In the song, “I did it my way”, Frank Sinatra makes the bold statement, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but there again, too few to mention.”

Most of us would like to say the same as we think of our life, but if we are honest, many would probably admit that we have more regrets than we care to mention. Maybe it is when people realize their mortality that they become aware of the things that are unfinished, unaccomplished or unrealized.

I have noticed a pattern in listening to the stories of people who are dying or who have lost a loved one. Their regrets are more over things they HAVEN’T done than things they HAVE; unhappy that they did not do things when they had the time and opportunity.

Here are some suggestions which, if followed, you will never regret:

1. Set goals and GO for them

One of the things people regret most when they get old is that they did not go for what they really wanted to go for in life. Everyone has a dream, but many do little or nothing to make those dreams come true. Whether you want to travel the world, start your own business, or just spend more time with family, there is a simple formula: Plan; Prioritize; Be Passionate.

One of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Successful People” is to “Begin with the goal in mind.” This principle really encapsulates the “Plan, Prioritize, Passion” formula.

Covey gives the illustration of a team that sets out on a trek through the jungle. Every step is a painful process of cutting vines and hacking undergrowth to clear a path for them to proceed. After many days of slow painstaking advance, one group member decides to climb a tree to see where they are. He comes down with good news and bad news. “The good news is that we are making excellent progress”, he states, “but the bad news is that we have ended up in the wrong jungle!”

How many people set out on life’s journey, make great headway, but sadly later find themselves in the wrong place?

Imagine you are at a funeral. (Never let it be said that my articles don’t stretch your imagination!!) Except this one is different. This is YOUR funeral you are attending. And you learn that there are going to be four eulogies: one from a member of your family, one from a friend, one from a colleague and one from a member of the community.

What would you want them to say about you? In other words, what would you want to be remembered for?

To put it another way, at the end of life, what would you like to be able to say: “I’m SO glad I did THAT!” And then ask yourself, what have I done TODAY to INVEST in that goal? If I want to be remembered as a great family person, what have I done lately to earn that tribute? And ask the same question about anything else you would like to be remembered for because every day, in whatever we choose to do, we invest in our own eulogy.

We assess what our real priorities should be today by recognizing what you would want to be remembered for tomorrow, because at the end of life, that is what is really important.

2.    Invest more time in people than in things

Another common regret as people grow older is how they have invested their time. At the end of life, more people say, “I wish I had spent more time with the people I care about,” than lament, “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office.”  If you love someone, tell them, NOW. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Say thank you to friends that you appreciate and tell them how much you care.

A couple of years ago, I took my family to Disney World. It is not an inexpensive excursion as you probably know. A friend of mine asked how I could afford to do it. I was quite proud of my reply: “How could I afford NOT to?” Long after the money is gone, you are left with memories of that time spent together that will never be forgotten. My grandchildren might say in my eulogy, “Grampa took us to Disney”, and all it cost me was money, which I can’t take with me anyway.

3. Express yourself more constructively

Transparency means openness and honesty, or “the quality of being easily seen through.”  Telling people how you feel is crucial in good relationships, whether it is with your soulmate, with family or with colleagues.

I remember a friend asking me if I loved my wife. In true Scottish male style, I retorted, “That goes without saying.” He responded, “That’s the trouble. Love GOES … without SAYING!” I never forgot that remark, and I made it a priority to try to say “Love ya” to my spouse, sons and grandchildren every time I talk to them. In this age of political correctness, you can also utilize “I really appreciate you” when circumstances allow.

I have always taken the attitude that “I would rather make a mistake by saying something than a mistake by not saying something.” Now admittedly that has gotten me into trouble sometimes when it would have been easier to keep quiet, but at least people always know where I stand.

However, we have to be careful. When it comes to emotions like anger or resentment, we should always confront our own feelings first and then express them in a constructive and positive way. I find it goes better when you say how YOU feel about a situation, than accusing people with “You should” statements. But the point is, people cannot grow their relationships, personal or professional, if they hide their feelings from each other.

4. Learn and explore more

Do you ever have the urge to learn something new such as another language or how to play guitar? Plan, Prioritize and follow your passions. Learn the new skills and discover something different. As they say, “It’s not the moments in your life, but the life in your moments” that really count.

What’s on your bucket list that you haven’t yet attempted? Going somewhere, doing something, meeting up with someone, somehow? You have your own ideas of things you would like to do before it is too late,

So do more of things that you would love to do. What gets you excited? If nothing seems to anymore, check your pulse. If you feel a heartbeat, it’s not too late to get enthusiastic about something. Don’t wait till you regret that you didn’t do it, because the time will inevitably come when it WILL be too late.

  1. 5. Choose to be happy

Did you know that happiness is a choice? You just need to direct your thoughts and emotions. Even in situations where life is difficult, can we find SOMETHING that is good and makes you happy? Life is short, and we have to try to find and experience the joy and thrill that is hidden in every day.

Someone recently showed me a book entitled “The Gift of Disappointment”. While the title might suggest a Pollyanna philosophy in which we have to see everything as “good”, the author in fact takes a much more realistic approach. As I read it, I began to realize that out of some of the disappointments of my own life, such as the death of loved ones, opportunities that didn’t materialize, or circumstances that seemed unfair, that things have worked out… anyway!

Admittedly I couldn’t see the gift at the time!  But as they sing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, (one of my favorite movies to watch with my granddaughter, which is another happy priority!) “From the ashes of disaster, grow the roses of success.”

Sadness gives depth, while happiness gives height. Sadness delivers roots, while happiness provides branches. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion, height and depth, sadness and happiness. Both are needed in nature and in life, and that is its balance.

  1. 6. Live to the fullest and never waste time

Bruce Lee once said, “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made of.” Start making every minute count. When you play, enjoy it to the fullest. When you work, create a masterpiece out of the job you do that day. Decide today that you are going to live your life with passion, pursue your dreams, spend more time with people you love, and enjoy every moment you have right now.

And then maybe at the end of life, you will be able to join Edith Piaf in proclaiming, “NO  … no regrets!”