27 September 2023

Five choices you may live to regret

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Travis Bradberry* uses the wisdom of a palliative care nurse to suggest a series of common mistakes that can haunt people when they look back on their lives.

Our days are filled with a constant stream of decisions.

Most are mundane, but some are so important they can haunt us for the rest of our lives.

A recent study from Columbia University found that we’re bogged down by more than 70 decisions a day.

The sheer number of decisions we have to make each day leads to a phenomenon called decision fatigue, whereby your brain actually tires like a muscle.

A new study from the University of Texas shows that even when our brains aren’t tired, they can make it very difficult for us to make good decisions.

When making a decision, instead of referencing all the knowledge we’ve accumulated, our brains tend to focus on specific, detailed memories that may, or may not, be helpful.

Some decisions are minor, such as what to eat, which route to drive to work, or in what order to tackle tasks.

Others are more difficult, such as choosing between two job offers, whether to move to a new city for someone you love, or whether to cut a toxic person out of your life.

Regardless of the magnitude of the decision, our brains make it hard for us to keep the perspective we need to make good choices.

Bronnie Ware spent her career as a palliative care nurse, working exclusively with people who were three-to-12 months from death.

She made a habit of asking them about their greatest regrets, and she heard the same five regrets time and time again.

Earlier this year my father was very ill and elected to go into hospice.

As I sat with him in his final moments, Bronnie’s discoveries came to mind and I found myself deeply moved by them.

I contemplated my father’s life and my own, and I was struck by how easy it is to make the wrong decision in the moment, even when your intentions are good.

By studying these regrets now, we can make certain that we make good choices and don’t fall victim to them in our final days.

They wish they hadn’t made decisions based on what other people think.

When you make your decisions based on other people’s opinions, two things tend to happen.

You make a poor career choice: There are too many people who studied for a degree they regret or even spent their lives pursuing a career they regret.

Whether you’re seeking parental approval or pursuing pay and prestige over passion, making a poor career choice is a decision that will live with you forever.

You fail to uphold your morals: You can get too caught up in what your boss thinks of you, how much money you think your spouse needs to be happy, or how bad you will look if you fail.

When this happens you are at high risk of violating your morals.

Your intense desire to make yourself look good compromises your ability to stay true to yourself and, ultimately, to feel good.

The best way to avoid falling prey to the opinions of others is to realise that other people’s opinions are just that — opinions.

Your true self-worth comes from within.

They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.

Working hard is a great way to impact the world, to learn, to grow, to feel accomplished, and sometimes even to find happiness.

It becomes a problem when you do so at the expense of the people closest to you.

The key is to find a balance between doing what you love and being with the people you love.

They wish they had expressed their feelings.

We’re taught as children that emotions are dangerous and must be bottled up and controlled.

This usually works at first, but boxing up your feelings causes them to grow until they erupt.

The best thing you can do is to put your feelings directly on the table.

Though it’s painful to initiate, it forces you to be honest and transparent.

They wish they had stayed in touch with their friends.

When you get caught up in your weekly routine, it’s easy to lose sight of how important people are to you, especially those you have to make time for.

Relationships with old friends are among the first things to fall off the table when we’re busy.

This is unfortunate because spending time with friends is a major stress buster.

Close friends bring you energy, fresh perspectives, and a sense of belonging, in a way that no one else can.

They wish they had let themselves be happy.

When your life is about to end, all the difficulties you’ve faced suddenly become trivial compared to the good times.

Unfortunately, most people realise this far too late.

Although we all inevitably experience pain, how we react to our pain is completely under our control, as is our ability to experience joy.

Learning to laugh, smile, and be happy (especially when stressed) is a challenge at times, but it’s one that’s worth every ounce of effort.

Some decisions have repercussions that can last a lifetime.

Most of these decisions are made daily, and they require focus and perspective to keep them from haunting you.

How do you avoid making decisions you’ll regret?

*Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart. He can be contacted at talentsmart.com.

This article first appeared at talentsmart.com.

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