feel that we don’t even know how.
To avoid this regret: Start by keeping an emotions journal where you can vent all your emotions privately and promptly.
If you decide to share your feelings with someone, write a “script” so you don’t have to hunt for words during the conversation. Example: You can start a difficult message with, “Our relationship is important to me, so I’m anxious about telling you something that upset me.” Don’t blame the other person. Rather, focus on your own feelings.
For people who have a difficult time saying “no,” a great trick is to start with “yes”…followed by a statement that expresses your true feelings. For example, “Yes, I would love to organize the fund-raiser… thank you for asking me, but unfortunately, I have other commitments right now.” The beauty is you never have to utter the word “no” but still get the benefit of not agreeing to something you don’t want to do.
REGRET #5: I wish I had let myself be happier. Bad things happen to everyone. Here’s a secret, though: You can learn to be compassionate toward yourself even when having difficult emotions such as depression. And you can enjoy yourself even when lonely. Remember that you are the one who chooses how you respond to tough situations.
Writing about one’s negative emotions has been shown to reduce stress hormones and lessen the intensity of negative feelings. You also can be active—dance or sing, for example—to help deal with negative emotions. Recognizing your strengths and joys can promote happiness as well.
Important: Be sure to consult your doctor if you have depression for a few weeks or longer. You may need therapy and/or medication.
If you’ve suffered emotional trauma, such as being brought up by an abusive parent, it helps to write about this as well. I also advise a burial ritual in which you bury a symbol of the trauma, such as a photo or letter, marking that day as the end of this issue in your life. When new thoughts of the trauma return, recall the burial ritual and say to yourself, This is over. I let go of it on this date. If negative emotions persist, consult a mental-health professional.
A word about mistakes: All people make mistakes. Errors don’t have to diminish your worth—they simply define you as human. If you have moments of feeling bad about a decision, give yourself no more than 10 to 30 seconds to feel regret, then focus on what you can do to fix the situation and move on.
*The regrets in this article first appeared in The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (Hay House) by Bronnie Ware.