“My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”
-Woody Allen, Actor, Screenwriter & Film Director

Every once in a while I see a movie that feels like it was written solely for me. Such is the case with “The Bucket List,” a heartfelt comedy starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Both characters discover that they have only six months to live and both reluctantly share a hospital room. As the story begins, Jack Nicholson observes Morgan Freeman jotting something on a yellow sheet of paper and inquires as to what he is writing.

“A bucket list,” he responds. “What’s a bucket list?” asks Jack. “A list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket.”

It made me think, really think. What do I want to do before I kick the bucket? Behind that thought was the realization that I really don’t want to spend my last moments on this earth regretting. Regret, as defined in Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia, is “an intelligent or emotional dislike for personal past acts and behaviors.”

I look at regret as insight that comes too late.

OK. I admit it. As Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets. I’ve had a few.” Like probably every human being alive today, I’ve done a few stupid things in my life that I have regretted. In fact, regrets are inevitable, kind of like paying taxes and dying. No matter how much you plan out your choices, you will still have regrets. What might have been and what you can’t know for sure will always whisper in the back of your mind. So, regretting what you have done in the past or may do in the future isn’t an option. Allowing regret to paralyze your enjoyment of the present is a choice.

We humans are endlessly fascinating. When faced with the fact that we have taken certain actions that fail to meet either our own or other’s standards of behavior, most of us will opt for one of two reactions. Since we, as a species, are very adept at justifying ourselves, we will either deny that it was our fault by blaming something or someone else or deny that there was really any lapse in our judgment in the first place.

The second response is that we wish our actions were undone and – regret. The problem with either blaming, denying or regretting is that they all result in suffering. The antidote is to realize we are all in the same boat, choose to let go of the past and forgive.

That’s the past but what about the future? Writer Helen Rowland noted, “The follies which a man regrets most in his life are those which he didn’t commit when he had the opportunity.”

Opportunity is the operative word and opportunity is something you create by thinking, planning and acting.

One of the exercises I’ve had clients do is to answer the question, “What would you change if you had only six months to live?”

I know it’s harsher than writing a “bucket list” but it does set your mind to spinning and sometimes that’s what needed for positive change. So what would you do?

Over two decades ago, the great football coach Lou Holtz had me write down a “dream list.” He pushed me to think big, let go of judgment and put down on paper everything that I ever wanted or dreamed I could do. On the list was going on safari in Africa, skydiving, performing my one-man show on Broadway and writing a book. Those have been accomplished and I still have many more wonderful things to dream about and – do. I don’t want to have any major regrets.

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable,” writes clergyman/essayist Sydney Smith.

OK. You knew this was coming. I would like you to take a couple of minutes in this New Year and write your own personal “Bucket List.” What do you want to do before you leave this earth? Refuse to censure yourself. Recognize and shoot down your judgments about what others say is reasonable or possible. Go for your dreams. After all it’s just a piece of paper, or, is it?

You may not be able to completely avoid regret but you can certainly lessen your chances that you will regret. I’d like to leave you with one last quote by the late, renowned actress Ingrid Bergman: “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.”

James Mapes is a speaker and personal excellence coach. He is the author of Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind.


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