“If only…” These two words paired together create one of the saddest phrases in the English language.
Here are ten life choices that ultimately lead to that phrase of regret, and how to elude them on the average day:
1. Wearing a mask to impress others.
If the face you always show the world is a mask, someday there will be nothing beneath it. Because when you spend too much time concentrating on everyone else’s perception of you, or who everyone else wants you to be, you eventually forget who you really are. So don’t fear the judgments of others; you know in your heart who you are and what’s true to you. You don’t have to be perfect to impress and inspire people. Let them be impressed and inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.
2. Letting someone else create your dreams for you.
The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are; the second greatest is being happy with what you find. A big part of this is your decision to stay true to your own goals and dreams. Do you have people who disagree with you? Good. It means you’re standing your ground and walking your own path. Sometimes you’ll do things considered crazy by others, but when you catch yourself excitedly losing track of time, that’s when you’ll know you’re doing the right thing. (Read The 4-Hour Workweek.)
3. Keeping negative company.
Don’t let someone who has a bad attitude give it to you. Don’t let them get to you. They can’t philosophically pull the trigger if you don’t hand them the ammo. When you remember that keeping the constant company of negative people is a choice, instead of an obligation, you free yourself to keep the company of compassion instead of anger, generosity instead of greed, and patience instead of anxiety.
4. Being selfish and egotistical.
A life filled with loving deeds and good character is the best tombstone. Those who you inspired and shared your love with will remember how you made them feel long after your time has expired. So carve your name on hearts, not stone. What you have done for yourself alone dies with you; what you have done for others and the world remains.
5. Avoiding change and growth.
If you want to know your past look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future look into your present actions. You must let go of the old to make way for the new; the old way is gone, never to come back. If you acknowledge this right now and take steps to address it, you will position yourself for lasting success. (Note: Our newest publication, “The Good Morning Journal”, is a great tool for this kind of daily self-reflection.)
6. Giving up when the going gets tough.
There are no failures, just results. Even if things don’t unfold the way you had expected, don’t be disheartened or give up. Learn what you can and move on. The one who continues to advance one step at a time will win in the end. Because the battle is always won far away and long before the final victory. It’s a process that occurs with small steps, decisions, and actions that gradually build upon each other and eventually lead to that glorious moment of triumph.
7. Trying to micromanage every little thing.
Life should be touched, not strangled. Sometimes you’ve got to relax and let life happen without incessant worry and micromanagement. Learn to let go a little before you squeeze too tight. Take a deep breath. When the dust settles and you can once again see the forest for the trees, take the next step forward. You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going to be headed somewhere great. Everything in life is in perfect order whether you understand it yet or not. It just takes some time to connect all the dots.
8. Settling for less than you deserve.
Be strong enough to let go and wise enough to wait for what you deserve. Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand up taller than you ever were before. Sometimes your eyes need to be washed by your tears so you can see the possibilities in front of you with a clearer vision again. Don’t settle.
9. Endlessly waiting until tomorrow.
The trouble is, you always think you have more time than you do. But one day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to work on the things you’ve always wanted to do. And at that point you either will have achieved the goals you set for yourself, or you will have a list of excuses for why you haven’t. (Read The Last Lecture.)
10. Being lazy and wishy-washy.
The world doesn’t owe you anything, you owe the world something. So stop daydreaming and start DOING. As they say, develop a backbone not a wishbone. Take full responsibility for your life – take control your next step. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now; the somebody the world needs is YOU.
Afterthoughts on Letting Go of Regrets
The points above are crucial reminders, but what if you already have regrets you’re struggling with?
No doubt, feelings of regret sometimes sneak up on us. Oftentimes we regret things 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 those decisions because we can’t change the past. Yet we resist this reality subconsciously — we keep overanalyzing and comparing the unchangeable reality to our ideal fantasy until we’ve wasted lots of time and energy.
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 well-meaning intentions, our intelligence, our social impact, etc. And we make the best decisions we can of course because, again, we generally mean well. Even if you struggle with deep-seeded 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 — 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 — that contradicts the same vision of ourselves that we identify with. We take offense! 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 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 good things, we make mistakes, we give back, we are selfish, we are honest, and we tell white lies sometimes. Even when we are doing our absolute best, we are prone to slip. 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 accurate) vision of ourselves.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, but whenever you find yourself obsessing over and 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 and yourself to, and 3) practice letting go of this ideal or fantasy and embrace a wider range of reality in the present moment.
Now, it’s your turn…
One day you will find yourself close to the end, thinking about the beginning.
