What regrets will you take into retirement?

Senior woman playing acoustic guitar while wearing sunglasses and headphones

Image: olly2/Bigstock.com

We will have regrets. Life does that. But as we age, it seems the kinds of regrets change.

Psychologists Art Markman and Bob Duke from the University of Texas write about this in their book, Brain Briefs. Studies of second-year tertiary students find that when they consider regret ‘they talk about largely stupid things they have done like getting drunk, failing a test, or crashing a car’.

When people in retirement homes were asked about their regrets, it was less about the things they did, but ‘the things they didn’t do—never learning to salsa dance, never travelling the world, or never learning to play a musical instrument, for example’.

What they didn’t do—what we haven’t done—signals a challenge that can be addressed in three ways.

1. Act on opportunities

Markman and Duke make this important point: ‘Once you let it sink in that someday you will regret your in-actions, it’s easy to use your remarkable capacity for mental time travel to help you think about what you may regret not having done.

‘When faced with an interesting new prospect, imagine your future self in retirement. Ask yourself whether, at the end of your life, you may regret passing up this opportunity. If so, then open yourself up to it.’

2. Think about the regrets you currently have

A practical way of handling regrets is to list them down. Some you will not be able to address. It could be too late, if you have a dodgy knee, to run that marathon. But there will be some you can.

You may want to prioritise and then plan how you will address your regrets—and when. For instance, you could begin to plan that overseas trip, that language course, or those music lessons.

Will you begin now or make it a part of your retirement plan?

3. Keep in mind the big picture

When I was researching for Retirement Ready? I came across a small study referred to by sociologist Tony Campolo. He told of 50 individuals over the age of 95 who were asked this question: ‘If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?’

Their answer: If I had it to do again, I would

  • risk more
  • reflect more
  • do more things that would live on after I’m dead

This backs up Markman and Duke’s thinking about regretting things not done—in this case risking and reflecting. But there’s also big-picture thinking here with the comment about things living on after their death.

None of us will ever be without regret because of things done and things left undone. Fortunately, you still have time to address some of them now or within retirement.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

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Category: Attitude, Legacy, Lifestyle

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