“If only…” These two words paired together create one of the saddest phrases in the English language.
Today is my late grandfather’s birthday. He was a great man and he would have been 101. So I want to acknowledge him right now by re-sharing a bittersweet story with you — a story that continues to remind me to acknowledge myself, and what matters most in life.
In the final decade of his life, my grandfather woke up every single day at 7AM, picked a fresh wild flower on his morning walk, and took it to my grandmother. One morning I decided to go with him to see her. And as he placed the flower on her gravestone, he looked up at me and said, “I just wish I had picked her a fresh flower every morning when she was alive. She really would have loved that.”
As you can imagine, my grandfather’s words touched a nerve in me. And over the years I’ve often reflected on what he said that morning, and how his sentiment relates to everyone and everything I care about. God willing, in 30 years when I’m in my mid-70’s, I don’t want to rest with unnecessary regrets. I don’t want to wish I had done things differently, especially something as simple and meaningful as picking wild flowers for the love of my life. Don’t you agree?
Regardless of your age or where you are in your life right now, perhaps you will generally resonate with my thoughts here – some little things I don’t want to regret down the road…
- Spending too little time with the right people. – Sooner or later you just want to be around the people who make you smile. So today, spend time with those who help you love yourself more. And remember, the people you take for granted today may be the only ones you need tomorrow. Never be too busy to make time for those who matter most (even if it’s just a quick phone call or a text).
- Vivid memories of wasted time. – There is good reason why you should wake each morning and mindfully consider what and who you will give your day to. Because unlike other things in life — love, money, respect, good health, hope, opportunities, and many more — time is the one thing you can never get back once it’s gone.
- Not making your loved ones smile more often. – One of the most beautiful things is to see a person you love smile, and even more beautiful is knowing that you are the reason behind it.
- Not saying what you need to say. – Don’t hide your kind thoughts and feelings, especially when you can make a difference. Say what needs to be said. If you care about someone, tell them. Hearts are sometimes broken by the words we leave unspoken.
- Constantly comparing yourself to everyone else. – Don’t compare your progress in life with that of others. We all need our own time to travel our own distance. It’s great to be different. The only person you should try to be better than right now, is the person you were yesterday. Prove yourself to yourself, not others.
- Ignoring your intuition for too long. – Sometimes your mind needs more time to accept what your heart already knows. Breathe. Be a witness, not a judge. Listen to your intuition.
- Not taking action on meaningful goals. – Instead of complaining about your circumstances, get busy creating new ones. Most of the time you either suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. In other words, in many cases the only difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do consistently. (Read Getting Things Done.)
- Letting others talk you out of your dreams. – Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? Let that question sink in deep. Be true to yourself.
- Talking down to yourself. – Be mindful of your inner voice. Make the unconscious conscious, and don’t let negative self-talk weaken you. Remember, the goal is to gradually grow stronger on the inside, so that almost nothing on the outside can affect your inner wellness without your conscious permission.
- Collecting more excuses than you can count. – If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. Truly, some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. Don’t be one of them. Life is too short. Time is flying. Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how good it has been, or how much potential is within you. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in more detail within the Success chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently“.)
- Not taking on enough calculated risks. – Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. My grandfather told me that some of his best life experiences and opportunities came to him only after he dared to lose.
- Letting impatience govern your decisions and actions. – Patience is not about waiting; it’s the ability to keep a good attitude while working hard for what you believe in.
- Letting certain people walk all over you, again and again. – Never allow someone to be your daily priority while allowing yourself to be their option. Set boundaries, and distance yourself from anyone who continually robs you of peace and joy. Life is too short to waste on people who abuse and bully you.
- Not helping others enough. – If you have a lot, give your wealth. If you have a little, give your heart. Just give what you can when you are able. No one has ever become poor by giving and lifting others up.
- Ignoring your roots and those who have supported you. – Never forget where you’ve been. Never lose sight of where you’re going. And never take for granted the people who travel the journey with you.