TODAY is that beginning!
TODAY is the first day of the rest of your life.
I challenge you to put the principles of this article to good use.
Motivate yourself to START NOW by answering a simple question:
What’s one thing YOU CAN choose to do today that you will NOT regret?
Please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
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Photo by: J.T. Noriega
Solid advice from you two as usual. This post reminds me of this quote from Kurt Vonnegut that my father had hanging on his office bulletin board for many years during my childhood:
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
The one thing I can choose today to do without a regret is to keep working on the growth of my my business
Gina Carr says
Spot on! I just turned 70 last week — which I still can’t believe — and I can tell you from experience, the cruelest words in the world are “if only.” You’ve got to live and take the little chances that feel right. Time is short. Great reminders here!
“You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going to be headed somewhere great.”
This cuts right to the heart of the matter, but so many of us never take a moment to conisder the point.
We think we need to have a solid plan, with each little step mapped out miles ahead.
But what happens when you take your first misstep?
It’s fine to have a plan, but sometimes we have to let go a little bit and just go with the flow. Things won’t always turn out as expected . . .
Sometimes they’ll turn out even better. Or at least with acceptance you’ll be able to make the best of the next step.
I tend to wait until tomorrow…always working today and waiting until tomorrow to enjoy life. Realizing one day that you are 40 now and haven’t really lived for yourself yet doesn’t feel good. Thanks for the reminders to get going today. Small steps.
Martha Sansone says
So true!! We can not imagine what it should have been but what we love and have right this very second that does give us such grand satisfaction is all we need and was always available to us. Take it and keep it sacred!!!
Dear Angel and Marc,
Thank you for this great post! Actually it reminds me of Mark Twain’s powerful quote: “20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, rather by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Your blog, emails and books are all a blessing to me!!
After coming out the other side of treatment for cancer, I am not who I was before the diagnosis. My landscape has changed. I am so much stronger in so many ways, but I am also very vulnerable and scared. I am adjusting slowly to the new me, but I feel that people are judging me, because I am not the same person I used to be. I worry that they expect me to be back to my old self now that treatment is over, but recovery is a long slow process and my old self will not be returning. Your 10 choices hit home with me and I will continue slowly down my new path, letting go of my old life and embracing the new life ahead of me. 🙂
Wonderful! This post actually got me out of bed. I planned to go out today to take some photos for enjoyment, but woke up feeling so tired and thought ‘what’s the point of doing anything today?’ Well, life is short, isn’t it, so I might as well live it 🙂 Thanks!
Dion Chettiar says
Thank you very touching!!!!
This is so timely. I have been so much attached to my goals that sometimes I forget that plans are different from reality. But now I know better and that I can always reinvent myself no matter how long I have been distracted away from who I am.
Thank you .
This post was very helpful to me because although in mind I know most of these points the reasoning given to support the points really hit home. Thanks
This was a great article! We need to be humble, even with ourselves. Forgiveness is not just for others. I am an excellent bad decision maker. I’m a professional! I choose to learn from them all so I do not repeat it. I forgive, and try to make a decision more in line with who I truly believe I am. Words are nothing. Actions are everything
Let the dust settle I’ll be able to see forest and trees and make my way somebody is me and somewhere its now show it has hitter me but now I have a chance have experienced let the old go
Moses O Adewoye says
I am profoundly grateful for this article. It is refreshingly informative. Your writings are impactful.
SUNNY MILLS says
Wonderful article. Thank you! Most of this, we know, but sadly do not implement. It’s always great to have these thumbs on the head reminders. I used to do hospice work as a social worker at a cancer center. These were many of the regrets of my dying patients.
Dianne Wilbur says
I have always tended to stay put and keep on trudging thru anything that comes along. Three years ago, I sold/rehomed the entire farm, and that includes my pets. I started going to music festivals and finding people to play music with. (I started singing before I could talk, and started playing ukulele when I was 3). I decided that since I was now free of obligations to anyone or anything, that I was going to devote the rest of my life to my music. It has worked out pretty well, and u ambhetting ready to go into the studio and record my first and second albums. And, I am traveling when and where I choose, finally. The only person hold I NG me back from chasing my dream was me. Not any longer.
Great article, Thank You.
In this evening I was thinking that I want to be happy with me and my life, as it is now ( without a child, a big house or perfect version of mine etc) /without drama anxiously feelings again and again, about the future or the past etc and your article include all my requirements” and open a window to my mind/ clarify all my struggle. I want thank you!