If you ask people what they want most in life, you’re going to get a bunch of different answers. If you keep asking why, you’ll notice a common theme: happiness. They may have a thousand ideas on what that looks like and how to get there, but at the end of the day, they want to be happy.
Now ask them if they’re happy now. Some will be. They know what they want, their ducks are lined up, and they just need to keep working the plan. They’ll get there.
Others are so weighed down with the morass of their daily life that they’ve lost the vision of what they’re capable of. They’ve lost the path and don’t know that they can ever make it back. In a word, they’re giving up on their dreams because they’re anchored to the past with regret.
Regret is one of the biggest challenges you will overcome in your quest to be happy. It is second-guessing every decision you make. It is spending more time thinking about the things you didn’t do than what you could be doing now. It’s refusing to be happy because you aren’t living up to the idealized, romanticized, abstract version of yourself that never makes a mistake, always says just the right thing, and never has anything stuck between his teeth.
It is quite the dragon to slay, and it’s coming for you.
Get clear on your priorities.
The best defense against regret is to know what matters most to you. What are your priorities? What do you value most? Who do you want to be? What is the most important thing that you need to get done today? These are questions that only you can answer.
Have a personal mission statement. This is the ultimate expression of who you want to be and the impact you want to have on the world. Use it to create long-term goals and short-term milestones. Plan time every week—every day, ideally—to move in that direction.
Once your plan is in place, be ready to defend it. Others will try to impose their priorities on you and recruit you to help them reach their goals. This isn’t in itself a bad thing! Lots of wonderful things happen when helping others reach their goals aligns with your goals. If your goals aren’t aligned, then you need to tell them No so you can protect your bigger Yes.
You can do anything you want, but not everything. At the end of the day, you will want to have done more—to have helped more. Did you focus on the most important things you could have done? If you did, don’t regret what you didn’t get to. It wasn’t where you needed to spend your time. (This, by the way, is the power behind the incredibly simple Ivy Lee Method of personal productivity.)
Act when it’s time.
You can regret things you haven’t done just as much as things you have. The road less travelled you didn’t take. The crush you never worked up the courage to say hello to. The big rocks you said No to because you said Yes to gravel.
I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.
No matter how good your plan is, something better can always come along. Blindly following a plan that was just invalidated by new information is worse than not having a plan at all.
A clear grasp of your priorities will help you tell the difference between a distraction that will pull you off course and a new opportunity that will take you closer to your dreams faster.
Don’t live life in the rear-view mirror.
Your car has a rear-view mirror. Looking back serves a useful purpose. Do you spend all of your time looking in it? No. You glance at it to check something, then return your attention to the road in front of you.
If you’re now involved in something that you would never have started if you knew then what you know now? You don’t have to live with the regret of that decision. Commitments can be renegotiated. How quickly can you get it out of your life?
Never regret yesterday. Life is in you today and you make your tomorrow.
L. Ron Hubbard
You can decide right now you’re going to be happy. Get clear on your vision of what happiness looks like. Put a plan in place. Today is the day you can decide to leave regret in the dust.