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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

The 5 Most Important Things in Life You’ll Regret Not Pursuing

The 5 Most Important Things in Life You’ll Regret Not Pursuing

The definition of Regret in the Oxford English Dictionary is:[1]

“Feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that one has done or failed to do)”

When was the last time you sat down and asked yourself:

“What hopes, dreams and plans do I have?”

“What does my ideal future look like?”

“What is my purpose in life?”

“What do I really want from life, love and my career?”

How we set ourselves up to create a life well lived versus a life half lived is often more about the regrets we have over the things we failed to do rather than the things we actually did.

We regret more not becoming our ideal selves, or the person we truly wanted to be. We regret living an unfulfilled life. We regret living in fear and not having the courage to focus on the things and people that truly matter most.

What We Regret Most

I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying. — Jeff Bezos

Psychologist Tom Gilovich and his colleague Shai Davidai have found in a new research piece “The Ideal Road Not Taken” that people are haunted more by regrets about failing to fulfil their hopes, goals and aspirations than by regrets about failing to fulfil their duties, obligations and responsibilities.[2]

Published in Emotion, the researchers surveyed hundreds of participants, making a distinction between “ideal self” (not achieving goals they had set for themselves, their dreams and ambitions) and “the ought self” (not meeting the norms and rules they had for themselves or fulfilling their obligations to others), before asking them to list, name and categorise their regrets.[3]

Across the different studies, the participants said they experienced regrets concerning their ideal self more often (72 per cent vs. 28 per cent).

They mentioned more ideal-self regrets than ought-self regrets when asked to list their regrets in life so far (57 per cent vs. 43 per cent).

When asked to name their single biggest regret in life, participants were more likely to mention a regret about not fulfilling their ideal self (76 per cent vs. 24 per cent mentioning an ought-self regret).

“When we evaluate our lives, we think about whether we’re heading toward our ideal selves, becoming the person we’d like to be. Those are the regrets that are going to stick with you, because they are what you look at through the windshield of life. The ‘ought’ regrets are potholes on the road. Those were problems, but now they’re behind you.” – Tom Gilovich

Let us ponder a couple of questions:

What is it that you currently regret most about your life?

What do you most not want to regret about your life when your time is up?

People regret their inactions more than their actions in the long term. None of us are perfect. We are all going to make mistakes. We can often learn from our mistakes, and take actions to rectify problems.

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Many mistakes can be fixed or apologized for. It is the lack of action, the lack of courage to follow through that can haunt us for a long time.

Maybe you never started writing that book despite your love for writing. Perhaps you haven’t set up your own dream business because you were afraid of what people would think if you actually tried.

You didn’t learn that instrument you always wanted to because you were worried you wouldn’t be good enough. You didn’t continue your education because your friends were getting jobs.

Fear of taking that first step. Fear of following your dreams. Fear of pursuing your purpose.

A lot of people wait for inspiration and confidence before getting started. They wait and wait and never actually take that first step.

The thing is, taking action is that first step to ensure you avoid regrets.

Confidence comes with taking action. Making a commitment to follow through and then having the courage to do it builds the momentum.

“If you cannot risk, you cannot grow. If you cannot grow, you cannot become your best. If you cannot become your best, you cannot be happy. If you cannot be happy, what else matters?” – Dr. David Viscott

The things we want to do in our life don’t go away. The extraordinary results we want to achieve in our life, in our relationships, in our career, in our health and wellbeing, and in our purpose are driven by courage and faith.

If we don’t fearlessly pursue these things, we start blaming ourselves for not taking action and the regret compounds.

The Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

But if we are clear on our purpose and priorities in life, you can create the personal power necessary to push through, and take action on the things that matter most. To avoid the thing that can undermine our living a life well lived – regret.

When you make a decision to focus on creating your ideal future, to create a life with no regrets you’ll move from “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” to “I lived a life worth living” and “I made a difference.”

To get through the hardest journey, we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping. – Chinese Proverb

Bonnie Ware’s 2012 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying tells us much about living a life to minimize regrets.[4] Ware spent many years in palliative care, looking after patients who had gone home to die. When she questioned these patients about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, a number of common themes came through.

