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Last Updated on November 26, 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

It’s common to think about what the most important things in life are. We all seek to align ourselves with things that truly matter and that will ultimately add to our happiness and fulfillment.

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 is important in life, really? With that question in mind, we’ll take a look at the things most people regret not pursuing and how to live a life grounded in what really matters

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

Research has found that people are haunted more by regrets about failing to fulfill their hopes, goals, and aspirations than by regrets about failing to fulfill their duties, obligations, and responsibilities.[1]

Published in Emotion, the researchers surveyed hundreds of participants, making a distinction between the “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). They asked participants to list, name, and categorize their regrets.[2]

Across the different studies, the participants said they experienced regrets concerning their ideal self more often (72% vs. 28%). Furthermore, 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% vs. 24%).

“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’s 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?

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People regret their inactions more than their actions in the long term. Not falling in love, not hanging out with good friends, and not working toward a healthy body are just a couple of common themes.

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.

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

The Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

If you 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.

When you make a decision to focus on the most important things in life, 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.[3] 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 up.

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 wish 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?”[4]

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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:

  • 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

The 5 Most Important Things in 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. Becoming the Best Version of Yourself

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 forget to cultivate good health and relationships with family members or practice self-care for better mental health.

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

This leads to regret, self-blame, and self-doubt. However, it is within us to create that amazing life we want. It means not worrying about what others think or how we will be judged.

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 forward.

“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. Chasing Your Dreams

If you don’t have clarity on your bigger purpose, dreams, and goals, it’s very easy to get sucked into an unfulfilling routine made up of long hours at work, bland relationships, and unhealthy habits.

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

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

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You are living a life of purposeful, passionate action. You fully trust yourself, so you are willing to take more risks in pursuit of your dreams[5]. Start setting your goals today.

Set goals to achieve the most important things in life.

    3. Not Living Someone Else’s Life

    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

    We should make changes in our life because we want to, rather than because of the actions or reactions of someone else. 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 lots of 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 we’re really living and if we’re truly focusing on the important things in life.

    4. Starting Tomorrow

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

    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, etc. The point is to focus on the present moment.

    For example, if you want to travel more, you can make a plan to save money each month for a big vacation. In the next couple of weeks, look up possible destinations and make an itinerary once you choose one. With each small step, you’ll get closer to achieving your goal, so start today, even if it’s just by creating a plan or timeline.

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    You can learn more about creating an action plan here.

    5. Spending 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?

    Long 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 is also relying on you to be there.

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

    One study of 309,000 people found that “lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%.[6] This is likely because social connection helps us reduce stress hormones and increase feel-good hormones that keep us happy and healthy.

    The most important things in life are often the most important people in your life, so make it a priority to spend time with them.

    Final Thoughts

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

    Create clarity around what and who is most important to you and 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 on Living a Fulfilling Life

    Featured photo credit: Katie Treadway 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.

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    Last Updated on January 18, 2021

    How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better

    How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better

    Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “If I only had (fill in the blank), I wouldn’t have to worry anymore”? It’s hard to overcome those deeply ingrained beliefs around stressors in life.

    “You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” -Wayne Dyer

    We all have stressors in life, things we worry about that keep us awake at night. Everyone experiences stress due to life events, but chronic stress can compromise our health. It can cause irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia. Stress can even weaken our immune system and make us more susceptible to illnesses.

    In this article, I am going to discuss the 5 most common stressors in life[1], and give you some suggestions for dealing with them more effectively, so you can live a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

    1. Workplace Stress

    Workplace stress is the most common stressor in life for many people. It can come from tensions with co-workers or a boss, work overload, or simply the nature of the work, such as law enforcement. Whatever the case, there are things you can do to reduce the stress.

    Here are some effective strategies.[2]

    Start Your Day Off Right

    Many of us are stressed out before we even arrive at work. We may have children to get ready and off to school, other responsibilities to tend to, and traffic with angry drivers to deal with.

    Start your day off right by getting up early enough to take care of your responsibilities, eat properly, and cultivate a positive attitude. This reduces the likelihood of feeling all out of sorts when you arrive at work.

    Know Exactly What Is Expected of You

    Many of us are not entirely clear about what our boss expects from us. This usually happens in smaller companies that may not be as organized as larger companies. It’s important to know what’s expected of you, so you can avoid unnecessary tensions.

