A palliative care nurse by the name of Bronnie Ware wrote a book titled The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.
It’s an incredible, thought-provoking book based on the regrets Bronnie collected from those she looked after, who were in their final days or months.
Below I take you through each regret and an accompanying excerpt from the book. Most importantly I give you a practical tool or powerful reflection for each regret, so you can avoid experiencing the same pain.
It may seem like a morbid exercise, but we have only one life to live, and I wouldn’t want you to live a life of regret.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. 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. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.
What dreams have you given up on in life? It’s better to try and fail, then to have never tried at all. Growing up, my parents used to always say “Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you’ll still land amongst the stars.” Is there something in your life you’d like to rekindle or shoot for?
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
Do you have a powerful shutdown routine for your work day? I have a static 30 minute shutdown appointment at the end of my day. I perform a final review of my day, choose my top 3 tasks or goals for the following day, and then schedule them like appointments into my calendar. Once complete I “shutdown”. No more work, no more email checking, no more thinking about work – all of which enables me to more deeply connect with my family before getting a good night’s sleep.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
Do you project something different from what you feel? Have you shared what’s truly important to you in life with those around you? Are they aware of your ambitions, wants, and needs? Perhaps there is a difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding for some time. Now summon the most courageous version of you. How would that version of you respond to the prompts above? And most importantly, how and when can you take action?
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
Are there friendships you could be nurturing? A quick hello that you could be sending, a lunch you could be organising, or perhaps a trip together? Who are the friends in life that energize you or prompt you to grow? The late Jim Rohn said “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Are you spending enough time with the right people?
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
I don’t always get it right, but I try to start every day by simply saying to myself “Today is going to be a great day.” Happiness really is a choice, and no matter what happens to us, we always have the freedom to choose our response. And what about laughter? Do you have enough of that in your life? What are you doing to create it? Some of our most magical moments are when we’re sitting around a table with family or friends, laughing in tears about the silliest of things. Laughter really is the best medicine.
And I’ll leave you with this… You may already have several of these regrets. But there’s a difference between unintelligent vs intelligent regret.
Unintelligent regret dwells on the past and creates feelings of guilt and shame.
Intelligent regret is at peace with the past and remembers that each moment is an opportunity to make a new choice.
So from this moment and on, let’s choose wisely.”