Life, Fun, Gratitude and Regret… a call to action

Sometimes life gets us down. We get stuck in a routine, become overwhelmed by circumstances or paralyzed  by fear. We claim not to know what we want except we know that we don’t want more of ‘this’. Knowing that you do not want more of the same is a start. Describing what we want to move away from is the first step in describing what we want to move towards. It also helps to take stock of what we already have. It’s often described in self-help speak as acquiring the attitude of gratitude. Simply be focusing on what we are thankful for (however small), helps to retune our perceptions to potential positive opportunities. It’s become a key strategy in my confidence building approach (See Unlock Your Confidence).

I saw ‘International Fun Smuggler’ Mrs Barbara Nice’s show at Edinburgh Fringe. Mrs Nice takes great delight in celebrating the small things in life (and it’s difficult to come away from her shows feeling anything but uplifted). In the show she also touched on the regrets in life. These provide clues to what we might do to escape ‘more of the same’. Bronnie Ware, palliative nurse recorded the top five regrets of dying patients and at first glance seemed all rather un-sensational. However they provide a recipe for living without regret. Here are our biggest regrets:

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

Consider how you allow the expectation of others to limit your choices and perpetuate more of the same. Consider what small thing you could do today that brings you a tiny bit closer to your idea of your true self. It could be starting a new hobby or attending an evening class. Start with a small thing to build your confidence and create momentum. Do it today.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Consider how you can create a little balance in your life. What do you do to relax? What small things can you let go to make time for yourself? When I run confidence building workshops I ask about the moments when people have more confidence invariably they report times when they are relaxing and having fun. In Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In…Swim Out to Meet It, I wrote that a melody consists not just of the notes, but also of the rests in between the notes. Taking time out can improve efficiency at work and can have a knock on effect in other areas of your life. What will you do today to create some moments of fun or relaxation?

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Often bottled up feelings can lead to resentment and bitterness and sometimes people turn those feelings in on themselves. Many people spend years in work meetings saying nothing until one day they speak up. At that time it didn’t matter if anyone else agreed, it was just enough for them to ‘say my piece’. Like anything else, if you have little practice at expressing your feelings (saying your piece) then start small, with something almost inconsequential, as long as it’s a first step. Expressing our feelings will engage others in feedback. Sometimes they will agree and sometimes they won’t. Either way the act of speaking up and dealing with the feedback is a way of building self-esteem. Of course, it can be positive expressions of feelings such as gratitude to another person.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Sometimes we take friendships for granted and let other aspects of our lives get in the way. The same applies to family members. We just assume that they will always be there. They become part of our ‘psychological furniture’ rather than real people. There have never been so many ways to communicate as there are today. A group text message to all of your contacts is not staying in touch. It’s going through the motions. When looking back over our lives we realize that all the things in life that, at the time, mattered more than people, don’t. Forget Facebook (for a while) and focus on facial expressions and vocal inflections with real people, off line. So who can you reconnect with, voice to voice, face to face?

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Getting the ‘gratitude attitude’ helps to create a foundation for happiness as does making time to have fun. It’s interesting that the regret here is ‘let myself’. This implies that the opportunities were there but not seized. A key way of finding more happiness to set goals that stretch in areas of life that interest us. In his classic book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high) offers a simple message. To be happier we just need to spend more time ‘in flow’. These are the moments when we become so totally engrossed in what we are doing that we lose all sense of time. We set goals to improve our personal best and develop skills, engaging blissfully in the present moment. So what would that be for you? What start can you make today?

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodNothing here requires massive life changes. All that it takes is small affirmative steps. In my coaching practice, the emphasis is on creating small, shifts in perception and action. It has always amazed that clients do far more between coaching sessions that we agreed or that either of us expected. It’s not bungee jumping or fire walking that transform lives, but small steps of persistent action in the desired direction.

What will you do today, to build happiness and regret-proof your life?

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Getting the Gratitude Attitude (Free PDF Diary Sheet)

Where as ‘bad news comes in threes’, or so it’s said, there doesn’t seem to be any comparable unit of measurement for good news. This perceptual bias of vigilance for the bad stuff at the expense of the good stuff means that our perception of the world may become distorted.

The daily hassles and uplifts theory of stress maintains that it is often the small stuff that strongly influences our stress levels. At the end of the day we mentally weigh up the hassles versus the uplifts. The result is a ‘good day’ or ‘one of those days’.

So given that we’re led to believe that ‘bad things come in threes’ maybe we need to look three times as hard to find the good stuff. That’s where The Gratitude Experiment helps. I use this technique in my training and coaching practice. It’s a simple exercise to help you to develope the gratitude attitude and focus more on the good stuff, and to balance out those hassles and uplifts.

To get started, download the free PDF diary sheet which is from my self-help and coaching book: ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It’). Now run off a few copies. Start with a week’s worth or better still a month’s worth. Then, every evening list three things that you were grateful for during the day, no matter how small. It could be a compliment, a perfect cappuccino, a bit of scenery, anything. You could also list three people you were grateful to that day. The second part, each morning, is to list three things you are looking forward to that day. Resist the temptation to write the same things everyday; add something new. The overall idea is to retrain your perceptions to include more of the good stuff. At the end of the week or month, assess what changes there have been in your life. The idea is also featured  Richard Wiseman’s :59 Seconds, and is grounded in evidence-based research.*

Focusing on the blessings instead of the burdens can help to improve optimism and increase happiness, and it’s so simple to achieve.

I’ve posted on this topic before but knowing that it’s sometimes the smallest of obstacles that prevent us from making changes, I’ve included a PDF download to make it just a little easier to give ‘The Gratitude Experiment’ a go. So try it and out and pass it on to family and friends and feel free to post a comment of your results.

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Notes: * R.A.Simmons & M.E.McCullough (2003). ‘Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, pp 377-89.