Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer at forty-two years old, I had never considered my demise. Yes, I’d had hypothetical conversations about the unseen pendulum that hangs over all our heads, but hypothetical thoughts and conversations about regrets are just that — not really felt at a visceral level. It wasn’t the same as hearing the doctor break the news that the prognosis wasn’t good.
My life flashed before me and I began thinking, “Before I die I want to ….”
Thinking about my death helped to clarify the remaining time I had. I didn’t want to regret not doing, feeling, saying, or experiencing life as designed by me and for me before I left this realm.
Regret can come flooding into our souls if we haven’t apologized or perhaps forgiven, or if we haven’t done what we promised we’d do. But when we get to the end, hopefully we can look back with satisfaction at the majority of our life and feel pretty good that we followed through on most things.
I’m talking about regret today so we can overcome its negative impact on our lives.
What do older people regret?
Top regrets include:
~failure to seize the moment
~not spending enough time with friends and family
~not pursuing a stated interest
~not having had children
~not quitting a job or partner sooner
Research confirms that we regret mostly those things we didn’t do. My main personal regret is failing to treat my body as the temple it is. In spite of my cancer diagnosis, obviously, I persevered and have been cancer free for twenty-six years. I wish I could redo the years I smoked and ate poorly. But since I can’t take those actions back, I focus instead on striving to get over my regrets about those bad habits so that negative feelings can’t erode the happiness of my remaining time.
Overcoming regret is a power salve.
Regret can be most dynamic when it’s over something we can change. I replaced my crummy smoking and eating habits years ago. I made amends for past mistakes and for hardships I may have caused others. And knowing I might regret not seeing my father’s family one more time before I pass, I’d better think about the best time to make that trip.
Years ago I identified the regret that I didn’t unplug from my iPhone, computer, and social media more often. I knew that would haunt me if I didn’t do something about it. As a result, I established my “no-tech days” — one or two days a month where I completely eliminate all “tech” things for twenty-four hours, and spend all of that time in nature, reading, or visiting with friends and family.
And while I can’t do anything about not having had children, I CAN learn to let go of that reality, refusing to let that decision cloud the happiness of my elder years. It does no good to let that regret hang over me now — there’s nothing I can do about it. If I’m motivated to spend time with young people, I will identify a useful volunteer activity that can satisfy that desire.
What can you do about any regrets you may have?
Regret can humongously shape our remaining years by teaching us what is really important — our true priorities. I encourage you to look closely at any regrets. Let go of those you can’t do anything about and see if you can turn the others into some of your final accomplishments.
If you don’t do it now, you’ll probably regret it.