Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who has spent over ten years counseling people who were on their deathbed. During her tenure in palliative care, she recorded the top regrets of those who were weeks away from death. This lead to her discovery of the most common regret:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Such a powerful yet sobering message when you realize this is the most common message left by those who have attained clarity of their life as it comes to an end. Yet how often are you considering your current choices and how they may affect your future?

Do you even know if you are making the right decisions so you don’t end up with the same regret?

Framing Your Decisions

Most of us are afraid of screwing up when it comes to making decisions. We play it safe by limiting our exposure to fear by taking short-term approaches in our decision-making process. Our decisions get based on what we think will most likely succeed or how much happiness the decision will immediately bring us.

Basing decisions around a success/failure or happiness/pain outcome may be a successful metric in the short-term, but it often neglects long-term consequences. If you are framing all of your decisions on achieving quick wins, you may be missing out on the decisions which will bring long-term satisfaction. Often the choices that temporarily increase our chances of failure and level of pain end up being the most rewarding in hindsight.

So how do you make sure you’re acknowledging the long-term when making a key decision?

Regret Avoidance

Our fear of failure often blinds us from the most important question we should be asking when making a decision:

“Would I regret this failure?”

When you frame a question in this manner, you may be choosing to temporarily increase your chances of failure or level of pain, an option you may not have considered when using the aforementioned models. But if your answer to this question is a resounding “no”, then it should be a risk you are willing to pursue.

Living a life of minimal regret seems like the obvious path we all want to be on. After all, we are almost always free to make our own choices no matter our current situation. But if this path seems obvious, why do so many people wind up with the same regret of not living a life true to themselves?

Perhaps the decisions they are weighing are incorrect from the start.

Define Your Target

I often find myself procrastinating or working on things which are a waste of time when I don’t have a clear understanding of what I am trying to achieve. When you don’t have a clear understanding of what your target should be, you make decisions you shouldn’t even be considering in the first place. Or worse, you relinquish your right to decide over to somebody else.

If you never decide for yourself what is most important, you will end up doing what is expected of you. You slowly forget how to make decisions for yourself and instead start making choices you think will please others. This is how you end up living a life of regret.

So if you wish to live a life optimized for fewest regrets, you must be able to define your target. This means clearly identifying who you want to be. The decisions you make should then be a reflection of the person you want to become.

Once you can be honest with yourself about what you want out of life, it will become easier to recognize the right decisions you need to make. Then it’s only a matter of accepting your fear of future regret is more powerful than your fear of failure to help you commit to a more optimal decision. Your life will have more clarity once you recognize your regrets are usually the best indicator of what is most important to you in the long run.