I often look back and think about what I would have done differently had I been more aware of living in the present, and made certain changes soon enough so that my regrets in life remained minimal.
Blessed are those among us who don’t feel the need to apologize to someone, somewhere, because that is unusual. “No regrets” is an exception to the rule. Truth is, there are very few of us who live without them.
Regrets are such sad, mournful things—a heavy bucket of them will pin us down. The good news is we can tweak what isn’t working in our lives, and hone what is before it’s too late. We can carry lighter buckets to our graves if we are open to suggestions.
To live without a big pile of regrets, what can we do?
1. Prioritize our children.
I found it difficult to do anything with my children unless my house was clean and organized. “In a minute,” is something I said often, just so I could finish up whatever I was doing before I made time for them. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. Making our children wait for us to “be ready” is something a lot of us have in common.
Children grow up quickly, and they fly away before we blink twice. Mundane chores can wait. Trust me, there will be years and years of a clean, quiet house after the kids leave the nest.
2. Express ourselves.
Speaking up is something many of us find difficult. We don’t want to offend others or argue, so we keep our feelings to ourselves. Being reserved is fine, but it can make us feel shallow. When we learn to respectfully express our ideas and opinions, it’s empowering. I regret not speaking up in certain situations along the way for fear of “rocking the boat,” or creating “drama,” but I’ve learned that expression is a healer.
When we hold things inside, our resentments and anger grow larger, and they turn into regrets over time.
3. Stop blaming our parents.
We, adults, are riddled with problems, big and small, and we look for someone or something to blame. Often, we point the finger at our poor parents. We dance in the shadow of our upbringing, that’s for sure, and while some of us didn’t hit the jackpot in terms of family, many of us who look to blame our failures on mom or dad need to take a step back.
The truth is, children do not come with instructions.
4. Travel to far off lands.
When I graduated from college, several friends of mine did some fun things. One went to Europe for a whole summer with just her backpack and a passport. Another group left in two cars and headed west, with no set plan. They found jobs and settled in to different lives far from where we grew up. As we get older, the years seemingly fly by.
And while I don’t regret my choice to have a family, I do regret not being more adventurous or traveling more when I had no serious responsibilities and more carefree opportunities to do so.
5. Save money.
Money in, money out. Many of us adjust our spending habits based on our current income, and this is, to put it lightly, a fool’s game. Having a savings account is the foundation for personal freedom and stability which are both essential for happiness. Knowing we have money saved changes our perspective. It may help us take certain risks (quitting a horrible job, for example) that opens other doors.
I regret not saving money sooner. Most of the material things I’ve purchased “in the moment” only proved to satiate instant gratification, and nothing more.
6. Put health first.
Fitness inside and out is a byproduct of clean eating and regular exercise. Why do we push it to the back of the line? Taking care of our bodies is important because, in doing so, it alleviates some of our emotional stresses too.
“I wish I stopped smoking earlier,” or I “regret not losing the weight and now I have health problems,” are two common laments we often hear. Good eating habits and plenty of exercise may not always thwart disease, but they can make a huge difference in our quality of life. Not surprisingly, nobody ever says, “I regret my healthy habits.” Physical activity is one of the keys to a happy and productive life. Exercise changes our minds, and that is what’s needed for growth.
7. Be in the picture.
We “remove” ourselves from life when we hide or stay out of the photograph. I’ve sorted through countless photos, and much to my dismay, I’m either not in them at all, or I’m hiding in the back row. Guess what? People know what I look like now, and they knew what I looked like then, and it doesn’t change how they feel about me.
When I find myself bowing out of the picture, I stop myself because I know I’ll regret it later. Photos tell our story. If we’re not in them, we’ve essentially removed ourselves from our own life.
8. Let go of resentment.
Many of us hold grudges. We spend our days a little angry, wallowing inside a mucky mud puddle of negativity over specific circumstances and/or experiences. Instead of confronting our feelings or changing what we can (our own behaviors), we let our resentments pile up.
I regret not letting go of some of my resentments along the way because they kept me from focusing on the things within my control that make me happy.
9. Stop criticizing others.
We all have our moments. When I watch reality shows about addiction for example, like “My 600-lb Life” or “Intervention” I am a little too quick to be disgusted. I often think, “what’s wrong with these people, why can’t they just change?” But then I remember that we often criticize the weakness we perceive in others because we know how transparently it lurks inside us.
I always regret choosing criticism over compassion.
10. Live with a grateful heart.
So many of us take life for granted, and we act like every day is a given. It isn’t. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Heck, neither is this afternoon. As soon as we begin to feel grateful for each new day we get to be alive, we begin to savor the present and enjoy what life has to offer—all moments, big and small.
When we lay them out, regrets can be teachers. What do you regret? Can you make it right? Some things we can’t change because we can’t go back in time. But we can certainly change ourselves and our actions moving forward.
We can lighten our bucket of regrets by living in a way that reflects what we have learned along the way.