Carefully considered personal values are the foundation to a life with no regrets. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net
Imagine it is your 80th Birthday. You are surrounded by friends and family, warmth and love. You are prompted to give a speech – the most valued memories you have of your lifetime. What has made it worthwhile? What have you cherished? What would you say?
I’m forty – although I have valued memories, how many more could there be if I really lived life fully. I have to question whether what I choose to do each day is really contributing to a worthwhile life. How much more fully I could embrace now what I could cherish later.
How can we choose to live from this day forth if we can be confident that at age 80 we could say “I have no regrets” ?
• Fully consider and identify what are your values. Not your parents, friends or spouses – yours. What is important to you? Who are you really? What relationships are important to you? Are you spiritual? What do you love to do? What contribution would you like to make to society – out of everything you feel you can offer, what is closest to your heart?
• Is there anything that would stand in your way of living a life in line with your values? What could you do to prevent this, or minimise the impact of these barriers? How willing are you to do what you can to move toward what you want rather than let these obstacles hold you back?
If there are true barriers that can’t be removed, what could you still do realistically to live the best life you can?
• Live life proactively. Don’t hope that your goals will ‘somehow’ be realised. Get organised! What do you have to do to achieve what you want to? What are realistic achieveable goals – and what are specific timeframes you wish to have them realised within?
• Be selective about what is worth your while. Do you spend a lot of time doing things which really are not fulfilling – that are a waste of time. What else could you do with your time and energy if you did what was meaningful? What relationships would you like to spend more time enjoying? Are there any relationships you could let go because they are not enriching or are holding you back?
• Remember the importance of good health. You wouldn’t expect a garden to survive without water or nutrition. Or a car without petrol. Your body is the temple that you are going to use to carry out this amazing life – you can’t expect it to function well without good nutrition, exercise and adequate hydration. It sounds so simple and basic that it’s easy to underestimate the importance of this – but your brain, your body – functions best when you look after it.
• Have goals that are “SMART” – Specific – For example, say you’d like to work with animals – where, what doing, voluntary or paid?
Measurable – how many days a week would you like to work with animals, how many hours per day?
Adaptive – does achieving the goal move you in the direction of your values, what kind of person you’d like to be, what’s of importance to you?
Realistic – do you have the skills, the health, the resources to achieve your goal?
Time-bound – when would you like to achieve the goal?
• Be prepared to go out on a limb. Often we grow the most and find life the most fulfilling when we stretch ourselves – go beyond what we are used to or comfortable with. It is then we grow in skills as we venture into unknown territory gaining knowledge and experience we’d otherwise not have. We grow in confidence as we realise we can do what felt unachievable, giving us incentive to go even further next time. We gain self esteem because we put in the extra effort when it was not easy or comfortable but we became enriched because of it. If we’ve done what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.
• Get active even when you don't ‘feel like it’. If you are having a day when you feel a bit flat, a bit low in energy or would much rather do something else, try to put in the effort anyway. First, you may find that the sense of achievement and pleasure may not come until after you put in the effort. Second, remember giving into ennui can become a habit, something that becomes easy to do. Third, the sense of achievement gained from doing what you don’t feel like will be even more due to knowing you used self-discipline to gain a sense of mastery.
• Use resources to help you achieve your goals. What people do you have in your life who can help you with knowledge, with encouragement or who can help you in practical ways (of course, you would help them in ways they would appreciate also). What information do you have – on the internet, in libraries, in books, pamphlets to help you with courses about what you’re interested in, in jobs, for opportunities?
• Have time off – whether it’s once a week, twice a week, or after a certain time each day. You need time to rest, to give yourself the occasional luxury, to mentally and physically recharge. You will come back with renewed enthusiasm and energy. You may find that new ideas, or a necessary detour or added direction come to you in the form of ideas and inspiration when you rest.
• If you have a setback, remember this is to be expected -don't be discouraged. If it’s a loss of a job, or an avenue you were pursuing seems no longer available, take the necessary time to re-evaluate where and when you can achieve your goals by taking alternative action. If something in your personal life has occurred that make it difficult to carry on as before, take the time and personal support you need to recover, and become positive again.
If you lose direction, or enthusiasm or feelings of purpose, keep remembering how great it would be to say at 80 “My life has been meaningful. At times it was wonderful, though there were difficult times. However, throughout it all, I’ve put in everything I could and I have no regrets.”
Thought provoking article, Justine. I like the way you put it all in the perspective of looking back on one's 80th birthday. I also like the way it's set out with plenty of headings to make it easy to follow when the reader is tired!
Thank you for your feedback. Yes, as I get older I have been prompted to reflect on not wishing my life had been different when I am, say 80! I look forward to reading your next article too - I always enjoy what you write.