Each article in Balanced Achievement’s ‘Conscious Questions’ series focuses on a particular question that you can ask yourself to increase your levels of success, happiness and fulfillment. By consciously asking yourself transformative questions that are geared towards inner exploration and personal growth, you will be able to get in touch with untapped creative resources and find innovative ways to get the most out of life. In this article, we look at the question ‘Will I regret this in the future?’.
There will inevitably be a time in each of our lives when we lay upon our deathbeds and face the ultimate reality of death. Although we all inherently know this to be true, most of us live as if we don’t truly understand our own perishable nature. Instead of aiming to make the most out of our limited number of days, for both ourselves and others, the vast majority of us habitually think, make decisions and act from a mindset as if we’ll live forever. Unfortunately, for many, this means that when the time comes to leave the earth, a plethora of regrets about the choices they’ve made stays with them until their final breath.
The 1984 classic holiday film A Christmas Carol, which is based upon the novel of immortalized author Charles Dickens, illuminates this truth and shows us why it’s so important to bring a candid perspective into our decision-making process. The movie portrays a man by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge who bitterly goes about his days concerned only with making money, oftentimes at the expense of others. Assuredly, Scrooge’s negative outlook on life and nasty way of treating the people he comes into contact with greatly limits his ability to find happiness, although he doesn’t discern this truth. The grumpy old man’s life perspective, however, comprehensively changes after he’s visited on Christmas Eve by three spirits who take him on an eye-opening journey to Christmases of the past, present and future. From these trips, Scrooge comes to realize the valuable time he’s already lost acting in such a spiteful manner and also the valuable opportunity he has to live with compassion and grace during his remaining years of life.
Although A Christmas Carol poignantly touches on the fact that many individuals bring regrets with them into their later years of life, the truth is that none of us will ever have the opportunity to learn about this reality from well-intentioned ghosts. For this reason, each of us can do ourselves a tremendous service by monitoring our thought processes, decisions, and behaviors in a way that limits our future misgivings about how we have lived. By asking ourselves ‘Will I regret this in the future?’ when faced with big and small choices alike, and acting upon the insights we conjure up inside, we can ensure that we’ll be able to dream without limits and live without regrets.
Making Regrettable Decisions:
By consciously thinking about the choices we make and actions we take, it’ll become clear to see how there are a plethora of different types of decisions we later come to regret. While many of our behaviors don’t significantly impact how we feel or live, a wide variety of them unquestionably affect our levels of subjective well-being and have the potential to transform into regrets that we carry with us into our later years. Due to the role that a variety of psychological variables such as conditioning, social influence, emotions, memories and bodily sensations play in determining our actions, or inactions, we more often then not make decisions from an almost unconscious state. Unfortunately, because of our psychological complexity, this means we don’t typically make decisions with a perspective that takes into account our limited time on this earth.
Before we begin using the conscious question ‘Will I regret this in the future?’ to our advantage, it’ll be important to gain an understanding of the types of decisions and behaviors individuals typically come to regret. Theoretically speaking, in addition to more neutral actions, we can broadly group types of behavior, based upon their short and long-term outcomes, into the following four categories:
- Short-Term Benefits with Long-Term Benefits: Spending time with loved ones.
- Short-Term Benefits with Long-Term Consequences: Smoking or drug abuse.
- Short-Term Consequences with Long-Term Benefits: Working hard to achieve a goal.
- Short-Term Consequences with Long-Term Consequences: Self-mutilation may be the best example but these types of behaviors don’t really happen because the individuals partaking in them attach some benefit to them.
As you’ve probably already started to figure out, the regrets individuals take into the later years of their lives almost always revolve around actions found within the two behavioral categories of short-term benefits with long-term consequences and short-term consequences with long-term benefits.
Adding Perspective to Decision-Making:
By bringing knowledge of a number of important psychological and spiritual truths into our decision-making process, while also asking ourselves ‘Will I regret this in the future?’, we can assure ourselves that we’ll make savory choices we don’t anguish in the future. While we’ve already discussed the reality of death, which is directly related to the spiritual truth of impermanence, we can build upon our perspective by examining the law of cause and effect, or karma, and the role ignorance plays when making decisions.