- Letting your health go. – Your body is the only place you will truly ever live. If you’re lucky enough to have a body that’s in good health, be wise enough to keep it that way.
- Not appreciating what you have when you have it. – When life is good, enjoy it. Don’t go looking for something better. Happiness never comes to those who don’t appreciate what they have. You must be willing to loosen your grip on the life you have planned so you can enjoy the life that is waiting for you now. Remind yourself: You did not go to sleep hungry last night. You had a choice of what to wear today. You have access to clean drinking water. You have access to the internet. You can read. The secret to being grateful is no secret. You choose to be grateful, for the little things.
- Being too narrow-minded to see the opportunities given to you. – Sometimes life doesn’t give you what you want because you need something else. And what you need oftentimes comes when you’re not looking for it.
- The self-set limitations you place on yourself. – It’s often our own thinking that hurts us. There’s no reason to imprison yourself. Don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box.
- Never admitting and growing beyond your mistakes. – You can learn great things from your mistakes when you aren’t busy denying them.
- Not accepting responsibility for changes you need to make. – If you’ve been asking the same questions for a long time, yet you’re still stuck, it’s probably not that you haven’t been given the answers, but that you don’t like the answers you were given. Remember, it takes a great deal of courage to admit that something needs to change, and a lot more courage, still, to accept the responsibility for making the change happen.
- Seeking too much validation from others. – You are GOOD enough, SMART enough, FINE enough, and STRONG enough. You don’t need other people to constantly validate you; you’re already valuable. You are YOU and that’s the beginning and the end, no apologies, no regrets.
- Time spent on impressing the wrong people. – Be kind to everyone, yes, but realize that not everyone will appreciate what you do for them. You have to figure out who’s worth your daily attention and who’s just taking advantage of you. Spend more time with those who make you smile and less time with those who you constantly feel pressured to impress.
- Lots of drama and needless arguments. – Life is too short to argue and fight. Count your blessings, value the people who matter and move on from the drama with your head held high.
- Letting a grudge hurt your inner peace. – Let it go. Grudges are a waste of peace and happiness. Holding one tightly is like letting unwanted company live rent free in your head.
- Getting stuck in the trap of consumerism. – Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t need, to impress folks they don’t even know. Don’t be one of them. (Read The Total Money Makeover.)
- Not traveling enough. – Spend less money on things and more money on experiences. Once a year, go somewhere you’ve never been before.
- Forcing what’s not meant to be. – Never force anything. Do your best, then let it go. Don’t hold yourself down with things you can’t control. Sometimes you have to stop worrying, wondering, and doubting. Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.
- Resisting change instead of rolling with it. – You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Life is evolving. Flow with it.
- Talking the talk, but never walking the walk. – When it’s all said and done, be sure you haven’t said more than you’ve done. Remind yourself, again and again, that your daily actions always speak louder than your words. So work hard in silence today, and let your success be your noise in the end.
But what if you already have regrets?
Angel and I have mentioned this in previous articles, but I figured it was worth reiterating here because regrets sometimes sneak up on us. As alluring as the idea of living a regret-free life sounds, it’s rarely an easy feat. Oftentimes before we even realize it, our minds are dwelling on missed opportunities and mistakes.
Yes, even when we know better we regret things. And we do so simply because we worry that we should have made different decisions in the past. We should have done a better job, but didn’t. We should have given a relationship another chance, but didn’t. We should have started that business, but didn’t. We compare the real outcomes of our past decisions to an ideal fantasy of how things “should” be.
The problem of course is that we can’t change our past decisions, because we can’t change the past. Yet we resist this truth to no end — we keep over-analyzing and comparing the unchangeable past reality to our ideal fantasy until we’ve wasted days of our lives in utter misery.
If we logically know better, why can’t we just let all our ideals and fantasies GO?
