“If only…” These two little words paired together
create one of the saddest phrases imaginable.
Last week, in the last few hours of my cousin Jamie’s life, she told me her only regret was that she didn’t appreciate every year with the same passion and purpose that she has had in the last two years, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “I’ve accomplished so much recently,” she said. “If I had only known, I would have started sooner.”
I shared this story, along with some advice on avoiding regret, in one of our recent “subscribers only” email newsletters. Within 24 hours we received nearly 500 replies. This inspired Marc and I to revisit the content, tailor it to some of the most popular questions and commentary we received, and share an enhanced version of our advice on avoiding regret with you here.
Honestly, my cousin’s words and passing have been a true wake-up call for us. “Life is short” is only a cliché until you witness it firsthand.
You really have to make your journey count every single day, because the distance we each get to travel is a mystery. One day, hopefully many moons from now, you will inevitably find yourself close to the end, and thinking about the beginning. TODAY is that beginning. TODAY is life. Right now you have a priceless opportunity! Forget the past. Forget your age. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. At the end of it, let there be no excuses, no explanations, and no regrets.
Here are nine ideas to get you there…
1. Be the leader of your own journey.
Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? Stop living for other people and their opinions. Be true to YOU.
There are far too many capable people who don’t pursue their dreams and goals because they let their fears and others talk them out of it. They give up before they even try, and simply let life’s river flow them downstream. Choose to be stronger than that. Choose to swim upstream when you have to. Choose to do the things in life that move you. Let others lead small lives. Let others argue over small things. Let others cry over small wounds. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands. But not YOU.
2. Take calculated risks.
There is no excuse for being an amateur forever. Life is short. The day is rapidly approaching when the risk to remain perched in your nest is far more detrimental than the risk it takes to fly. Fly! Spread your wings. Start now. What a disgrace it would be for you to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of your full potential.
You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward. Just do the best you can until you know better. Once you know better, do better. (Read Start: Punch Fear in the Face.)
3. Think you CAN.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. And change breeds growth. So when a goal seems big and a plan looks tough, just start, push through it for awhile, and soon the next thing you need to do will look possible. Step by step you can get through anything – this is the truth and you have to believe it. In the end, you’re going to succeed because you’re crazy enough to think you can.
4. Find the courage every day to take another step.
You will trip and you will fall, you will make mistakes and you will fail, but you have to stand strong through it all. You live and you learn. You’re human, not perfect. You’ve been wounded, not defeated. Think of what a priceless gift it is to grow through these experiences – to breathe, to think, to struggle, and to overcome challenges in the pursuit of the things you love. Yes, sometimes you will encounter heartache along the way, but that’s a small price to pay for immeasurable moments of love and joy. Which is why you must keep stepping forward even when it hurts, because you know the inner strength that has carried you this far can carry you the rest of the way.
5. Let the disappointments GO!
We grew up building invisible fences from our bad experiences. But we don’t have to be contained and defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past. Some people allow themselves to be controlled by regret. Maybe it’s a regret, maybe it’s not. It’s merely something that happened or didn’t happen – an optimistic expectation that got the best of you. Accept the fact that life is not perfect, that people are not perfect, that you are not perfect, and that there are all sorts of things in this world that will disappoint you. But most importantly, realize that, just because things didn’t turn out like you expected, doesn’t mean they can’t be better than you imagined. (Read The Untethered Soul.)
6. Ignore your fantasies of other times and places.
We all want pretty much the same thing in life. We want to be happy. But sadly, so many of us think it lies outside ourselves. When we’re young we think our happiness lies somewhere in the future, tied to future relationships and activities. When we’re old we believe our happiness rests in the past, tied to memories of what is already gone. Both of these beliefs are false. Happiness can only ever be found right where you are now.
Life is too short to spend at war with yourself. Letting go of illusions of the past and future is your greatest step to happiness and a life free of regret. In this moment, there is plenty to smile about. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, infinite possibility awaits. Don’t waste it worrying about what isn’t.
7. Look at what you have, instead of what you have lost.
The primary cause of unhappiness is never your situation, but your thoughts about it. And the primary cause of regret is looking back at everything these negative thoughts prevented you from doing.
Truth be told, a day without laughter and positive action is a day wasted. Even if things aren’t perfect, today is filled with little opportunities. Everywhere you look, there are small ways for you to make a positive difference. In little bits of time that might otherwise be wasted, there is a piece of something larger waiting to be created. String enough of these pieces together, and absolutely anything is within your reach. You just need to decide what it is you want to achieve.
8. Share your love openly and honestly with those you love.
No matter what, you’re going to lose people in your life. Realize that no matter how much time you spend with someone, or how much you appreciate them, sometimes it will never seem like you had enough time together. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Express your love. Tell people what you need to tell them. Don’t shy away from important conversations because you feel awkward or uncomfortable. You never know when you might lose your opportunity. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
9. Say “goodbye” so you can say “hello.”
In life, goodbyes are a gift. When certain people walk away from you, and certain opportunities close their doors on you, there is no need to hold onto them or pray to keep them present in your life. If they close you out, take it as a direct indication that these people, circumstances and opportunities are not part of the plan for the next step of your life. It’s a hint that your personal growth requires someone different and something more, and life is simply making room. So embrace your goodbyes, because every “goodbye” you receive sets you up for an even better “hello.”
The floor is yours…
What do you NOT want to regret someday? What’s something positive you can do today to help avoid this regret? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Ewen Roberts