How to Choose a Life Without Regret
Advice for accepting your wrong turns and charting a new direction
What is your biggest regret?
Far too often, our biggest regrets are not the things we said or did and they aren’t the times we failed. More often, we regret never even trying.
Are you willing to accept a clean slate?
This is actually the critical question.
Regret ties people up in knots. It causes people to obsess about their past and mourn what might have been over and over. Regret welcomes in the victim mindset, tells it to sit down and stay a while because all of the good opportunities have passed by.
In order to live a life without regret, you’re first going to have to be willing to accept a clean slate. You have to forgive yourself for whatever you did or didn’t do in your past. You’re going to have to accept that a do-over is rarely without a cost of some kind. You’ll be choosing change and all of the discomfort and adjustment that can come with pivoting in a new direction.
Accept your wrong turns and own your desire for a new direction.
Facing regret sometimes means facing the reality that you took a left when you should have gone right. You majored in science instead of following your passion for photography. You said yes to the “safe” relationship that never had the potential to make you really happy. You never moved to California because you didn’t want to upset your family.
You either took a wrong turn or hoped that your path would lead you to a happier place and things didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Living without regret means accepting these things happen and choosing to turn around, setting yourself on the path that you really want. It requires you to take a do-over with all of the work, compromise, and investment that entails.
Get really clear on what it is you want now.
You’re not going to know what to use that clean slate for until you get really clear on what it is you want.
Right here is where people first get stuck.
They get caught up asking themselves the wrong questions:
- How can I even think of going back to school when I am still paying off student loans from my last college?
- How can I think of disrupting my kids’ lives with this new pursuit? It’s not their fault that I didn’t do something new when I had the chance. Why should I disrupt their lives for my own pleasure?
- I’m 45 years old, how can I even be thinking of running a marathon when I can’t complete a 5k without getting winded?
- I made my bed and now I have to lie in it. How can I possibly shift and disrupt so many lives simply to pursue my own happiness?
- How can I be that selfish?
When you start moving toward how you are going to do something before you even figure out what it is you want to do, you’re creating obstacles for yourself before you start.
Thoughts like these are exactly what got you in this place to begin with. You decided something was too indulgent, too expensive, too risky, and too improbable and you told yourself you couldn’t have it. Other people deserved to have their dreams and passions pursued but it just wasn’t possible for you and you moved on, settling for less than you wanted and dreamed.
Once you are crystal clear on what it is you want and have made a commitment to yourself to go out and get it, problem solving around obstacles becomes easier. You can figure out timing and finances. You can communicate to your loved ones about your dream and its importance in your life. You can get others to jump in, lend a hand, and support you in your endeavors.
Feeling selfish isn’t a reason not to do it.
So many people stop here, at this thought: How could I be so selfish? My dreams and my goals are going to come at the cost of someone or something else. I couldn’t possibly pursue this now. I couldn’t disrupt so and so’s life right now. That wouldn’t be fair. I couldn’t live with myself.
People stay in miserable relationships, jobs, and living situations because making a change might unfairly affect someone else and doing anything else feels selfish.
Just because it feels selfish or indulgent doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong thing to do. It also doesn’t mean that your friends, family, or kids, aren’t capable of making some kind of adjustment so that you can be happier.
When you’re living a “less than” life, you have no idea how much energy it takes to push through the mediocrity. You’re not always aware that you’re being weighed down by obligations and expectations that you’ve come to resent. Lying to yourself about your satisfaction with your life takes energy.
When you free yourself of that burden, state clearly your intent and wish, and begin to plan for the adjustments and changes that come next, everything becomes infinitely easier. By putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, you’re going to be better at everything. Living honestly and pursuing your dreams will allow you to be more authentic and present in your relationships. With your needs being addressed and attended to, problem solving will feel more natural and easy.
It’ll be hard. You’ll be outside your comfort zone. So?
Chasing a dream, pivoting your life, or making a change to a relationship isn’t easy but just because something is going to be hard doesn’t mean that’s a reason not to do it. Change is scary. Taking a chance on something new is vulnerable. You might be living in fear and uncertainty for a while. Are you really considering that to be a reason not to do something?
After all, that fear of failure, the thought of the work involved and contemplating how hard it would be are all thoughts that likely played into you not following your dream in the first place. That’s how you landed with regret. The thought of hard work didn’t really stop you from wanting it. If it did, you wouldn’t be feeling regretful.
If you were already the person you wanted to be, what would your life be like and what would you be doing?
As you face every decision, every conversation, and every choice, consider this one thing: Does it bring your closer to your dreams and where you want to be or further away?
If you’re ready for a life without regret, that’s the question that you’ll need to answer every day and every time. It won’t be easy but easy hasn’t really worked out for you anyway
Heather Gray of Choose to Have it All.com is a clinically trained coach and therapist with 15 years of experience. Working locally in Wakefield, MA or offering distance sessions through phone or Skype, Heather works with her clients to identify what they want but don’t have and teaches the movement required to get it. Grab her FREE tip sheet: 51 Ways to be Happier Right Now and join her Facebook group to connect with other people choosing happier, more fulfilling personal lives.
Originally published at www.choosetohaveitall.com on February 4, 2016.