How To Live A Fulfilling Life Free of Regret

As Frank Sinatra sang, 'Regrets, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention..." Just like Frank, we can all have some regrets in life. We can think back on different decisions and choices we could have made and wonder how things could have been different. 

Although, of course, we have to remember that we can all be a little guilty of romanticising things turning out better and of colouring our imagined past with more positivity than might be realistic. Yes, we can all have some regrets, things we put up with for too long, the path we didn't take, the courage we lacked, or the other choices along the path of our lives. There can also be many, many positives throughout our lives and things we are glad about or pleased in how we've lived and what we've stood for up to now.

If I find myself regretting some past thing ("if only I...."), I deliberately remind myself that I did the best I could at that time, and that I made the choices and decisions that seemed best or right based on who I was then (or I wouldn't have made them). I remind myself that I'm thinking back in a distorted way and that there is no benefit in second guessing myself or living in the past, and that I know more now with hindsight than I did back then. And then I remind myself of all the good things that may not have happened or that I might have missed had I travelled a different path up to now.

Even if we forgive ourselves and accept what has happened, that doesn't mean we can't benefit from pausing and taking stock of our lives for the future. All too often we get stuck on the busy treadmill of life, moving from one task to another, forgetting the bigger picture and longer term within the mass of responsibilities, tasks and distractions. Rather than waiting until many years from now, when it may be too late to do anything but regret, you want to know that you've lived a life that's full, that you've travelled each and every highway to live a fulfilling life and much more than that, that you did it your way (yes, I've ripped a bit off Frank in that last sentence). 

Live A Fulfilling Life Free of Regret hypnotherapy in ely

 

Avoid The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying

According to Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse who cared for people in the last weeks of their life, there are common regrets that people tend to have about how they lived their lives. As people look back, knowing they have only a short time left, many similar themes emerge.

i) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

Knowing that the opportunity has now passed, those dreams, passions and goals remain unfilled because of choices and decisions made along the way. Now, we all have demands, obligations and responsibilities in our lives, yet that doesn't mean that we can't find the time, energy, motivation and commitment to also pursue the things that bring us joy and happiness (and that make our existence worth living).

I remember being on a training course about fifteen years ago and where one of the exercises involved writing down how much time I spent sitting watching TV. It turned out that back then I was a bit of a soap addict (Corrie, Eastenders, Neighbours, Home & Away...and El Dorado anyone?). I must have been spending about ten hours a week watching people living made up lives on the box. Imagine being on your death bed and thinking back how your greatest achievement was being able to name every landlord of the Rovers Return?! That was the very day I quit them all and started doing stuff, instead of just watching TV from when I got home to when I went to bed. There's nothing wrong with a bit of quality TV, but what else could you be doing with that time that would bring you more fulfilment and joy in your life?

If you want to live a fulfilling life free of regret then it's worth taking some time to think about your goals and dreams, to consider what you want from life and what you are doing to make it happen. Then also consider how you currently use your time and energy and what you can change to move things forward and fulfil those dreams. There are many things you can do to increase your confidence, self-esteem and courage, yet it all starts with recognising how you want to live your life and what you need to do now to make it happen.

As for other people's expectations, sure, most of us want to be liked and appreciated. But remember, if people are going to be critical and judge you negatively, then they are going to do that anyway, whether you are taking action and enjoying life or making choices that leave you unfulfilled. And if someone's opinion is worth paying attention to, then they will be the sort of person who encourages you, believes in you and wants the best for you. Be wise in whose opinions and expectations you give weight and regard to. And start to value your own expectations and limited time on Earth more.

And, of course, we also know that other people generally pay a lot less attention to what we do then we think, so keep in mind that most of your ideas about what others are thinking, or any notion of a fear of failure, are more than likely totally misplaced and just plain wrong (more of this here: Why You Should Probably Worry Less About What Other People Think About You - The Research on Fear of Failure and Being Judged).

 

ii) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

We all need to work to pay the bills, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. It's just how it is. Yet there is always a balance point, a trade-off between extra work/income and happiness. We know that, after a certain amount, more money doesn't really add much to your happiness levels anyway, and nor does just having more stuff. 

