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Is there a motto you live by? A personal mantra that affects the decisions you make and actions throughout your life? Mine is simple: To live without regrets. Too many times, while working as a physician in the ED, I have seen people lying on their deathbeds with a look of regret in their eyes. I don’t want deathbed regrets, I don’t want to think “If only I had…”
I base my actions and decisions on this. And my goal is to help others live without regrets too. Keep in mind my patients are not always elderly, they are every age. Especially working in the ED, I see people of every age on their deathbed or undergoing life-altering changes. You can’t assume you will die old.
A couple of years ago, I woke up with a specific regret and decided to make the change, instead of waiting. For years, I had put my health on the backburner, I wasn’t following a healthy diet, I drank too many caffeinated beverages and I was not getting enough sleep.
I decided to focus on my relationship with food first. It became obvious to me that my current plan, which was no plan, was not working. I was 6’4’’ and weight 234 pounds. While I was not overtly healthy, I was certainly not svelte. I physically did not feel good or fit.
“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.” – Mercedes Lackey
I made a deliberate decision to remove as many carbohydrates from my diet as possible and replace those calories with protein and fat, a moderate keto diet.
The main challenge I faced was that everything I ate was loaded with carbs and I don’t particularly like vegetables. But I was able to do it and within three days my totals carb consumption dropped from more than 200 grams to 15 grams or less. The results were dramatic. I lost 30 pounds in three months and felt substantially better.
I approached caffeine the same way. My relationship with caffeinated beverages was not good. And I knew that caffeine negatively affected my sleep, which I was also focusing on. So I completely cut it out.
When it came to sleep, I was a novice. I had lived and breathed the saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” However, I have since learned that is no way to live. When I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I decided to make a change. I read the book “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker and completely changed my routine. Now I am getting up to eight hours of sleep a night.
My health was not a priority for a long time and I knew that I would one day regret my choices. So, I decided to make the change and take care of myself before it was too late.
There is no point in waiting for a specific day or feeling, take action and make your move. Rescript your future, don’t wait until it is too late. You never know what the future will be, so don’t let it slip by.
As the old adage goes: It is not the things you do in life that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do.
Top Regrets People Have
- I wish I had been more present and closer with loved ones
- I wish I had been a better spouse, parent or child
- I wish I hadn’t worried about what other people thought
- I wish I hadn’t taken life so seriously
- I wish I had traveled more
- I wish I had spent more time with my kids
- I wish I had trusted by gut and listened to my inner voice
- I wish I had spent less time working
- I wish I had expressed my feelings
- I wish I had taken more risks
- I wish I had done more for others, given back
- I wish I had chosen work that was meaningful to me
- I wish I had been happier, enjoyed life more
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard, so much
- I wish I had taken better care of myself
The list goes on.
In a paper by Cornell psychologists called “The Ideal Road Not Taken,” researchers surveyed hundreds of participants is six studies. The psychologists identified three elements that make up a person’s sense of self — actual self, ideal self and ought self.
- Actual Self: Qualities you believe they have.
- Ideal Self: Qualities you want to have.
- Ought Self: The person you think you should have been based on your obligations and responsibilities.
When asked to name their single biggest regret, 76 percent of participants said they didn’t fulfill their ideal self. People are likely to let their dreams and aspirations slip by unrealized. They focus on what they should do, instead of what they want.
“When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.” – Bonnie Ware
Bronnie Ware wrote the book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” As a palliative carer, Ware worked with patients who were terminally ill. She spent weeks with them, getting to know the people, learning about their lives and hearing of their regrets. According to her, the most common regret she heard: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Regret is Poison.
Don’t be afraid to act on your hopes and dreams. You don’t have to solely focus on doing the right thing or what is expected of you. If that is how you structure your life, you are bound to have deathbed regrets.
Gary Vaynerchuk, an investor and serial entrepreneur, said it best: “The biggest poison in us is regret.” He has given multiple talks on regret and each time has implored people to volunteer at a nursing home. He wants people to go and talk to the people that live there and see the regret in their eyes. As Gary V said, they all say “I wish.” People facing death understand more clearly what they have lost or what they never had—they regret. Gary V explained it perfectly, “It is the stuff that you don’t do that bothers you.”
Re-evaluate your current life and make time to do the things that bring you joy, make time for you dreams and don’t wait until tomorrow or your deathbed regrets.
11 Ways Live Life to the Fullest and Not Have Deathbed Regrets:
- Spend time with people you love, express that love and gratitude. Most people regret not appreciating their loved ones more, not spending time with them or not expressing their love. So go on those family trips, but also be there for the small moments and day-to-day. Say “I love you” every chance you have. It is three simple words that have a lot of meaning.
- Be present with loved ones, show up. Similar to above, be there and be present for the people in your life. Put the phone down and converse fully with the people around you. Be there for the small moments and the big ones. You may think there will always be time to grow the relationship, but you never know.
