“Live with no regrets” is a common phrase, and it’s obvious why people like to say it.
The concept of feeling pain, guilt, sadness, or embarrassment because of something you did is shitty. Nobody wants to have regrets.
But aiming to “live with no regrets” is a BS life philosophy.
For starters, it’s impossible unless you have some serious mental issues. Let’s take a quick look at the symptoms of a sociopath:
1. Pathological lying
2. Inability to feel shame, guilt, or regret
3. Inability to love.
The list goes on, but the inability to feel regret is incredibly high on the sociopath index.
So, let’s just put to rest the concept of living without regrets. If you’re a sociopath, then sure, it’s possible.
So we’ve established that you are not a sociopath. You’re going to have regrets. Just accept it. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s perfectly fine if you understand how to handle regret.
Not All Regrets Are the Same
OK, now that we’ve established that you can’t avoid regret unless you plan on a career of serial murder or want a lobotomy, let’s talk next steps.
It all comes down to having the right regrets. Let’s run down the most common regrets of the dying and elderly to form a little baseline here:
I wish I traveled more…
I wish I had graduated college…
I wish I didn’t let her get away…
I wish I had spent more time with family…
Notice a pattern? Turns out that the biggest regrets aren’t things that people did. It’s the things they didn’t do. They aren’t saying things like:
I wish I didn’t embarrass myself at that fire-breathing party in Madagascar…
I wish I didn’t lose all my money starting a business…
I wish I didn’t get rejected by that gorgeous girl and and then punched by her pro athlete boyfriend…
The regrets of action don’t stick with you the same way that the regrets of passivity do. The regrets of action scream, “Hey, I freakin’ tried. It didn’t work. It sucks, but oh well.”
The regrets of passivity coldly whisper, “What if …” The former will cause embarrassment and pain when you think back. But the latter? That shit will kill you.
How to Have the Right Regrets
By trying and failing, you at least know that you gave it a shot — but by never trying, you’ll always wonder what could have been, it sounds cliché but its true.
One regret is much less painful than the other. But how do we make this fancy theory part of our everyday lives?
The answer isn’t easy, but if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and do a little work, it’s possible.
Ask yourself what you want out of life
This sounds like a big question, and it is. So take some time with it. You see, life comes down to two things: the things you want to do and the things you have to do.
If you only do the things you have to do (get a good job to pay the bills, spend your money on new furniture instead of an African safari) and neglect the things you want to do (find a career that you’re passionate about, travel, buy a motorcycle), then you’re creating a life of the wrong kinds of regrets.
Imagine that you’re at the end of your life. What memories would you want to have? Maybe it’s to take a cross-country motorcycle trip, partake in the Running of the Bulls, fall in love, own a boat, get in a fistfight, have some weird sex, go skydiving, and take care of your parents.
Sounds like a hell of a life to me. Keep digging until your list is this specific.
Make the things you want to do into the things you have to do
Look, I don’t know what you believe happens to you when you die. I respect whatever it is, unless it involves somebody telling you it was all a dream. F*ck that.
Regardless, you have to entertain the notion that this might be it.
Do you want to spend your time working a job you don’t like that much, single because you’re afraid of rejection, and spending your money only on responsible things? I hope not.
Now, I’m not telling you to quit your job and become a nomad (unless that’s what you want), but I am recommending that you make sure to do the things you really want before you run out of clock.
The only way to ensure that is to turn your wants into musts. Simply put, you’ll do the things you have to do, but you don’t always do the things you want to do.
That’s why so many people lead boring lives. They believe that they have to do certain things, and they leave the fun stuff — the wants — for “when they have time.”
Guess what? Life is busy. If you leave something for “when you have time,” you will rarely get around to it.
Treat your wants with the same kind of urgency that you currently treat the things that you have to do.
Oh, you have to pay your bills? OK sure, I get that, but you also have to travel to the Mayan ruins. In fact, seeing the Mayan ruins is significantly more important because you’ll deeply regret not doing it, whereas you’ll only kinda regret not paying your bills.
Again, I’m not advocating you become some irresponsible shithead, but I’m telling you to put things in perspective.
So there’s the two-step process. It’s simple, but it’s hard. At the end of the day, you’re going to have regrets.
It’s part of being human. But you can have some control over which kinds of regrets you ultimately have. Make them the regrets of action. Don’t let all the awesome shit in life pass you by without a fight.