Even though most of the people I work with should have many, many years of their lives left, I still often hear regrets from people who wished they'd done more things rather than just work for the next bonus or promotion, or suffer burnout because they worked too hard. And many parents tell me how they regret missing out on their kids growing up or on spending time with them when they were younger, before realising that now their kids are too busy to want to spend as much time with them.

Now, you could just fast forward in your mind to a point near the end of your life and imagine what you'd be thinking as you think back over your life. Maybe you would feel proud to have missed out on a load of living and to think back proudly how at least you worked hard (to be clear, there is nothing wrong with working hard, it's about the trade off with fulfilment, happiness and regret). 

When I think back over the things I'm grateful for and pleased with from my day, there will be aspects of achievement and success at work, yet I always smile when I think about fun I've had with the kids, silly laughs and messing around, as well as things I do for me, such as having had a good run or playing guitar well. I've written before about the value of thinking about three good things each day for your mental health and well-being (Three Good Things: Positive Psychology To Enhance Your Well-Being And Mental Health). This positive practice, as well as boosting your well-being, can help you to appreciate and seek out more of the good things that give meaning and worth to your life (not all of which will be about working hard!).

You can also practice negative visualisation and imagine that you have lost the things you value (your partner, your kids etc) to realise how much they mean to you and to appreciate them more now (and by so doing potentially getting more work/life balance). I love my work helping people, yet sometimes, when I'm working or contemplating a day off, I need to remind myself that if I work that extra day, miss out on that thing with the kids or make my life just one long workfest, I'll likely in a few months or years look back and think how I regret that choice (heck, if I miss one planned run I'll regret it by the end of the same day!!). I think it's particularly true with children, yet equally with friendships, relationships, other goals and dreams, that if all your eggs are in the work basket then at some point the regret will hit you and it'll be too late to do anything about it. (In my case, I know that in a few years my kids will be spending all their time with friends, moving off to study or work, getting on with their own lives and I could easily miss them growing up.) 

 

 iii) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

All too often here in the UK I think we are taught not to express our feelings, for risk of rejection, being judged, causing upset, unwanted consequences and because often (not for everyone) we just aren't used to having some conversations openly and comfortably. We can bottle things up, hold resentment, experience anxiety and more from not expressing ourselves effectively. 

But it is possible to express how you feel calmly and assertively. To have the courage to be open and express how you feel, both the positive and negative. It can be a straightforward conversation without anxiety or anger. If you are struggling with mental health issues, the starting point is having that courage to express things and to seek help. All too often the things inside our head get bigger and more destructive simply from only being inside our head.

Confidently expressing your feelings can lead to a sense of connection to others; it can lead to problems being acknowledged and perhaps solved; it can create openness and trust: it can lead to positive things because you took the risk and did it. And even if things don't turn out how you hoped, at least you know and can deal with it and move on, rather than forever wondering 'what if...'.

Often people aren't aware of what you are feeling and thinking and the stuff going on inside of you (again, whether positive or negative). By and large, we humans aren't that great at picking up on what is going inside other people. We have a tendency to overestimate the extent to which others can discern our internal states. We overestimate the extent to which our thoughts, feelings and sensations 'leak out' and are available to others (I've covered this more here: Can Other People Tell How You Feel?).

This means that, if you want others to know, you're going to have to share your feelings. Remember, people tend to be supportive and encouraging in how they respond, and to empathise rather than criticise, so draw upon the courage and express yourself.

 

iv) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

Having a network of supportive friends around you is important for your mental health and well-being. As social creatures, friendships are important. These are the people you can talk to, where you can be yourself, have fun and sometimes get perspective on things. 

Technology has made it easier to stay connected and keep in touch. Whether it's a message, call or spending time together: friendships matter. However, as with much in modern life, the treadmill of existence can eat up our time and energy and impinge on staying in touch. I also think that sometimes, in that business, we take friendships for granted as though that person will always be around. A couple of years ago  a good friend of mine moved away, and although we only saw each other occasionally when he was just down the road, we now message and visit and have a better quality friendship as a result of wanting to stay in touch. There is value in investing time and effort in friendships.

