This is not an article about wearing sunscreen (I do) or coloring your hair (I do that too). It’s not about how you look at all, but how you feel and how you experience your life. You can stop doing these things when you are 23, 35, 62, 84 or any age to avoid regret when you are older. And more importantly, so you can start enjoying your life more right now.
Living with regret can be very painful. Dan Pink, author of many books including, The Power Of Regret, How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward suggest instead of minimizing regret, we learn how to optimize regret. He says, in this NPR article, A relentless drive forward, a relentless posture of happiness, does not make for a full life. “Americans have been sold a bill of goods that we should be positive all the time, that we should always look forward,” Pink says. “There’s a reason we experience negative emotions. They’re useful if we treat them right. Regret, you don’t want to wallow in it. You don’t want to ruminate over it. But if you think of it as a signal, as information, as a knock at the door, it is a powerfully transformative emotion.”
Even though we may be able to optimize regret and use it to move forward in a more positive way, regret also has a way of building up. When we are living in the sadness and disappointment of regret, it’s likely we’ll make other decisions that we’ll eventually regret. This list of things we’ll regret when we are older may bring light to some things you want to consider now to avoid a build up of regret later.
1. Apologizing for taking care of yourself.
When we apologize for taking care of ourselves, we often end up compromising the care we know we need. From staying out late, over scheduling ourselves and tolerating behavior that doesn’t contribute to our overall health, we save taking care for later, for tomorrow. And then later, we feel rundown or even get sick because we didn’t do what we knew we needed to do. That moment, when you think you don’t have time or approval to take care of yourself is the exact moment you need to take care of yourself.
Not apologizing for taking care of yourself may mean not sharing or over explaining. It may also mean you don’t expect support from people who don’t typically support you.
2. Spending so much time on your phone.
The time we spend on our phones is getting in the way of creativity, connection, focus, sleep and more. When I hosted the Less Phone, More Life Challenge a couple of years ago, I asked people to track the time they spent online. They reported spending 3-5 hours a day on average. If we work with the lower number of 3 hours a day, that’s 21 hours a week, which is 1092 hours a year or 45 days.
Use some of these little tricks to cut your screen time by 25% in a couple of weeks. If we don’t stop now, there will be a day where we regret the relationships we didn’t pay attention to, the projects we didn’t pursue, the world we never saw and our general inability to pay attention to anything for very long.
3. Trying to be right.
The things I usually try to be right about are not even a little bit important to me. When I figured that out, I stopped proving myself, and stopped trying to convince others of what I thought I knew. I even stopped believing everything I think. I don’t have the time and energy to be right, to argue my point, or to engage in conversations about things when others are committed to misunderstanding me. Being right can’t be more worthwhile than being connected, rested and well. I’d rather notice how lovely my first cup of coffee smells, go for a hike or read a book. I know I will regret investing more of myself trying to be right. Can you relate?
4. Stop saying yes when you want to say no.
You are allowed to say no even when you aren’t busy. You can stay home instead of going to an event that sounds dreadful. You can say no when your heart says no. You can say no when you need to take care of yourself (see no. 1). You can say no when you crave more peace, quiet, or anything else you want for your life. If you don’t, you’ll likely regret all of those moments when you really wanted to say yes but didn’t have the energy or time. If you don’t have time for what matters, stop doing things that don’t.
5. Stop assuming everyone is against you.
If you must make assumptions, assume in your favor. Assume that everyone is cheering you on and that everything is working in your favor. When we think that people are having thoughts about our lives, our actions, our interests and our behaviors, we change. We change who we are for something that may not even be happening. The only way to live in alignment with your own heart and to avoid the regret of pretending to be something you are not only to please others and what they might be thinking or expecting is to keep coming back to yourself.
6. Wanting things for other people more than they want them for themselves.
Pushing your agenda and expectations on the people you love in the name of “knowing what’s best for them” will end in regret. Even if they bend to your will, you’ll know your relationship was built on conditions instead of love, support and encouragement. This rarely begins with malicious intent but the impact it has can be devastating. You can break this habit and avoid future regret by noticing when it’s happening. If you keep going and tell yourself that you are just trying to help, remember as Anne Lamott says, “Help is the sunny side of control.”
7. Saying mean things to yourself.
We say things to ourselves that we would never say to someone else and never tolerate hearing from someone else. Our inner critics can be real jerks. I don’t know about you but telling myself how much I suck at something has never made me better at whatever the something is. When your inner critic isn’t being helpful, acknowledge the thought, “I hear you and I don’t receive that.” Then, just a reminder of who’s in charge of you, follow that up with saying something sweet and gentle to yourself. Keep doing this and eventually, the mean version of your inner critic won’t show up so much. If you struggle with this, watch this talk to quiet your beast.
8. Giving up on our dreams.
This may be something you are regretting already. Perhaps you didn’t think you had the talent, time or other resources to pursue your dreams. If there is something you are curious about or excited about now, define the dream. Write it down and ask concrete questions like, “What will it take to make this dream a reality?” If the list feels too long or too out of reach, make it smaller. What’s a step you can take today that will bring you closer? Who’s living your dream who you might be able to learn from? Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t stop dreaming up new dreams.
You may see yourself in some of these 8 things to stop doing now to avoid regret when you are older. I know I see myself in some. If you do, celebrate your openness and willingness to look at things that may not be serving you, now or later. Perhaps with some extra awareness and small shifts you can regret less later and enjoy your life more.