The #1 Regret From the Lives of Dying Hospital Patients (And How to Avoid It)

Bronnie Ware is a nurse in Australia. She has spent more than a decade counseling dying people. Over that time span, she began recording the top regrets that people have on their death bed.

After 12 years, she concluded that the most common regret of all was this:

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

Why is this such a common regret at the end of our lives? And how can you make sure that you don’t end up feeling the same way?

How to Be Courageous and Avoid the Biggest Regret

If you’re reading this website, then you probably have the power to make decisions in your daily life. It’s rare the we are actually forced to live in a way that we don’t want to live (thankfully). But somehow, many of us still end up wishing we had lived in a way that was more true to ourselves.

Here’s why I believe this happens:

Anytime I find myself feeling stuck in neutral, it’s usually the result of not having a clear target. I find myself doing work without defining what the work should actually be or hoping for a change without determining the underlying actions that would lead to it. In other words, I’m not being clear about what I care about and how I can get there. More on this in a moment.

Here’s the result:

If you never draw a line in the sand and clarify what is really important to you, then you’ll end up doing what’s expected of you. When you don’t have a clear purpose driving you forward, you default to doing what other people approve of. We’re not sure what we really want, and so we do what we think other people want.

The gray areas in life usually arise when we haven’t decided what we believe.

This is the position I think we all find ourselves in from time to time. And it’s one reason why I think many of us end up living the life others expect us to live instead of a life that is true to ourselves.

I think often about how I can get better at living with purpose and how I can live an important life instead of an urgent one. When it comes to being clear about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, I like to use a technique that I call the Bullseye Method.

The Bullseye Method

A skillful archer ought first to know the mark he aims at, and then apply his hand, his bow, his string, his arrow and his motion accordingly. Our counsels go astray because they are not rightly addressed, and have no fixed end. No wind works for the man that has no intended post to sail towards.
— Michel de Montaigne

The quote above essentially says: “If you didn’t know where the target was located, you would never fire an arrow and expect to hit the bullseye.”

And yet, we often live our lives this way. We wake up and face the world day after day (we keep firing arrows), but we are focused on everything except the bullseye.

For example, if you want to get in shape, then the bullseye is to become the type of person who never misses a workout. That’s on target. And yet, many of us spend our time looking for a stronger bow (workout program) or a better arrow (diet plan) or a tighter string (running shoes). Those things matter, but none of them serve you if you’re not firing arrows in the right direction.

The Bullseye Method ignores the things we typically focus on like tactics, resources, or tools. Instead, it focuses on the identity and location of the bullseye. It forces us to be clear about what we really want from life.

In other words, forget about how you want to perform or what you want to look like. A bullseye is not “gain 10 pounds of muscle” or “build a successful business.” The bullseye is living a life that’s on target. It’s having a purpose and a clear direction for the actions you will take.

What type of person do you want to become? What type of values do you want to stand for? Which actions do you want to become your habits?

The only way to live a life that is true to you is to have a purpose to organize your life around. Where is your bullseye located?

What Have You Always Wanted for Yourself?

Nothing is as important as knowing exactly where your target is located.

If you know what you’re going after, then you’ll find a way to reach it. Don’t have a bow and arrow? You can throw a rock at your target. You can run up and punch it. You can buy a gun. There are a million ways to get to a destination, but there is only one target.

Too often we shoot arrows in the general direction of our desires instead of spending time figuring out how we can live a life that’s on target. Stop firing shots before you know where they should be headed.

Are you guilty of firing arrows in the general direction? Or do you know — down to the very tiny dot of the bullseye — where you are headed and why?

It’s not easy, but if you take the time to be clear about what you stand for and where you want to go, then the courageous steps will seem simple. Clarity of purpose is everything.

References:
1. The article on the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying can be found here.

18 Comments

  1. Here’s one way I’m working to live a life that’s more “on target” for me:

    I’m working to become the type of person who works for impact instead of income.

  2. I’m working on sharing ideas and knowledge rather than telling people how to do something.

    It’s all about collaboration!

    Thanks for this action-oriented post James, stay on target!

  3. I’m working on living a fulfilling life while helping others.

    That’s my bullseye, there are a lot of steps in between here and then, but it will happen. My version of a fulfilled life includes living and visiting many places and meeting many people.

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

    Is this not so Very True. It all starts when we are kids and your parents are so scared that we will not be able to survive without money and so they encourage us to learn skills that as comforting to the soul as brown tap water and discouraged us not to become a poet, an artist, a musician or a philosopher. Instead we get tunneled into a life that does not have much satisfaction. The only saving grace today is that computers can do all the left brain activity much cheaper and faster than we can, but computers still don’t understand right brain activity. So parents tell your kids that want to be artists and creators that a great future lies in front of them.

  5. Excellent post. I think believe Michael Hyatt’s free ebook “Life Plan” compliments your article nicely. If we don’t know who we are or what we want then we just wander around aimlessly. Thats not fun and it serves no purpose.

  6. I’m working on becoming a professional photographer.

    Thank you so much for this post, it’s easy to forget how important life is, and just to get on with it and accept our current circumstances. We all have the ability to be much more than we give ourselves credit for, and to help others realise their own potential.

    Many thanks.

  7. Haha, now that’s a good one! I actually found it quite challenging to come up with a single statement that would cover everything I want / do and at the same time has emotional trigger (feels personal and true). Had to re-read my mission statement a few times :)) So here it goes:

    I am working to become the person who never settles for second best for what he wants from life

    Great exercise, great article!

  8. One bullseye I’m working to organize my life around: I’m working to be a strong woman.

    (I need to reevaluate what I choose to use to hit that bullseye, but I’m getting there!)

    • I love that bullseye, Mary Anne. Strength can take many forms, and no matter how you go after it I think you’ll be well served.

      p.s. Thanks for sharing. Feel free to drop a line here whenever you please. :)

  9. “I am working on becoming the type of person that has her finances in order”
    “I am working on becoming the type of person that instead of complaining takes the initiative to change or improve whatever is bothering me”
    I used to be that woman that stared at the mirror feeling sorry for myself and would walk around thinking that fit and beautiful people were so lucky. That was the old me…I honestly can’t remember when was last time I did that. Since I decided to change my ways the mirror is a positive place where I get to check out my results, or just a whatever place where I go to see if my clothing matches and my eye shadow is even :D

  10. Great topic! I recently went back to school and finished my degree in social work. I was motivated to start a new career based on helping people instead of making someone else a profit. Once I had achieved this goal though I started to feel restless again. My new bullseye is health and fitness. I quit smoking 3 weeks ago and have started working out and eating better too.

    • That’s great. Thanks for sharing your story and success thus far. Keep at it and be sure to stop back and let us know how we can help. It’s great to have you as part of the community here!

    • Andy — thanks so much for sharing. It’s great to have you as part of the community here. And, of course, I’m glad you’re finding the site useful.

      Feel free to drop a line anytime. I’m looking forward to hearing from you more!

  11. I’m working on relishing the clear moments of delight and happiness I have during the day instead of letting them slip away and not make a healing impact. Like this morning I realized that I was very happy and contented folding the laundry.

  12. The universe works, and this article could not have come at a better time for me.

    My bullseye is to be the kind of person that keeps every promise he makes to himself and others.

    The corollary to that bullseye is to be the kind of person that persistently works toward the goals he sets for himself.

    Next stop: Lead by example and be the change that I wish to see in the world. I.E. Arrange my life such that I am self-sufficient and need no income. Then invite others to join me.