People towards the end of their lives often regret not having stayed in touch, so learn from their wisdom and make sure it happens. 

 

v) I wish I had let myself be happier

I think we all want to live a happy life don't we? There seems little point going through our shot in life in a constant state of unhappiness, frustration and misery.  

As I've written about before, perhaps the first thing we all need to accept is that most of the stuff we think will make us happy just doesn't. Having more money, a better job, more nice stuff and so on doesn't lead to increased happiness (we just get used to having stuff in our lives, feel dissatisfied and then want even more of them).  

There are deliberate things you can do that science suggests will help you to feel happier. Implementing gratitude and kindness practices will definitely help you to be happier. Gratitude has been positively correlated with several aspects of well-being and mental health including life satisfaction, happiness, optimism and positivity. Gratitude also significantly predicts less depression and anxiety symptoms. More on this here:

The Impact of Gratitude on Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem and Well-being

Gratitude and Well-Being: How To Improve Your Well-Being and Self-Esteem

Boosting Your Happiness and Well-Being

Three Good Things: Positive Psychology To Enhance Your Well-Being And Mental Health

The Benefits of Kindness - How Being Kind Can Make You Happier

You also want to find opportunities to laugh in your life: 

Is Laughter The Best Medicine For Anxiety, Stress and Mental Health?

Using Humour To Tackle Anxiety and Stress - Anxiety Relief with Laughter

Kindness also extends to being nice to yourself. It's important that you eat healthily, sleep well, exercise and so on (sleep, physical activity and diet make up the three pillars of good mental health: The Three Pillars of Mental Health). And self-compassion (being nice to yourself) can help to boost your mental health and can counter anxiety and depression tendencies (Why You Should Be Kind To Yourself - The Benefits of Self-Compassion).

If you want to let yourself have a happier life, then looking after yourself, gratitude and kindness practices, and being nice to yourself, are key aspects of this.  

Too many people chase the wrong things or hope that a happy life will just happen by chance. The regrets of the dying themselves here show that if you stay stuck in old patterns and habits within your comfort zone and paralysed by fear and anxiety of failure or other people's opinions, then you may well look back with regret. If anxiety, worry, fear, a lack of confidence or low self-esteem are getting in the way then take action to overcome these obstacles (you can book a free initial consultation with me or check out my hypnosis downloads). And you will also want to reconnect and take action on your passions and goals.

 

Live A Fulfilling Life Free of Regret

None of us want to reach our death bed and look back on our lives with similar regrets to those expressed above. 

You want to have the courage to live a life true to yourself and to be able to express your feelings. You want to have a balanced life between work and other aspects of life, to stay in touch with friends and to allow yourself to be happier.

These are all things you can work on and do things about in the decisions and choices you make, in your thinking and how you look after yourself, in taking action on your goals and in doing the other things that will bring more happiness into your life. And naturally you appreciate that to live a fulfilling life, and one free of regret, takes time, energy and commitment to achieve in what you do and how you do it in your life.  

As well as taking the steps outlined above, you can use this process to support your happiness and fulfilment:

1. Sit somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you know self-hypnosis or meditation techniques you could incorporate these here. Start to extend your out breath and say the word 'relax' to yourself on every breath out. You could tense and relax each part of your body or tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. You could imagine a calm colour or sensation spreading through you or fill your mind with a relaxing sound. You could engage your imagination and imagine being in a remembered or created place of calmness, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Or you can draw upon and utilise any other ways that allow you to feel comfortable, calm and relaxed. Your aim here is just to feel as safe, calm and comfortable as you can right now.

2. Imagine a line of your life, your past in one direction and your future in another direction. Imagine drifting right above now and above the line of your life. As you drift above now, take a moment to look back on your past. Notice the kind of things you've achieved, things you are proud of and other positive experiences and moments that you've enjoyed. Recognise and appreciate how you've come through any challenges that you've had to face and how you've grown and become stronger as a result. There may be other learnings and knowledge about yourself and your life as you consider your past.

