How You Can Stop Life’s Biggest Regret

How You Can Stop Life’s Biggest Regret

What do you think the biggest life regret of most people is? The answer might not be what you think.

Today I will introduce new ways to think about regret and help you keep regret out of your life and instead fill it with purpose.

Do you have regrets? Maybe it was something you said or something you did, like getting angry when you should not have or yelling when you shouldn’t have. In a moment of crazed passion, you did something you regret.

You can’t understand purpose without understanding regret. Why? Because by the time the regret comes it might be already too late. As noted in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, humans are notoriously bad at anticipating the severity of regret in the heat of the moment.

Like a kid that steals from the cookie jar and feels great until mom or dad finds out. Or a lovers’ quarrel that ends up fueling bigger future conflicts. So maybe you think life’s biggest regret is something that you do or a mistake that you make.

Nope.

Life’s Biggest Regret, Researched

A study was done by Cornell University to measure regret. 76% of people in the study recorded their biggest regret as not being able to become their ideal selves. The study says that in the short term people regret their actions more than inaction, but in the long term, the inaction regrets stick around longer.

At the end of life, you will regret not living your best life. You will regret what you didn’t do.

I think there’s a bigger regret, but let’s linger on this research a little longer.

You will regret the kiss not kissed, the “I love you” you never said, the places you never went, the risks you never took – you will regret the lives they could have pursued. This makes sense. The human mind likes to value foregone benefits as a loss.

Think about the feeling you would get if you found out the stock you didn’t buy went up 50% the next day. Or finding out that girl you liked but didn’t ask out actually liked you. You didn’t lose anything, but you would have felt like you did.

Purpose Matters

Does this mean you should work to get whatever you want? No. It isn’t about uncontrolled desire, it is about empowering discipline. And knowing your purpose will show you exactly what to pursue.

Knowing your purpose early is crucial to a life with fewer regrets.

The later you realize your purpose, the more time you would have wasted pursuing things or experiences that you want, but might not matter. The earlier you realize your purpose, the sooner you can start focusing on only doing things that matter.

Things that Stop Purposeful Living

If you aren’t leading a significant life, either you don’t do anything, or you aren’t doing the right things. This might be because of your own limiting beliefs and distraction. Some look at successful people and think “that person got lucky” or “we can’t be like them”.

If this is you, ask yourself this: How can you take action to become successful if you believe successful people are born, not made?

You also might be distracted by doing whatever you want. As a result, you are too unfocused to do take massively goal-oriented action.

What are your limiting beliefs? In other words, what do you believe about yourself that prevents you from living with purpose? 

Maybe it is a family tradition like “Get a good job and play it safe” or a fear of judgment like “People will think I am ruining my life if I go against the norm”. 

Take some time to think about how what you believe might be sabotaging your success.

Some of us are afraid. We are afraid of living the wrong life, of encountering problems and periods of meaninglessness. We don’t know why we are doing certain things. 

To combat this, we desperately search for a life purpose to give us some clarity, and when we cannot find it we default back to our momentary escapes.

We wrongly want our purpose as a means of escaping our current reality.

If this is you, you are looking for not for life purpose, but for an escape. Instead of trying to desperately find your purpose because your current situation isn’t good, improve your current situation first. You won’t be ready for the future if you aren’t ready for the present.

How can you make this moment and the next better? What decisions can you make today that will make your tomorrow better? How can you live better now so you don’t regret it later?

What does this have to do with regret? As humans, we remember our biggest losses. So naturally, our biggest regret is when we think about the ideal life we could have had but is now too late to pursue.

Surprisingly, this big regret doesn’t come overnight. Rather, it is from the decisions we make every day to be distracted and our failure to grow.

Life’s Biggest Regret, Actually

So our biggest regret should be our daily neglect in the smaller areas of our lives. Because of the constant neglect of the small things, we can’t help but pass by on the big things.

Choosing to sleep in, choosing to waste another hour, choosing to drink out another night. All of these decisions in aggregation set us up for failure. These decisions are like a poison that we do not notice until it is too late.

Jim Rohn once said that success is the result of a few good decisions made every day and failure is the result of a few bad decisions made every day. He gives the example of a chocolate bar. Eating a chocolate bar today might not make a big difference, but a chocolate bar a day for seven years? That’s a different story.

What decisions are you making right now despite knowing that they are bad for you in the long term?

Stop making those decisions.

Knowing you could change your life one decision at a time, don’t be a spectator of the life you could have had. Instead, capture and live every moment of your present as a way of committing to your future.

To sum up:

  1. Peoples’ biggest regret at the end of life is the ideal life they could have lived
  2. You cannot live your ideal life unless you have a purpose that centers you. Otherwise, you will feel unfulfilled no matter how many passions you pursue.
  3. Big regrets come from smaller, harder to notice decisions that we make every single day. Sometimes our habits and limiting beliefs set us up for failure. Take care of your today before worrying about tomorrow.

Take Action: What might be some of your limiting beliefs or distractions? Write them down on a piece of paper, and then put the piece of paper in the bottom of the drawer. You don’t need to carry your limiting beliefs with you.

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