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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 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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