    Communication is the key to avoiding this type of conflict. If you’re not sure what your boss expects of you, there is nothing wrong with asking your boss to clarify his requirements. In fact, it demonstrates that you are conscientious and sincerely interested in doing a good job, which your boss will appreciate.

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    Stay Organized

    A disorganized work environment creates a great deal of stress and negatively affects your mental health. You always feel rushed because you’re not sure where things are, you misjudge the time required to perform tasks, and you’re not clear on your goals and objectives.

    To reduce stress, organize your work environment a little. Start by organizing your work area, so you can easily find your tools and papers.

    Then, organize your time by determining how long it should take you to perform certain tasks, and try to dedicate the necessary time and avoid unnecessary distractions.

    Forget multitasking, as the efficiencies of multitasking are a myth. Studies have shown that people are more productive when they focus on one task at a time.

    Stay Away From Unnecessary Conflict

    Much of the day-to-day conflict at work is unavoidable. Each person has his/her own responsibilities, which may conflict with those of others. However, workplace drama is unnecessary and counterproductive.

    The best thing to do is to avoid this kind of conflict and stressful events and save yourself the aggravation and stress. Treat everyone with respect, avoid gossip, and avoid sensitive topics like politics and religion.

    With conflicts in responsibilities, a good strategy for dealing with them is to communicate your goals and objectives when they seem to conflict with those of co-workers. Remember, you’re all on the same team trying to achieve the goals of the company.

    2. Financial Stress

    Finances are another of the common stressors in life. We worry about paying the rent, a mortgage, car loans, utilities, and food. We also worry about our investments, especially if we’re nearing retirement.

    You may think that simply having more money will take away these worries, but that isn’t necessarily so. Even wealthy people worry about finances.

    Here are some suggestions for reducing financial stress.[3]

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    Live Within Your Means

    One of the biggest mistakes people make is spending more money than they have. Credit card companies are quick to give you credit cards with high interest rates, so it’s easy to overextend yourself.

    To avoid this mistake, keep track of your finances, and avoid the temptation to buy things you can’t afford. Set some money aside for unexpected expenses, such as car or home repairs. It’s a good idea to put money in a savings account every month, even if it’s a small amount.

    Educate Yourself on Finances

    For those of you who do not have a background in finance, handling money responsibly can be a challenge. Professional football players were notorious for making millions during their short careers, and then ending up broke when they could no longer play[4].

    Now the NFL gives rookie players a course in financial management so that they invest their money wisely. This is a good strategy for everyone. Some important things to learn are:

    • Managing a checking a account
    • Using credit cards wisely
    • Borrowing money
    • Making large purchases (home, car)
    • Investing for retirement

    Learning basic finances isn’t all that complicated. Once you have some understanding of finances, you can avoid the stress that comes from the unknown.

    Ask for Help

    If you feel lost or unsure about making financial decisions, it’s ok to ask someone for help. Make sure it’s someone you trust, as there are many unscrupulous people eager to take advantage of others.

    I would suggest consulting a loved one or a trusted friend. Parents are a great resource, as well. Learn from their mistakes, instead of yours.

    3. Health-Related Stress

    For many people, health problems like illness and injury are some of the biggest stressors in life. This is more common when we get older, when our body begins to decline. When we’re young, we’re more resilient, and we can recover much more quickly from injuries and illnesses.

    Experiencing an illness is frightening because, until we get it diagnosed and treated, we usually don’t know what is happening to our body, or if we will recover. However, there are things we can do to reduce the stress associated with health issues.

    Live a Healthy Lifestyle

    The approach I’ve taken to reduce health-related stress is to avoid poor health as much as possible. Since I was in my early 20s, I’ve tried to live a healthy lifestyle. I’ve eaten healthy foods, and in moderation. I’ve also exercised regularly and maintained an active lifestyle, so I’ve never been overweight.

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    I’ve also avoided abusing my body with risky activities. For example, when I was younger I was involved in bodybuilding in order to stay in shape. I wanted to compete, but I realized that would entail taking training and supplementation to an extreme that would compromise my good health, which I wasn’t willing to do.

    Know Your Risks

    Many of us have certain risk factors that are unique to each of us. Some may be genetic, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, or cancer. Whatever the case, learn your family history of health issues.