Because we identify personally with these ideals and fantasies. We all have this vision in our minds of who we are — our great intentions, our intelligence, our social impact, etc. Even if you struggle with certain self-esteem issues, you probably still identify with yourself as being a decent and respectful human being. And so when someone says something about us that contradicts the vision of ourselves that we identify with — when they insult our intentions, our intelligence, our status, etc. — we take offense. We feel personally attacked and we have a hard time letting it go.
Something very similar happens when we believe we did something — made a mistake for example — that contradicts that same vision of ourselves that we identify with. We take offense! And in some cases we implode on ourselves — we berate ourselves for making the mistake. “How could I have done this?” we think. “Why couldn’t I have been smarter and made a better decision?” And again, we have a hard time letting it go — we have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that we aren’t always as good as the vision we have of ourselves.
So in a nutshell, our ideals and fantasies about ourselves tend to cause us lots of misery.
The key is to gradually practice letting go of these ideals and fantasies, and focus instead on making the best of your present reality. The truth must be embraced…
- Every bad decision we made in the past is done — none of them can be changed. And in fact there’s some good in every one of those bad decisions too, if we choose to see it. Just being able to make a decision at all is a gift, as is being able to wake up in the morning, and being able to learn and grow from our wide-ranging life experiences.
- We are not actually what we envision ourselves to be, at least not always. We are human and therefore we are multi-layered and imperfect. We do great things, and we make mistakes. We give back, and we are selfish sometimes. Even when we are doing our absolute best, we are prone to errors in judgment. And once we embrace this and get comfortable with our humanness, making a bad decision tends to conflict a lot less with our new, more flexible (and more accurate) vision of ourselves.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, but whenever you find yourself regretting a past decision, you can 1) acknowledge that you’re falling into this pattern, 2) realize that there’s some ideal or fantasy you’re comparing your decisions or yourself to, and 3) gradually let go of this ideal or fantasy by making peace with what’s behind you, so you can focus more on what’s directly in front of you.
Now, it’s your turn…
I challenge you to put the reminders in this article to good use. And I challenge you to give yourself some credit right now for the fact that you’re already doing a pretty good job with at least some of the 30 points above…
Yes, let’s flip the concept of this article around for a second, and instead of sharing something you don’t want to regret down the road, tell me this:
What have you done lately that you know you will NOT regret down the road?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Hartwig HKD
Believe it or not, after reading this post I just called a friend of mine who is batting cancer. I haven’t phoned her for a while because she is having continuous cancer treatments, which makes conversation a struggle for us because we know she has little time. I knew I would regret not talking to her, and now that I’ve broken the ice, I’m taking it a step further and going to see her next weekend too.
Susan Rae says
I will not regret telling my family how much they mean to me before I leave for work and before I go to bed, every single day.
Thanks for yet another inspiring post. Your posts and emails always provide reminders I value.
I do not regret becoming a nurse after college a few years ago. I struggle with it now because it is a stressful, demanding job, but at the end of it all I know I have helped people. I have saved lives, comforted the dying, made children smile, and chatted with the lonely. My life will ultimately be fuller because of those I have cared for through these past few years.
I just wanted to say “Thank You!”. I’m sure you don’t realize (or hear) how much you are appreciated. My mom has been in and out of hospitals, rehabs, and care centers for the past 8+ years. She has been very sick and has needed a lot of medical care. Many of the nurses have been wonderful, some of them- not so much – but I have done my best to thank all of them. It is wonderful to be in the nursing profession. We appreciate you and even if you don’t hear it from patients or their families, I’m sure many of them look back and think of you, from time to time.
Juliet Marvin says
Finally letting go of a relationship which meant the world to me which was not reciprocated. It was causing me too much sadness.
I do not regret letting people know when they have deeply hurt me. I do it kindly but firmly. This has freed me from the mind games that can surface when we mull over painfully words. If I sense someone has a problem with me, I try to talk about it. If they refuse, then I am free to move on.
Thanks for your helpful ideas. I’m enjoying your site.
