Last year, a number of elderly British people nearing the end of their lives were asked: what are your biggest regrets?
Number one — the clear winner — on their lists was that they wished they’d spent less time worrying.
In a similar vein, Australian care worker Bronnie Ware compiled a list of the five things that her patients consistently said they regretted as they approached death:
- They wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.
- They wished they hadn’t worked so hard.
- They wished they’d had the courage to express their feelings.
- They wished they’d stayed in touch with their friends.
- They wished they’d let themselves be happier.
So, how can we make sure that we don’t have similar regrets when we reach old age ourselves?
First of all, it’s important not to dwell on a negative — such as working too hard or not staying in touch enough with your friends. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 25 years of working with hypnosis and positive psychology, it’s that the unconscious mind does not process a negative directly.
Put it this way: if somebody asks you to try not to think of an elephant, you need to imagine the elephant first in order to know what not to think about. This is because the mind thinks at least partially in pictures, whether we’re aware of those pictures or not.
For example, in order to answer the question ‘What colour is your front door?’, you will first make a picture of it in your mind’s eye.
Or let’s say you want to buy a particular kind of car — suddenly you begin to notice that type of car far more often.
It’s because your internal picture of what you want to buy sets a filter in your brain. Your mind will filter out anything you see that doesn’t match what you have programmed it to sort for, and it will make things you have asked it to filter more likely to ‘stand out’ at you when you do see them.
That’s one powerful reason why we undoubtedly get more of what we focus on in life.
So, when I work with people on creating a powerful, positive future, I always emphasise the value of focusing on what you want rather than on what you don’t want.
For example, a woman came to me because she ‘kept meeting the wrong men’. She could describe them in great detail and told me that despite all efforts to avoid them, she kept winding up in relationships with them.
I explained to her that the mind tends to sort for and create in our lives the images we’re holding in our minds, even if it’s something that we’re continually thinking we don’t want. Of course, you do need to know what you don’t want, but it’s far more important to think continually about what you DO want!
So, I asked her to imagine the kind of man she actually wanted to be with in as much detail as possible, instead of the kind of man she wanted to avoid. Within a month, she met the man whom she later wound up marrying and they’re together to this day.
Live your life without regrets
How does all this apply to living a life with no regrets? Well, if we were to state common regrets in terms of their ‘positive’ opposites, here’s what we might wind up with:
- I want to live a life that makes me happy (not necessarily one that others expect of me).
- I want to work smart, creatively and effectively (rather than just hard).
- I want to build wonderful and lasting friendships.
- I want to be even happier.
The scientific research shows the more clear and precise you are about what you want, then you are significantly more likely to achieve it.
However, a happy life isn’t just about achieving goals. To live a life that’s more fulfilling, it’s important to make sure you’re living according to your values — whether they’re to do with love, achievement, family, health, joy or helping others — every single day.
So, even if you don’t achieve all your goals on an exact schedule, you will be living a life of value, and will be significantly more likely to be heading in the direction that you want. Overall, this will ensure you’re living on your own terms and building your days around what matters to you most.
Scientific studies show that usually 80 per cent of your success will come from 20 per cent of your efforts.
Do an audit of how you spend your time at work and eliminate as many of the ‘low impact’ activities as you can. This will free you up to put extra energy and effort into the high-impact, high-reward activities, increasing your effectiveness, while reducing the overall amount of time it takes to get things done.
List the people you love most
Here’s a simple but effective way of reaching out to the people you care about, which I once did as part of a personal development programme.
Just make a list of the five people in your life that you most love and care for, and reach out to each one of them with a phone call, email, or handwritten note in which you express your appreciation for them.
In my own case, not only did that make a real difference to the quality of my relationships, but it gave me an incredible feeling of love and appreciation that I can call on any time when I’m feeling a bit disconnected or out of touch.
A good and loyal friend, as you know, is worth his or her weight in gold.
According to my friend Dr George Pransky, the author of The Relationship Handbook, the secret to a great friendship is to focus most of your attention simply on enjoying each other’s company.
And happiness? It’s a state of mind available to all of us at any time.
But if there’s one secret to happiness, in which I truly believe, it’s this: we get more of what we focus on.
I know it sounds simple, but if you want to feel happier more of the time, spend more time focusing on thoughts and things that make you happy.
Change your whole outlook
A few years ago, I was told a very strange story which turned out to be completely true.
In 1973, a Scottish welder named Sydney Banks was living and working in British Columbia. He was struggling in his marriage and insecure in his life.
In the middle of a weekend encounter group, a psychotherapist said to him: ‘You’re not insecure, Syd, you just think you are.’
Over the next few days, this simple comment led Syd to an epiphany — a glimpse of life beyond the veil of his day-to-day thinking.
He turned to his wife and said: ‘I’ve found the true meaning of life. I’ve found the secret of the mind. We’ll be meeting with people from all over the world. I’ll be lecturing at universities and what I’ve seen will change the face of psychology and psychiatry.’
His wife was initially frightened by this dramatic change in his outlook, but something about Syd’s calm certainty comforted her.
As he’d predicted, people from around the world soon began to arrive in British Columbia to meet the man whom they’d heard could guide them to wisdom and a healthier psychological state. Among them were gurus from India, leaders of self-awareness groups, business executives, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
Within a short time, he was giving lectures to hundreds of people, many of them healthcare professionals, who wanted to join him on his quest to create dramatic change and greater peace of mind.