First, the law of cause and effect, or karma, tells us that every action we take will produce a particular outcome that’s dependent upon the wholesomeness of our behavior. This means that when we’re making decisions to positively change our lifestyle, give up troublesome habits, compassionately put others ahead of ourselves, or push ourselves to reach new limits, we’ll undoubtedly be rewarded in the end. Although following through on behaviors such as these can be painful in the early going, it’s important to keep in mind that they always pay off in the end. Secondly, we can further improve our decision-making perspective by examining how individuals all too often make ignorant choices without the correct understanding of the possible long-term consequences of their actions. To truly enjoy a regret-free live, it’ll be vital to never underestimate the potential long-term ramifications coming from behaviors that give us temporary pleasure in the short-term, and also to live with an understanding of the fact that the regrets we shoulder from not taking definitive action to achieve our dreams will always be more painful than the fear of failure or rejection we experience as we aim to accomplish our deepest held desires. Celebrated American author Mark Twain illuminated this truth when he famously told us:
Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.”
Additionally, to even further improve our ability to make life-affirming decisions that we don’t later come to regret, we can soak up insights from those who’ve come to the end of the road and told others of the burdensome choices and behaviors they most hold qualms about. In the eyes of Grace Bluerock, a certified transformational coach who worked six years in hospice care, there are nine regrets most common for individuals nearing the end of the road which all revolve around their relationships with others and not living on their own terms. While Bluerock tells us that the biggest relationship regrets of many individuals she’s worked with stem from inactions such as not nurturing meaningful relationships and acting with loving-kindness towards all, general life choices such as paying too much importance to professional work and failing to create a true meaningful life also leave individuals bitter.
Asking Yourself ‘Will I Regret this in the Future?’:
By only increasing our understanding of decision-making psychology, a number of important spiritual truths, and the regrets people often have at the end of their lives, it is certain that we’ll begin to make more life-affirming choices naturally. Yet still, by additionally utilizing the conscious question ‘Will I regret this in the future?’ when faced with answering destiny-shaping decisions, and less important daily choices we’re unsure how to answer, we can assure ourselves that we’ll limit the number of regrets we bring with us into our later years. Furthermore, by making the most of the following four strategies, which directly relate to the question ‘Will I regret this in the future?’, we’ll be on our way to dreaming without limits and living without regrets:
One of the most useful things you can do to enhance your decision-making prowess is to increase your self-awareness and begin monitoring your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Although most individuals assume they’re well aware of themselves, their cognitions, feelings about life and actions, many are surprised at what they find once they begin practicing self-monitoring. To improve our self-monitoring abilities, probably the best thing we can do is begin a regular meditation practice, but there are still a variety of other useful tools that come from therapeutic treatment strategies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Moreover, it should be pointed out that using the question ‘Will I regret this in the future?’ can be especially beneficial when we notice incongruences in our decision-making.
Take Timely Chances & Intelligently Pull Back:
Throughout this article, we’ve made a point to focus on the two types of decisions that people most often come to regret. When individuals don’t take risks because they fear failing or being rejected, or when they don’t consider the long-term ramifications of behaviors that come with short-term benefits like smoking, they almost always look back at their choices with disdain. Therefore, to make sure we don’t fall victim to these types of decisions, we need to focus on taking timely chances and intelligently pulling back. When we are faced with decisions that may fall into these two categories, it’ll be important to ask ourselves ‘Will I regret this in the future?’ and bring the perspectives we talked about earlier into the decision-making process.
Utilize the Deathbed Test:
When we are faced with especially tough choices, one of the best tools we can use is called the Deathbed Test. This simple activity, which helps to assure good decision-making, is based upon the idea of visualizing and talking with an older version of one’s self as they lay upon their deathbed. As the individual pictures their older self nearing death, they can ask questions like ‘What should I do?’, ‘What’s the best decision?’, and of course ‘Will I regret this in the future?’.
Learn, Forgive, Forget & Move On:
While everything that has been said up until this point in the article has focused on making the most life-affirming long-term decisions, it’s important to remember that there will inevitable be times when we act in regrettable ways or when we become disappointed or angry with how others treat us. In both of these instances, it’s vitally important to remember that life is too short to fester over our past mistakes or hold onto to resentments towards others. Moreover, since not letting go is what actually becomes the most regrettable decision when facing either set of these circumstances, we need to use our conscious decision-making power to look at each and everyone of these experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow.
It is certain that by using these four strategies in combination with the conscious question ‘Will I regret this in the future?’, we’ll begin to see life in a new light and make decisions that are truly life-affirming. It’s always important to remember that because our days are numbers, we must focus on getting the most out of each of them and strive to make decisions that we won’t come to regret in the future. As the man who garners the nickname of ‘The Philosopher of Happiness’, Jonathan Lockwood Huie, puts it:
Let life be an adventure. Live your life to the fullest, unfettered by fear of the ghosts and goblins of what might occur. Calamity and death happen as well to those who hide from life as to those who squeeze every drop of zest from it.”