My buddy said to me, “When my mom died, there was only one thing that haunted her.”
It wasn’t the cancer that had ravaged her body. It wasn’t leaving this world.
It was regret. She had been a great mother. A great wife. Had lived a wonderful life, yet, on her death bed, she regretted those things that she didn’t do.
At the time they seemed like the right trade-offs, but looking back, she wished that she had pushed a little harder to do some more things just for herself.
Plenty of research studies of people late in life confirm this common regret, and there are tons of cliches and quotes on this topic, like Mark Twain’s:
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.
Inspiring! But, how do you get beyond the cliches and actually live this way?
How do you keep reminding yourself to break out of doing what is comfortable, and get yourself to do those things that you one day will regret not having done?
Some people use a bucket list, which for most people is a formal way of cataloguing their regrets ahead of time; most will kick the bucket before they empty their list.
Rather than lists which we look at each time someone we know dies, our brain needs constant reminders of what truly matters to us.
Noodling on it with my buddy, I suggested that, to live the lesson he learned from his mom that he take the following two steps:
1. In the left hand column of a table, list out the key areas of your life: Health, Work, Family, Adventure, Love, Challenge, Growth, Contribution, Money, and so on. Think of as many categories that are right for you.
2. In the right hand column, write down, if you were to die today, what would you regret not having done. Then, commit yourself to a schedule, whereby, say once a month, you do one of those things on your “Regret List.”
Obviously this is very simple to do, and ultimately it comes down to how serious we each are about living a full life, versus dying with regrets.