The five most common themes were, in descending order:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to life a life true to myself not the life others expected of me
  • I wished I hadn’t worked so hard
  • I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I’d stayed in touch with friends
  • I wish that I’d let myself be happier

The most common regret, by far, was ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me. According to Ware:

“Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices that they made, or not made.”

These themes are similar to the ones that came through when Guardian journalist Emma Freud asked the question on Twitter “What is your biggest regret?”[5]

Being held back by fear, self-blame and bad choices around love, learning and loss were the most frequent responses.

The most frequent regrets focused around:

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  • Not doing the right thing/being there when someone died
  • Not speaking up
  • Not pursuing higher levels of education
  • Fear of following their dreams
  • Unrequited or non-pursuit of love
  • Self-blame around anxiety
  • Taking too long to make a change

5 Most Important Things in Your Life

Through all of my research, speaking to clients, friends, family and my own self-analysis of regrets in my life, there are 5 core things in your life that you’ll probably regret not pursuing if you don’t do something about them today.

A lot of the other regrets you may have are a by-product of not getting the core things right.

1. Become the Person You Truly Could Be

We often let doubt and fear hold us back from living a life of purpose and passion. This stops us from constantly growing and becoming a better version of ourselves.

We have a number of things we want to do in our lives, yet many of these things never see the light of day. We aspire to do things, to achieve, to have success, to build great relationships but we hold ourselves back.

We worry that we don’t have the right information to make the right decision. We’re fearful that we’re actually good enough. We’re scared of the changes that could happen in our lives so take the safe route instead.

This leads to regret, self-blame and self-doubt. But it is within us to create that amazing life we want. To see more. Do more. Learn more. Travel more.

It means not worrying about what others think. Not worrying about who will judge us.

Be fully present, surround yourself with the right people that cheer you on, have more fun and take more risks.

No matter how many times you fall you get back up and keep moving forwards.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than 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.”– Mark Twain

2. Not Chasing Your Dreams

If you don’t have clarity on your bigger purpose, dreams and goals, it’s very easy to get sucked into daily life.

Sucked into the long hours at work, the same friends, the same activities, the same routines, the same habits.

There is no growth, no change, no transformation. Rather than pursuing your dreams and growing every day you become stuck.

When you have a clear direction for your life, when your priorities are top of mind you are clearer on the steps you can take to move forward.

You know where you are. You know what is most important. You know where you are going.

You are living a life of purposeful, passionate action. You have a lot more fun. You are happier. You are more confident. You are learning and growing every day.

You fully trust yourself, so are willing to take more risks in pursuit of your dreams. Start setting your goals today.

3. Live Your Life, Not the Life of Someone Else

Comparing yourself to others and living someone else’s life can only lead to bitterness, self-doubt, inaction and heartache.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

Your life is your life and your journey is your journey. We should make changes in our life because we want to, rather than because of the actions or reactions of someone else.

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Stay away from negative environments and negative people that can poison your progress, erode your confidence and cause self-doubt to creep in. Surround yourself, instead, with people that inspire you.

Many of us get sucked into living the life that we think a good son or daughter should live, or what our parents ‘expect’ of us.

We often make key life and business decisions because we think it’s what will make our parents happy. We believe our happiness is derived through their happiness.

It’s only later, when we become dissatisfied with our lives that we start to question “Whose life am I living?”

Run your own race on your own terms to avoid feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that lead to inaction and regret.

4. Starting Tomorrow

We always think we have more time than we do. The reality is that we don’t. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so the best thing you can do is start making a chance today.

When you are setting goals, the goals you set are the ideal you in the future. The best way to create that ideal future is to start now, in this present moment, not tomorrow.

Spending just five minutes now doing something significant, in this present moment, could help you move one step closer to your dreams.

It could be a decision you make, a conversation you have, something you read. It could be anything. The point is to focus on the present moment.

What have you been putting off that you could focus on right now?

Do you want to get healthier?

