“Would’a. Could’a. Should’a.” Have you ever found yourself saying something like, “I would have done that, but I didn’t. I could have accomplished such-and-such, but I didn’t try. I should have spent more time with my kids, but I worked too much.”
As a palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware served patients in the final weeks of their lives. In a remarkable article called “Regrets of the Dying,” she shared the five most common regrets given by the patients she served:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. (“Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made or not made.”)
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. (“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others.”)
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier. (“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits.”)
There is a myth to improving one’s life: Spend the bulk of your time trying to fix your problems. Should you work on solving your problems? You bet. But the way to improve your life doesn’t come from primarily focusing on what’s wrong but by increasing what’s right. In fact, according to the Apostle Paul when we place the bulk of our attention on what is right, we begin to discover ways to improve what is wrong at the same time.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
“Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
If you allow the demands of the present to interfere with your hopes for the future, you are letting your thoughts be overrun with what isn’t instead of what can be. Daily pressures should never outweigh future dreams. Yes, we live in reality, and we do have responsibilities in the moment. But we can also create moments that lead to a better future.
Chip and Dan Heath put it this way, “In life, we can work so hard to get the kinks out that we forget to put the peaks in” (The Power of Moments, 258).
Perhaps one of the best ways you can work on your problems is by putting in more peaks. Stretch yourself. Be creative. Practice courage. Stay connected to Jesus and others. Create moments of elevation that help you break the old script and move beyond past patterns and habits. If you practice these things, then maybe you will discover how to live a life of no regrets.