    It’s important to talk to your parents. Sometimes they don’t want to talk about sensitive issues, but it’s necessary for your good health.

    4. Relationship Stress

    Relationships are one of the greatest stressors in life, especially for younger people. We usually aren’t explicitly taught how to have good, healthy relationships. This is something we learn through experience and a lot of heartache, which can lead to having a stressful life for a long time.

    When we’re inexperienced with relationships, we usually let our emotions make our decisions for us. We get involved with people that we’re not compatible with, but who we care for deeply. If we’re not compatible, then we engage in power struggles, each person trying to exert his or her will in the relationship. This leads to a lot of stress because we feel like we lack control.

    Communicate

    One of the keys to less stressful relationships is communication. It’s important to be open about how we feel and what we’re looking for in the relationship. Sometimes you can work things out, and sometimes you can’t. If you can’t, then you need to move on before each of you has too much invested in the relationship, which makes it harder to end later.

    Practice Maturity

    Another key to less stressful relationships is maturity. It takes wisdom and mature emotions to not create unnecessary conflict and drama. These take time and experience to develop, but by being aware of how you’re acting, you can begin to learn these skills.

    5. Poor Nutrition

    Another stressor in life is poor nutrition. Most of us are not fully aware of how the things we consume can raise our stress level. Here are a few examples[5]:

    • Drinking Too Much Coffee: While coffee has many benefits, too much can increase stress by raising the level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
    • Eating Foods That Increase Cortisol Levels: There are other foods that raise your cortisol levels, such as refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, red meats, fried foods, and other foods high in fat.
    • Skipping Meals: In addition to providing us with the proper nutrients to maintain good health, stopping to eat gives us a break from our busy day, which allows us to relax and de-stress.
    • Not Drinking Water: Our body needs water to function properly, and stopping to take a drink gives us a short break.
    • Eating Compulsively: We sometimes eat as a reaction to stress, and we usually make poor choices of what to eat when this happens.

    Educate Yourself on Basic Health and Nutrition

    You can eliminate a lot of health related stress by knowing what is happening in your body. Nowadays, there is a wealth of good information on the Internet about almost every health issue you can think of.

    In order to live a healthy lifestyle, you don’t have to follow such a strict diet and exercise regimen. Mainly eat foods that are healthy, in smaller meals, and more often. Also, try to stay physically active.

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    Keep in mind that healthy food isn’t necessarily bland and tasteless. I eat lots of delicious foods and desserts. And by staying physically active, I eat as much as I want without gaining any weight, even as I’ve gotten older, and so can you.

    Meditation

    When it comes to dealing with stressors in life, mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool.

    Meditation doesn’t necessarily solve your problems, but it does enable you deal with them much better. In addition, it calms your mind, which leads to calmer emotions.

    Mindfulness meditation is easy to practice, and you don’t have to meditate for long periods to get the benefits. If you’re new to meditation, just sit quietly for 5-10 minutes following your breath. Do this several times a week, and you’ll notice a difference in the way you feel, and you won’t react so much to things that trigger your fears, anger, or anxiety.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us long for peace and tranquility in our lives. When we’re young, we tend to think that once we get or achieve certain things, we’ll be able to relax. Those of you who are middle age or older have probably realized the fallacy of this way of thinking.

    “By changing your attitude, you also change your perspective and change your life.” -Roy Bennett

    We all have stressors in life, things that cause us to worry about our future. That’s natural, but it is the unpredictable nature of the stressors that make us feel insecure and not in control.

    However, it’s not really those things that cause us the stress, but rather how we view them. Therefore, if you want to lower your stress level, you need to change the way you mentally process the circumstances in your life. To accomplish this, you basically need to do three things:

    1. Choose wisely the things that are truly important in your life.
    2. Arm yourself with information about your stressors, so you have more control over your future.
    3. Learn to live with the remaining uncertainty.

    If you can do these three things, then you can enjoy your life to the greatest extent possible.

    More Tips on Handling Stress

    Featured photo credit: Ivan Aleksic via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The American Institute of Stress: What Is Stress?
    [2] Very Well Mind: 9 Simple Ways to Deal With Stress at Work
    [3] American Psychological Association: Dealing with Financial Stress
    [4] Forbes: NFL Players Need A Playbook When Managing Their Financial Future
    [5] Exploring Your Mind: Stress and Poor Nutrition

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