The idea that there was a whole new field of psychology that came from the insights of a relatively uneducated Scottish welder fascinated me. So, when a friend came back from a four-day intensive course, raving about the experience, I had to try it for myself.
I booked myself in to meet and work with one of Syd’s early students, Dr Keith Blevens, who’d been working in the trauma ward of a hospital when he first heard about the impact of this new understanding of psychology. Within a relatively short time, he’d decided to leave behind his traditional psychotherapeutic training and work with people using Syd’s approach.
When I asked him why on earth he’d left the conventional world of psychology, he simply said: ‘It was really simple, I couldn’t ignore the results!’
YOUR FUTURE STARTS NOW!
As I’ve mentioned before, if I could share only one idea, it would be this: we get more of what we focus on.
Another version of this rule, taught on business courses the world over, is: ‘What gets measured gets done.’
So, I want you to take a little time to measure your progress as your new destiny begins to unfold. Keep a 28-day journal. Each day, write down at least three new things you’ve noticed about yourself or your life.
This may be a new behaviour that came naturally to you, or a different way of being in an old, familiar situation. Perhaps you found yourself being more confident at a party or social gathering, or you stood up for yourself at work.
Maybe you found a ‘lucky’ penny in the street, or just realised that without any extra effort on your part, things have been going your way.
You can use an inexpensive notebook or a fancy journal if you prefer. What’s important is you take the time to write down whatever you’ve noticed that is new, different, fun or surprising.
The very act of recording these changes will help to reset the way you perceive the world and amplify the positive effects of everything we’ve done together.
Here are a few important things to remember before we part:
- It isn’t what you’re born with or what happens to you in life that determines your destiny — it’s the choices that you make along the way.
- No matter what’s happened to you in the past, you’ll always have choices about how you move forward.
- Absolutely everyone can be happy.
- When we live fully in the present, we have more power available to us to do whatever it is we want to do.
- The best way to predict the future is to create it.
In essence, Syd taught that all of our feeling and mental states are created through thought, and that beyond each individual’s personal thoughts there is a reservoir of wisdom, insight and deeper intelligence just waiting to be tapped.
One of the main things I took away from learning about his work is that a lot of what I thought was true about my life was actually just a story I was telling myself.
If there’s one secret to happiness, in which I truly believe, it’s this: we get more of what we focus on
Without even noticing, I’d been telling my own story so compellingly that I’d literally become hypnotised by it. For example, if you were repeatedly told while growing up that life is a struggle, the chances are that you still experience it that way today. If you were told life was a game, then you probably learned how to play it.
That’s the point — we tend to look at the world through the filter of stories, which means that all we see is the ‘facts’ that validate our story.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why ‘things like this’ always happen to you, it’s useful to examine how these ‘things’ fit into the story of your life. Ask yourself this: ‘Which things that I tell myself are limiting the future I’m creating for myself?’ For instance, do you tell yourself any of the following:
‘The world is a difficult place.’
‘People like me can’t get that kind of job/partner/opportunity.’
‘There’s always too much to do and not enough time.’
‘I already can’t cope with all the demands of my life.’
OK, there may occasionally be some truth to the stories we tell ourselves, but what’s undeniable is that the more we tell them to ourselves and others, the more real they begin to seem.
Even so, they’re just stories and the most wonderful thing about a story is that it can be changed at any time — often more easily than you think.
Indeed, if you simply start telling yourself a new story about how it’s possible to do things differently, you can dramatically change your future.
Finally, I hope that your life becomes more and more wonderful in ways that you couldn’t have possibly imagined before we started. Good luck!
BRILLIANTLY SIMPLE TRICK YOU MUST TRY RIGHT AWAY
This exercise is one of my favourites. It’s extraordinary how much impact it can have on your life.
I’ll ask you to step into the future and imagine that you’re approaching a time late in life when you’re truly, deeply happy and content.
I’ll then ask you questions about why you feel so good about the life you’ve lived. While some of your answers may seem obvious, others are likely to surprise you.
I’ve seen people radically change their behaviour as a result of this exercise — including turning their backs on bad relationships and recommitting themselves to their health, friends and family. One of my friends did it in his early 20s. To his surprise, he realised that if he were approaching the end of his life, he’d be most grateful for the fact he’d been there for his children while they were growing up.
This didn’t fit with his image of himself as a career-oriented man. Plus, he’d only recently got married and didn’t even have children yet. Twenty-five years on, he is a successful businessman and one of the happiest family men I know. He credits much of his success in these areas to the insight he got from this one exercise.
‘It got me to re-evaluate my priorities,’ he told me. ‘The extra time I spent with my kids meant it took me longer to reach a high level in my business than I’d originally hoped, but the relationship with my children has been worth it, and having such a stable home life has made success in my business much easier than I’d imagined.’
So remember: a bit of thought about your future now can save you a lifetime of regret later.
OK, are you ready for the exercise? It will take between five and 15 minutes, and you will need to be able to comfortably concentrate — the difference it makes could last a lifetime.
Lessons learned from a happy future:
1 If you feel comfortable to do so, imagine you were approaching the final years of your life and are truly, deeply, happy and fulfilled. What are the three to five most important things you have done with your life that contributed most to your happiness and wellbeing?
2 You might imagine your 80th birthday — what would you like each of the important people in your life to say about you?
3 At the end of your wonderful life, how would you like your epitaph to read?
PAUL McKENNA’s life changing series in http://www.dailymail.co.uk/