If there are any regrets you have from things in the past, take this moment to be kind to yourself and to forgive yourself. Remind yourself that you did the best you could with where you were at that time, and know that is ok. Maybe you can think about what you've learnt and grown wiser about from any past regrets. Consider what it tells you about what's important to you and in what you value in how you live your life. Having done this, choose to just accept things that have happened knowing that you can't change those things but knowing that you can decide what you do from this moment onwards.

3. Having let go of past regrets, look down upon and consider your life now. Think about how you spend your time and energy, and the kind of things you focus on and that occupy your attention. Think about the people, places, times, circumstances of your life right now; your dominant thoughts and emotions, your beliefs, mindset, attitude, actions and the kind of decisions and choices you make; and think about how your life now fits with achieving your goals, dreams and aspirations.

Think about whether if you continue along this path of your life, in what you do and how you do it, it will mean you live a fulfilling life free of regret. You can consider whether you are living a life true to yourself, or a life others expect of you. Think about how hard you are working and whether you are missing out on joy, happiness and positive things in the balance of your life. Do you have the courage to express your feelings? Do you put time and effort into keeping in touch with friends? Are you letting yourself be happy right now in your life?

4. Armed with these insights, begin to travel above the line of your life into the future. Notice what happens if you continue to do the same sort of things as now, living your life in the same way and getting the same kind of results and outcomes. As you drift into the future, really consider how the path of your life progresses from now. Reach a point near the end of your life and turn and look back over your life. Review your life. Really consider whether this is the life you truly want for yourself, a fulfilling life free of regrets. If it is, then great, feel uplifted and optimistic and maybe even consider ways you can enhance the good stuff.

If, as you look back over your life there are things missing, regrets, emptiness or lacking, then start to think of what you now need to take action upon to live your best life.

Maybe you need to have the courage to take action on your goals, dreams and passions, or to put the time, energy, motivation and commitment to pursue the things that will bring you joy and happiness. Start to think about the actions and choices you will make that will mean that you will look back at how you had the courage to live a life true to yourself, seizing opportunities, being engaged in your life, expressing your feelings confidently, keeping in touch with friends and valuing those friendships, letting yourself be happier and taking the steps to make that happen. Really think about what you need to do and what needs to happen to ensure you have a fulfilling life, that will mean you look back with joy, tranquillity and happiness over your life.

5. As you think of what needs to happen and what you will do to achieve your goals and live a happy, fulfilling life, drift back to now. Look forward along the line of your life and start to think of the steps you will take from this very day that will ensure you have a happy, fulfilled life: a life free of regret; a rich, full and happy life. Commit to taking action and putting things in place. Treat living a fulfilling life like you have to do it. Plan it, apply it and make it happen. And then enjoy achieving the life you want to live, taking positive action, having confidence and courage, believing in yourself and enjoying the journey. Recognising how you want to live your life and what you need to do now to make it happen.

6. Then, drift back down to now, start to think about the first steps you will take and commit to them. Know that as you take these steps it ripples into your future and everything gets better and better. It means looking back with no regrets having had the courage, the confidence, the motivation, desire and commitment to have made it happen.

7. Then, when you are ready, and to bring this process to an end, take a deep breath, count up from 1 up to 3 inside your mind and then open your eyes and reorient yourself to your surroundings.

You may also like to take a look at this hypnosis download, where I guide you through this process:

fulfilling life free of regrets hypnosis download

 Remember, if you want to live a fulfilling life, one that will mean you look back with happiness and free of regret, then you need to take action to make it happen. Remind yourself of the wisdom of others and resolve to ensure that, towards the end of your life, you aren't echoing the same regretful sentiments. Take action to live your life true to yourself, to be there rather than always at work, to live with courage and express how you feel, to stay connected with friends and to let yourself be happy. Not only will you feel happier as you do this, but the future you will one day look back pleased that you did these things now. 

To your health and happiness,

Dan Regan

Online Skype and Zoom Hypnotherapy  

Face-to-face hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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