Do you want to exercise more?

Do you want to learn a language?

Do you want to spend more time with someone important?

Do you want to get back in touch with old friends?

Do you want to be a better parent/husband/wife/son/daughter?

It could be anything. The point is to simply get started and take action on what matters to you.

5. Missing Time with Family and Friends

One of the biggest investments you can make in your life is to free up more of your time to spend with the people that matter most.

This is often easier said than done. How do you balance your work commitments with being home for dinner with your family or spending more time with your children?

I would argue that freeing up your time for rejuvenation and focused time with your family improves your work performance, but that’s another article.

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The longer and longer hours at work can cause worry and stress. You’re worried about ‘not putting the hours in at work’ and creating issues with your boss and co-workers, but at the same time your family are also relying on you to be there.

Making it up to your family for the long hours can be a constant struggle. Missing family dinners in exchange for ‘quality time’ at the weekend is a hard one to justify.

It’s really about taking control of your schedule to ensure you are there for both the everyday and the moments that matter in the hearts and minds of those people closest to you.

This reminds me of a story, excerpted from Gary Keller’s book The One Thing:

One evening, a young boy hopped up on his father’s lap and whispered, “Dad, we don’t spend enough time together.” The father, who dearly loved his son, knew in his heart this was true and replied, “You’re right and I’m so sorry. But I promise I’ll make it up to you. Since tomorrow is Saturday, why don’t we spend the entire day together? Just you and me!” It was a plan, and the boy went to bed that night with a smile on his face, envisioning the day, excited about the adventurous possibilities with his Pops.

The next morning the father rose earlier than usual. He wanted to make sure he could still enjoy his ritual cup of coffee with the morning paper before his son awoke, wound up and ready to go. Lost in thought reading the business section, he was caught by surprise when suddenly his son pulled the newspaper down and enthusiastically shouted, “Dad, I’m up. Let’s play!”

The father, although thrilled to see his son and eager to start the day together, found himself guiltily craving just a little more time to finish his morning routine. Quickly racking his brain, he hit upon a promising idea. He grabbed his son, gave him a huge hug, and announced that their first game would be to put a puzzle together, and when that was done, “we’ll head outside to play for the rest of the day.”

Earlier in his reading, he had seen a full-page ad with a picture of the world. He quickly found it, tore it into little pieces, and spread them out on the table. He found some tape for his son and said, “I want to see how fast you can put this puzzle together.” The boy enthusiastically dove right in, while his father, confident that he had now bought some extra time, buried himself back in his paper.

Within minutes, the boy once again yanked down his father’s newspaper and proudly announced, “Dad, I’m done!” The father was astonished. For what lay in front of him — whole, intact, and complete — was the picture of the world, back together as it was in the ad and not one piece out of place. In a voice mixed with parental pride and wonder, the father asked, “How on earth did you do that so fast?”

The young boy beamed. “It was easy, Dad! I couldn’t do it at first and I started to give up, it was so hard. But then I dropped a piece on the floor, and because it’s a glass-top table, when I looked up I saw that there was a picture of a man on the other side. That gave me an idea!

“When I put the man together, the world just fell into place.”

So, in the end, we often truly regret the chance and opportunities we didn’t take.

However, if you know what you’re going after, then you’ll find a way to reach it.

Final Thoughts

Too often, we don’t focus on and spend enough time figuring out how we can live the life that we want. This leads to recriminations, self-doubt, blame and regrets.

It’s not always easy, but if you know where you are headed (your ideal future), have set specific goals and are committed to getting there it’s important to take the time to be clear about what you stand for.

To have clarity around what and who are most important to you, what is your purpose, and then take the courageous steps to focus only on those things that truly matter.

That way, you’re far more likely to create a life well lived, rather than one full of regrets.

More About Living a Fulfilling Life

Featured photo credit: Tom Ezzatkhah via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

How to Be More Self-Assured and Get More Done During the Week How to Bullet Journal to Skyrocket Your Productivity 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life The 5 Most Important Things in Life You’ll Regret Not Pursuing 8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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