End-of-life Regrets

Life is not a science experiment. You can’t run multiple trials and see which options and alternatives turn out best. In other words, you only go around once in life, which is why it’s important to think hard about the best choices you can make in your continuing effort to increase your productivity and success.

Fortunately, however, there is plenty of accumulated wisdom to tap into. In this column, let’s try to learn from what people nearing the end of their lives most commonly regret.

The motivation is simple: Recognizing potential regrets sooner rather than later can help you increase your personal productivity and level of success without incurring a big price at the end. What you gain from others’ experiences can guide you toward adjusting your own future choices accordingly.

Here, then, are some strategies to help you avoid common end-of-life regrets:

Go Your Own Way

It’s common for people to make their decisions at least partly on the basis of what other people seem to think, feel, and do. That’s why advertisers frequently show us celebrities and happy folks extolling the virtues of whatever product or service they’re trying to sell.

There’s also a conformity bias that influences us to follow in others’ footsteps, and social pressure to live our lives as others – particularly family – want us to.

But these are almost always pathways to end-of-life regret.

You can set yourself up to look back on your life with more satisfaction if you take the time and trouble to unearth your own values, passions, preferences, and so forth, and to incorporate them as much as you can into your work and your life.

Maintain Balance

We’re not really breaking new ground here. This is another area where most of us have already heard about the dangers of both short-term overwork and long-term overemphasis on career success. The problem is that too many of us unconsciously get caught up in various work-related incentives and the “rat race,” to the point where we neglect the other important parts of our lives, such as: family, friendships, creativity, passion, satisfaction, and personal growth.

One good thing about keeping work and life in proper balance is that it generally feels better than working too hard, so it’s not like you have to force yourself to do this against your natural inclination.

Avoiding end-of-life regret about work/life balance is not rocket science. But it does take awareness and intention.

Strive for Emotional Honesty

Emotionality is difficult for many of us. It involves trying to sense the emotions in the moment – both ours and others’ – and then incorporating these feelings into our behavior:

  • Accepting the feelings we experience as valid and understandable,
  • Reacting appropriately to what others are feeling, and
  • Expressing and acting on our own emotions as openly as we can.  

Many of us are unskilled and/or uncomfortable with all this, leading to an end-of-life regret that we bottled up or neglected too much of what we felt. Fortunately, we can learn and practice these skills enough to become reasonably proficient. It’s a worthwhile effort to make.

Preserve Close Relationships

In today’s hectic, complicated world where people frequently change jobs, move to new locations, and get involved in new activities, preserving close friendships and family ties takes a strong effort. That’s why many of the people we know and like often drift away from us, or we from them. That’s also why we may lose touch with the people who have been particularly important or special to us.

Some of us naturally work to maintain these close relationships. But if keeping in touch is not something you automatically do, you’ll benefit at least two ways from intentionally adding this effort to your schedule.

First, maintaining relationships with people to whom you feel close will nourish and strengthen you, helping you better cope with any adversity that life may throw your way.  

Second, you’ll avoid any end-of-life regret that may develop after years of neglecting these relationships and allowing them to wither.

Celebrate Often

There’s no question that life can be difficult, that disappointments happen, that we won’t reach some of our goals, and that failure is not only an option, it’s sometimes unavoidable. That’s all the more reason to offset these negative experiences with celebrations whenever you can.

Aside from birthdays, anniversaries, and various successes, you can find solid reasons for reflecting on the positive aspects of life in such ordinary moments and events as:

  • A beautiful day or evening,
  • A special, happy moment with a loved one or close friend,
  • A lucky experience,
  • Good health, or recovery from ill health,
  • Helping someone else, or being helped,
  • A compassionate or generous moment,
  • Feeling recharged or strengthened,
  • Feeling in tune with nature.

When you look for them, you can find these and many other reasons for mini- and maxi-celebrations. Make the most of each one and you will minimize any end-of-life regret over missing out on available happiness and pleasure.

End-of-life regrets nearly always result from a long history of badly-made choices. If, however, you start making better choices right now, you will begin to position yourself to dodge regrets that can crop up when it’s already way too late.

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