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