Let's face it: The thought of dying with regret is a scary one.
Speaker, author, and former nurse Bronnie Ware's experience working with patients during their last few month taught her that people often stumble upon immense clarity at the end of their lives. In other words, when everything else falls apart, what really matters comes to the surface.
She often asked her patients if they had any lingering regrets. The most common response had nothing to do with money, success, or status. Instead, it was some variation of this: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
"When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled," Ware wrote on her blog. "Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made."
The scary thing with regret is that it doesn't show up like other emotions. Instead of being a direct response to something that has happened, it sneaks up on us slowly. These three questions can help you live a fulfilling life without regret:
1. What do you want?
Oftentimes, we confuse what we truly want with what we think we want. We mix up what Vishen Lakhiani calls "end goals" with "means goals."
End goals describe something that we truly want for ourselves: to see our children grow up, to experience true happiness, to travel the world. Means goals, on the other hand, are what society tells us we need in order to get what we truly want. Getting accepted to an acclaimed university, working for a certain prestigious company, or making a specific amount of money are all means goals. Means goals are there simply to support your end goals. But often, we focus all of our attention on the means goals and lose sight of our end goals. Means goals won't satisfy us for long, but end goals will.
Make a list of all end goals you have. According to Lakhiani, all end goals fall into three different categories: experiences, growth, and contribution. When you write, think about the following questions:
- What experiences do you want out of life? (Travel, health, holidays, etc.)
- How would you like to grow? (Skills, character traits, languages to learn, etc.)
- What would you like to contribute to your family, friends, and society?
2. Why do you want it?
When we know what our motivation is for doing something, it gives us purpose. Kids know this instinctively — that's why they ask "why?" so often. They want to know the motive behind every action. We should all adopt this sense of childhood inquisitiveness and write out our reasons for pursuing various end goals.
For example, mastering French might be one of your end goals because you love Paris and are looking to form a connection with the city and its inhabitants.
3. What do you need to get there?
When you look at your list of end goals, what are the means goals that will take you there? Now is the time to get specific and bring more clarity and precision to your end goals. This is where action comes in.
If one of your end goals is to be a courageous person, means goals can include striking up conversations with strangers, going sky diving, or speaking in front of an audience. Remember that if one strategy doesn't work out, there's always another route. So stay flexible and always keep your eyes on the prize.
Living life true to yourself isn't something that happens by chance — it happens by choice. So, follow the steps above to define what you really want out of life and start taking action.
Instead of fearing what can go wrong if you act, fear what will happen if you don't.