I know I will never regret trying to make the world a better place in whatever small way I can. I strive to make some contribution every day, even through covid and the turmoil in our world these days.
And I know I will not regret reading your blog, book and emails, again and again. They reinforce all the positive principles I strive to live by.
Evan Beinicke says
Spent an hour yesterday afternoon walking along a river with my nine year old son. Just the two of us. No agenda, no electronics, no interruptions, and plenty of distance from others. It was great and refreshing, and something I’ll never regret doing.
This is perfect timing!
After spending less than two months in a new job trying to learn the ropes while at the same time being abused verbally and emotionally from the main manager, I confronted her last week Wednesday and handed in my resignation the following day.
Chest pains, sleeplessness nights and being on edge, I realized this was not worth it. I don’t have a new job to go to but know deep down I’ll find my way. HR informed me I was the only one to stand up to her and that my former position is a revolving door.
Do I regret my decision, not one bit, no more being mistreated and having to tolerate it. The best part is I was asked to leave the same day I handed in my resignation and will receive pay until the e/o March.
To no longer be in that toxic environment is a true blessing, to decompress and allow myself to heal is also a true blessing. I finally learned my lesson!
I’m grateful to all the good in my life even though it hasn’t been easy 🙂
Jessy nyilis says
I found this post a little stressful.
Cain Czopek says
I’m glad I’m learning video production better and realize that I’m doing my best and the every failure is actually an improvement.
Lee K says
I just learned my 44 yr old neighbor is going into hospice.
If you can, read Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library”. It’s about, among other things, regrets. I have a list of my biggest regrets, the first one that I did not defy my dad, and stay with my uncle the day he died. Instead, I left the hospital with my dad. That was eleven years ago; still kicking myself.
Lee K says
I do NOT regret using part of my inheritance to help my best friend get his Masters, so that, as a substance abuse/mental health counselor, he can save lives. He frequently tells me how much he appreciates my support, both financial and emotional. I’m a minimalist, can’t think of a better way to directly share the wealth.
Melanie Schadewald says
Thank you for such a wonderful, well-needed article. I don’t regret leaving my former job (my main career for the past 13 years) due to the toxic environment it became to me. Gossiping. Male chauvinism, smear-campaign, you name it. I endured for months and tried to practice many “mental gymnastics “ in order to survive, but when my body started having multiple sleepless nights with pains in my chest, and fight or flight reactions, I decided that my health, and my emotional wellness was top priority. It was hard to walk away from the money I was making, the recognition I received as a top performer in the company; and much more. However, I learned this is no price-tag on my mental well-being and happiness. Seven months later (and still decompressing from the trauma of it all), I am inspired when reading what you wrote about gradually letting go of that past, and forgiving myself for the part I played in it. Your affirmations of being ENOUGH the way I am NOW were really helpful to me as well. I’m so grateful for you and Mark~ thank you.?
I do not regret signing up for your newsletter! It has hit the mark for something on every one that I read and it’s only been a week. I’m going to be purchasing some of your books too. Thank you!
First, I want to say thank you! You inspire me to do better, and be better, for myself, and in turn, better for others! My most important, and meaningful time of every day is giving something to someone, if it’s only a smile!! Makes my day, when I give
Ifeanyi MADUEGBUNA says
Thanks for very inspiring post to guide me in this life journey to be a better person.
Thank you so much in helping me to realize that I am more than ok. I make mistakes and learn from them.Also thank you for helping me not to doubt myself, listen to my intuition and my heart. Know that I am right and that my parents, grand parents and great grand parents would approve of the decisions I have made to work hard to protect and preserve my life and the lives of others. Also that giving and sharing moral support is a wonderful feeling for all concerned. Also that I can not control what other people do or say. That is their life journey,their lessons to learn.I will everyday, experience the joy of living -the legacy my Mother left me. Your newsletter always gives me great advice. Thank you for making a very real and positive difference in our daily lives.