- Evaluate where you are in life. Are you happy with your job? Your family situation? Do you want to make a change? Look at your personal and professional life and see where you want to make progress or changes.
- Make a bucket list. Are there activities or goals that you have always wanted to accomplish? Make a list of everything that you have wanted to do, but held back on. Make it as comprehensive as possible and then start checking off those items. Take your time and enjoy every moment of the journey.
- Do something you love every day. Figure out what brings you joy and do it everyday. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or be over the top. The activity can be as simple as reading, going for a walk or cooking. The small things that bring you joy will brighten up your day and your life.
- Follow your dreams. Don’t try to follow the norm or live up to someone else’s expectations, do what makes you happy and excited. And if you don’t know what that is, then start brainstorming. Find what excites you, what you are curious about. For example, many people want to start their own business, but are too afraid to take the leap. (Need business blog)
- Take care of yourself. Go on walks, take naps, meditate, do yoga, be mindful. Self care doesn’t have to be an expensive far-off concept. It can take the form of anything, as long as it gives you peace of mind and helps you stay present and relaxed. Another aspect of this is your health. Make your physical and mental health a priority. Get check-ups at the doctor, speak to a therapist, exercise and eat nutritious, whole foods. Like me, figure out where you want to focus and start your health journey.
- Help others. Donate or volunteer. Find an organization or cause that you connect to and spend some time helping out or donate money, goods, clothes. It feels good to give back and help others.
- Treat others with compassion and empathy. Don’t look back on your life and wish you had been kinder to others. Show compassion to those around you and be kind to strangers. It will put a smile on their face and on yours. In a world with so much anger and hate, stand above it. It doesn’t matter if your ideals or beliefs are different. Everyone is human and everyone deserves compassion.
- Set boundaries. Distance yourself from negative people or people who bring you down. If you are always being called and pulled into a situation, learn how to set boundaries. You don’t have to be the go-to all the time. Figure out your limit and don’t be afraid to voice it.
- Practice gratitude. It seems simple, but practicing gratitude can be difficult. If you haven’t noticed, our minds tend to go to the negative. Fight those instincts and focus on the positive. Practice by writing down three things you are grateful for every day. As you start to practice gratitude, you will better recognize when you or someone else has turned negative. The key to a happy and fulfilled life is knowing and understanding the good parts.
Figure out what is important to you, have a clear purpose and avoid deathbed regrets.
How to Realize Your Regrets
Let’s do an exercise. Take some time to sit and reflect on your life. If your life ended tomorrow, what would you regret? Really think about the choices you have made and the way your life is heading. Are there changes you want to make? If there are, then don’t wait.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Take 10 minutes to do a stream of conscious journaling. Think about the above question, write them down your answers and don’t hold back.
- Talk to three friends/loved ones. Ask them, what your top five qualities are and three things they think you can work on. Write them down. Then wait for a couple of hours/days, take time to reflect and then come back to your list and re-think it. Do you agree with what they have said? Are there changes in your life you want to make based on their answers?
- Meditate with the above questions in mind. Sit in silence and breath. Let your mind wander and see what you come up with.
- Make a vision board (goal setting pdf email)
You can make changes, course correct and rescript your future at any age and at any point in your life so you won’t suffer from deathbed regrets. If the only constant in life is change, then why not be the one to make those changes?
In the words of Lucille Ball: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”
Extra Words of Motivation to Live Life to the Fullest
- “We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, you are here now with the power to shape your day and your future.” – Steve Maraboli
- “We cannot always change what has happened to us, but we can change how we react and how we live in the future. Living with no regrets is living successfully.” – Dr. Ellen Taricani
- “Regret, remorse, sorrow all emotions that can result in negative feelings. Only you can change your emotions to positive ones. You cannot change the past but you can change the future.” – Catherine Pusifer
- “When one door closes another opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
- “If we don’t deal with the roots of our regrets, if we don’t make the choice to start over, the costs of what we’re missing out on can be enormous and will accrue exponentially over time.” – Dave Ferguson
- “No human on his deathbed ever regretted having spent too much time with his children.” – George Stamatis
- “People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.” – Haruki Murakami
John Shufeldt, MD, JD, MBA, FACEP is an emergency physician by avocation and entrepreneur at heart. He is an author, speaker, serial student, airline transport pilot and multidisciplinary entrepreneur, who has founded and operated several multi-million-dollar businesses.
Throughout all of his endeavors, John has maintained a relentless drive to help people rescript their future and reach their full potential.
His multifaceted experience as a physician, attorney, speaker and entrepreneur gives him rare insight into what makes a business succeed.
Over the years, John has come to realize that successful businesses don’t just happen. They succeed as a result of strong leadership, learning from failures and a well-executed business plan. An efficient organization is built on lean practices, proactive teams, a positive work environment and a solid foundation for continued growth.