Decision making process title

Decision making process

How to use the top 5 regrets of the dying

We make decisions for the great part of our life. In our decision making process, I found it useful to project ourselves into the future. Projecting ourselves in the long term puts things into perspective. I previously talked about “the regret minimization” as a model to make a hard decision. In a similar fashion, referring to the top 5 regrets of the dying has powerful impacts on the decision we take in the present moment.

For example, one of my biggest dilemmas currently is to either stick to commitments or to give up on them. Have you ever had these feelings? At the beginning of the year, you get so excited and you set big goals. But reality kicks in and you start to question yourself. I hate it as I wrote “reality kicks in”. Truth of the matter is, we all have our own reality and it is subjective. Even if most people agree on certain things, that doesn’t have to become our reality. When I say this, deep down I want to be a successful entrepreneur and teach other people to take the leap of faith. But before teaching, I myself have to experience it first-hand.

As I recently had lunch with a friend, I seriously started to question myself about what I really want; subsequently causing a lot of hesitations. But indecision stems from a lack of clarity. In our decision making process, Indecision remains a major cause for failure. As Napoleon Hill said, indecision is the twin brother of fear. Whenever we are undecided, fear and doubt are never far away.

As I want to stick to my decisions and help you do so when “reality kicks in”, let us recall the top 5 regrets of the dying.


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Using the top five regrets of the dying in our decision making process

An Australian nurse discovered certain patterns in the most common regrets of the dying. Bronnie Ware later published the book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”. As she worked in palliative care, -supporting patients in their last 12 weeks on earth- she was astounded to discover “common themes” that “surfaced again and again”.

Before we continue, imagine you only have a few days to live; can you picture your biggest regrets? What would you change if you had to live over again?

As Ware witnessed, here are the top five regrets of the dying:


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

“Fit in, fit in”, that is what society wants us to do. Starting from our parents, partner, environment or circle of friends, they all have their own values. Often time, people from the society we were born in have similar paradigms. But what if you feel alien to those values? What if you aspire for greater things? What if you traveled and discovered other realities than what they consider “normal”? Life gets complicated when you want something that your environment doesn’t. It’s even worse when we lack confidence and clarity about what we really want.

I have quite a few friends who suffocate in their job but they stay because it is “normal”, it is the “standard”. Some don’t want to get married but their parents put huge pressure on them. In the end, we let other people decide on our life. Most of us associate growing up with giving up and at the end of the day, we would regret it. In our decision making process, let us ask that question for good: “What if I end up regretting it?” “Was it really my decision or someone else’s?”

Bronnie highlighted: “This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

My dream is to become an entrepreneur and have more time with my wife and my kids. It turned out that most men regretted spending their entire lives at work and not having enough to take care of their children. Kids grow up fast. I can relate to the child who didn’t have any real bonds with their parents. As kids later grow up, they leave the house and live on their own.

Bronnie supports that the problem is also common for women: “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”


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

If I continue this way, I probably would have that regret. I rarely express my feelings especially with my parents. And I used to fear to say “I love you” to girls I’m attracted to. Actually, I would keep it to myself. We all fear rejection but I feared it more than other people. I certainly lacked self-esteem and could not dissociate my identity from rejection. If someone doesn’t like me, I would take that too personally. That would hurt my ego and would kill my “false” pride. But I realized soon we can express our feelings without getting attached to the outcomes. Expressing our feelings can even reassure the others.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

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

How many people will attend our funerals? How many will be there for our last breaths on our deathbed? Back in school we had our best friends also referred as BFF (Best Friends Forever). In the end, most of us regret it because we didn’t stay in touch with them.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”


5) I wish that I had let myself be happier

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Do you now see how important it is to consider these top 5 regrets in our decision making process? Can you imagine yourself in your deathbed now? Can you picture yourself having any of these regrets? And now, what can we do to minimize these regrets? As Stephen Covey highlighted in his book the 7 habits of highly effective people, let’s “begin with the end in mind”.