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7 Most Common Regrets People Have When They Look Back On Their Lives

7 Most Common Regrets People Have When They Look Back On Their Lives

It’s one of the biggest ironies in life, that many of us live our lives doings things we don’t really want to do, and neglecting things that are truly important to us, and only finally at the ends of our lives, look back and admit we wish we’d done it differently.

It isn’t a big surprise to most people, that on our deathbeds, most of us regret things like not spending enough time with family, or working too much and not having enough fun. We are, as educated adults, aware, even if we are living a life outwardly that makes it seem otherwise, that the most important things in life are family, love, health, and happiness.

Yet, even though we possess enough common sense to know this, many of us are unable to let go of the pursuit of things that often take us farther and farther away from what is truly important, and what we should value the most. Money, professional ‘success’ or promotions, buying more stuff, driving nicer cars, dressing in nicer clothes, filling up our 401ks – these things make us feel like we are accomplishing something during our lives. They allow us to say (if silently) ‘look at me, I’m successful! I’m responsible. I’m smart.’

Yet, while we pursue these things, we miss out on so many others. Like nieces and nephews birthday parties, time with our siblings, family holidays, vacations, intimate relationships.

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Many of us now even spend a couple of decades working and casually dating (like so many of us 20s-30s who live in cities), instead of allowing ourselves to love (like we want to) because we are so addicted to just ‘putting the time in’ until we can fill our bank accounts with enough to make us feel safe, or get that next promotion so we can tell ourselves ‘we’ve made it’ far enough before we can allow ourselves to consider falling in love.

Soon, our work, our career, our goals become our identity and we can’t remember what it was like to relax and go spend a spontaneous weekend with family, or chat for hours on the phone with our mom, or to be in a real and meaningful relationship. We stop getting invitations to friend and family gatherings because people stop expecting there to be any chance of our showing up.

In order to remind ourselves what we should already be reminding ourselves of every day (what is important to us), let’s take a look at a list of the most common regrets people have when looking back on their lives:

1. Not having the courage to be true to ourselves

Most people regret not living a life more true to themselves, but instead feeling obligated to fulfill spoken or unspoken obligations to family, society, etc. They wish they had had more courage to do the things they wanted, instead of the things they felt they should do.

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2. Remaining in an unfulfilling job or career instead of taking a risk and pursuing something we were passionate about

This sort of goes along with #1, but specifically has to do with where we choose to spend most of our lives. Since most of us work more than 40 hours a week and get only about 2 weeks of vacation per year, our careers and jobs are a HUGE part of our lives. If we spend the majority of our time doing something that we don’t like and that doesn’t fulfill us or challenge us, we are cheating ourselves out of what could be a much more meaningful life.

Let go of the image you want to present to the world (with your perfect job or title) and think about what you’d really be willing to do, if you could wake up every day excited about your job. Take a paycut? Live in a smaller house, or move out of the city? Give up the designer clothes and expensive lattes every day? What’s the value of feeling like your life has meaning and being happier?

3. Not spending more time with family

We all know that family should be the most important thing in our lives, so why do so many of us take it for granted until it’s too late? Say no to working late this week and eat dinner with your family. If you’re not married, call a sibling or your parents and see what they’re up to. If they live far away, schedule a Skype conversation. Look for airfare deals and plan an impromptu weekend home. Go fishing with your dad. Whatever. Just do it now instead of waiting until ‘one day’.

Our parents are going to leave this earth sooner than we are which means we don’t have the luxury of waiting until we’ve retired to finally spend time with them. Siblings and offspring are around longer, sure, but they are only young for so long. Soon they’ll have their own families and like the Neil Young (Old Man) song, they might have as little time for you as you had for them when they wanted you around.

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4. Not expressing our true feelings more

Not expressing our true feeling is something most of us regret during our lives, but even more so when we are closer to our deaths. Knowing that the regret is only going to get worse over the years, why not start making an effort now to tell those who are important to you how much they mean to you? Or telling someone you care about, that might not know it, how you feel? The worst outcome can’t be as bad as regretting what you didn’t do, on your death bed

5. Not keeping in touch with old friends

It’s tough keeping in touch with old friends sometimes. Especially if you live or work in different cities, states, or countries. Or if you’ve outgrown each other in some ways, or just have completely different lives. We might think we’ll always have a chance one day to reconnect, or maybe we just don’t think it’s that important because people naturally grow apart.

However, since this is at the top of the list of regrets for most of us at the end of our lives, we can assume that it’s an important one to be aware of. Why not reach out to an old friend via Facebook and just catch up? Plan to have coffee next time you’re in their city or vice versa. Plan a reunion weekend with a group of old friends. What do you have to lose?

6. Working too much/not having enough fun

People seem to really wish they had spent more time having fun, instead of working so many hours, or wasting time fulfilling obligations and doing meaningless things (streaming 50 hours of netflix per week? Probably not going to consider this a great use of time when you’re older). They wish they’d spent more time doing things that made them truly happy/gave them joy.

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Hugged someone lately? Gone to the beach and wiggled your toes in the sand and played all day in the water and the sun? Taken a class on something you’ve always wanted to learn to do? Danced? Laughed? Let the wind and the smell of the forest invigorate you while you hike, run, or bike alone in nature? Every minute spent being happy is good for our health, and these moments are those that we will remember fondly. Why not make as many of them as possible?

7. Not traveling enough/Not taking enough vacations

This is big for us in America, as we just don’t have a lot of vacation time, and we have a culture built around the idea that working harder is better and being seen to work more hours makes you look good to your boss/bosses. But statistics prove that people aren’t more efficient, when they take fewer vacations/work more hours. They are in fact, less efficient. Excessive time working, will only be time you wish you had spent doing something of more personal value.

Figure out how to take more 3 day weekends (even if you have to take unpaid vacation), negotiate more vacation days per year, negotiate work from home days, so you can start your weekends earlier and avoid the ‘who’s still at their desk after 6pm’ game at your office. Set boundaries and stick to them. If your company doesn’t respect your need for a personal life, start working towards getting a new job, with a company that does.

In short: Don’t wait until you’re almost dead to start living.

Featured photo credit: Huy Phan via images.unsplash.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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