“What does my ideal future look like?”
“What is my purpose in life?”
“What do I really want from life, love and my career?”
How we set ourselves up to create a life well lived versus a life half lived is often more about the regrets we have over the things we failed to do rather than the things we actually did.
We regret more not becoming our ideal selves, or the person we truly wanted to be. We regret living an unfulfilled life. We regret living in fear and not having the courage to focus on the things and people that truly matter most.
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What We Regret Most
I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying. — Jeff Bezos
Psychologist Tom Gilovich and his colleague Shai Davidai have found in a new research piece “The Ideal Road Not Taken” that people are haunted more by regrets about failing to fulfil their hopes, goals and aspirations than by regrets about failing to fulfil their duties, obligations and responsibilities.
Published in Emotion, the researchers surveyed hundreds of participants, making a distinction between “ideal self” (not achieving goals they had set for themselves, their dreams and ambitions) and “the ought self” (not meeting the norms and rules they had for themselves or fulfilling their obligations to others), before asking them to list, name and categorise their regrets.
Across the different studies, the participants said they experienced regrets concerning their ideal self more often (72 per cent vs. 28 per cent).
They mentioned more ideal-self regrets than ought-self regrets when asked to list their regrets in life so far (57 per cent vs. 43 per cent).
When asked to name their single biggest regret in life, participants were more likely to mention a regret about not fulfilling their ideal self (76 per cent vs. 24 per cent mentioning an ought-self regret).
“When we evaluate our lives, we think about whether we’re heading toward our ideal selves, becoming the person we’d like to be. Those are the regrets that are going to stick with you, because they are what you look at through the windshield of life. The ‘ought’ regrets are potholes on the road. Those were problems, but now they’re behind you.” – Tom Gilovich
Let us ponder a couple of questions:
What is it that you currently regret most about your life?
What do you most not want to regret about your life when your time is up?
People regret their inactions more than their actions in the long term. None of us are perfect. We are all going to make mistakes. We can often learn from our mistakes, and take actions to rectify problems.
Many mistakes can be fixed or apologized for. It is the lack of action, the lack of courage to follow through that can haunt us for a long time.
Maybe you never started writing that book despite your love for writing. Perhaps you haven’t set up your own dream business because you were afraid of what people would think if you actually tried.
You didn’t learn that instrument you always wanted to because you were worried you wouldn’t be good enough. You didn’t continue your education because your friends were getting jobs.
Fear of taking that first step. Fear of following your dreams. Fear of pursuing your purpose.
A lot of people wait for inspiration and confidence before getting started. They wait and wait and never actually take that first step.
The thing is, taking action is that first step to ensure you avoid regrets.
Confidence comes with taking action. Making a commitment to follow through and then having the courage to do it builds the momentum.