5 Common Regrets People Have and How to Avoid Them

Written by on December 17, 2017 in Conscious Living, Inspirational, Thrive with 0 Comments

Depressed Woman head held down

By Lisa Cox | Tiny Buddha

“I don’t regret the things I’ve done, I regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance.” ~Unknown

If you had a second chance at life, what would you resolve to do differently? What would you regret from your past if you had the power to change it in your future?

In 2011, Bronnie Ware wrote a wonderful book called Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying.

As a palliative care nurse, Bronnie spent several years working with patients during their final weeks of life. She documented the dying epiphanies of her patients and began to notice some similarities—five in particular (hence, the title of her book).

It’s a beautiful reminder not to take life for granted and to live a life you would be proud of.

Related Article: 10 Deathbed Regrets You Can Avoid By Making Simple Changes Now

Regret Is a Terrible Thing to Witness

For many years I have witnessed the regret of the living—my fellow patients, in over five different hospitals, both interstate and internationally. I’ve been a patient in many ward types (intensive care, cardiac, vascular, orthopedic, infection control, plastics, emergency, and rehabilitation, just to name some). But palliative care has not been one of them.


I spent over a year in hospital. The first time, and the majority of that time, was in rehabilitation. Over the years I’ve returned for more surgery, and again I would pass through rehabilitation wards for several days or weeks.

In regab at 25, learning to walk again.

Above: In rehab, learning to walk again.

Where the purpose of a palliative care ward is to provide care at the end of life, the purpose of a rehabilitation ward is, as the name suggests, to rehabilitate people and teach them to live again.

There’s always an eclectic mix of people in a rehab ward. Some were stroke patients, like me. Some were learning to stand with a new prosthetic leg following amputation, like me. Others were adjusting to new methods of movement without using their arms after open-heart surgery. Also like me.

Regardless of the reason we were all in the hospital, one thing we all had in common was that, unlike Bronnie’s palliative care patients, eventually we were going to go home to start living again.

The hospital can be a very lonely place, and many patients, despite their wounds and ailments, were simply craving conversation.

I’d frequently chat with my fellow patients. It was a good way to pass the time and distract ourselves from the monotony of repetitive (but important) rehabilitative movements.

My fellow patients, all strangers, would often open up to me in a way that I would not experience had I started talking to that same stranger in the outside world.

Similar to Bronnie’s experiences, I heard a lot about regret. But following the confession of regret would come resolutions to do things differently “this time around.”

I’ve paraphrased these most common responses that I’ve heard over the years in rehab—the top five regrets of the living.

1. I wish I’d experienced more.

Upon reflection, many of my fellow rehab patients regretted not having experienced more, and vowed to do so once they “got out.” The experiences ranged from various things to do, see, or hear, but the most common was the regret at having not traveled more.

The sad irony was that many patients, like me, would be leaving the hospital in a wheelchair or with restricted movement. So experiencing more travel would not be an option.

Resolution: From now on I’m going to experience more.

Related Article: 10 Regrets You Can Avoid

2. I wish I’d listened more.

Many patients regretted not listening more to the advice of their doctor, family members, or well-meaning friends. I remember one larger woman who recalled her doctor advising her to lose weight. At the time, she believed he was “fat shaming” her and had not listened, until she had a resulting stroke.

One man regretted not having listened to his “nagging” family who had warned him against frequently poor diet choices. Diabetes took his leg and left him with regret.

Resolution: From now on I’m going to listen more.

Related Article: How To End Suffering and Be Happy

3. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to fail.

With their second chance at life, many patients were prepared to step out of their comfort zones in the future. Some patients had been so close to death (arguably the ultimate failure) that they no longer feared so many little failures in their day, such as failing to live up to other people’s expectations.

Resolution: From now on I won’t fear failure.

4. I wish I’d stood up for myself more.

Patients regretted not having voiced their opinions more frequently and stood up for themselves and their values or beliefs. Some had spent years in unhappy relationships or unfulfilling work, and it was only their hospitalization that had been their catalyst for change.

Resolution: From now on I’ll stand up for myself more.

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