“You never know when your time is going to expire, so remember: As you add years to your life, it is more important to add LIFE to your years.“ ~ Barbara Johnson
Decades ago I made the decision to live without regret. I made a commitment to myself that I would do everything in my power to get to the end of my life with as few misgivings as possible—not an easy feat in the various twists and turns of the human condition.
Regret is a feeling of sadness or disappointment that things didn’t go like we wanted or planned. With regret comes a sense of responsibility—the reality that we had something to do with our unfortunate or unintended outcomes. As humans, we might get mired in the trappings of everyday life, but as souls, it is up to us to create a life worth living—a life aligned with the needs of our innermost ally.
Why don’t we live life to the fullest? What keeps us from cherishing every moment? And what does self-love have to do with living a life without regret?
At the core of all desires, what everyone wants most is to be loved and accepted. We often go to great lengths to make this happen in seeking love from outside sources, whether it be another person, food, drugs, or another vice. In the meantime, we can forget to love ourselves enough to keep our souls intact. As the events of the human condition unfold and sometimes even bury us, we are often less and less able to maintain the wholeness of our souls as well. Without love of self, our ability to acknowledge and repair our “tree of life” is compromised, leaving both our human condition and soul to suffer.
Ann Landers wisely stated that, “The real trick is to stay alive as long as you live.” In more modern terms, she would have said that living an intentional life helps you to feel alive no matter what your circumstances. This moment-to-moment awareness of how we choose to live our lives is what makes humans unique. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only species that can consciously choose to evolve. But are we actually consciously choosing to evolve—to live a life without regret? Or are we choosing to simply exist?
The topic of self-love now enters my psychotherapy practice on a much more frequent basis. Many clients recognize how little affection they have shown themselves along the way. They seem more able to understand that their predicaments are often caused by a scarcity of self-love which has been mistakenly previously replaced by self-deprecating thoughts or unhealthy actions. More people notice that behaviors they once engaged in to “nurture” or comfort themselves were actually desperate attempts to cover up some deep human—or soul wounds. Consciousness is raising our awareness that what we have been busy knocking ourselves down when all we really want is to be held up—to stand tall to embrace what life had to give rather than endure what seemed to be dished out.
The biggest question is “what exactly IS self-love?” According to Psychology Today magazine, self-love is not only a state of feeling good about yourself, it also emphasizes that a person has an appreciation for oneself that grows from the actions we undertake to support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. True to soul health, I would include all aspects of well-being —social, interpersonal, environmental, intellectual-occupational, financial, sexual, and recreational as well. Because self-love is dynamic in nature, both our soul maturity and evolution depend on our ability to accept our weaknesses and embrace our strengths. Through self-love, we learn the art of self-compassion while also finding meaning and inspiration as we work to live our lives more fully.
This, as you know, is more easily said than done. For someone who comforts themselves with food, the desire to soothe oneself through eating is mistaken as an action of nurturance. Those who struggle with drugs or alcohol self-medicate to “tend” to their uneasy souls. Shopaholics continue to purchase items that might take away unwanted pain… until they find something else the “need” to buy. People who continue to engage in unhealthy relationships are looking for a way to be loved while reinforcing the idea that they can’t love themselves. All of these scenarios inevitably leave a person feeling regret, but most aren’t able to see that a lack of self-love perpetuates all of these repetitive cycles.
To make every moment count, there are several important changes you can make in your life to love yourself—and your soul—more dearly.
1. Observe your self-talk and identify the negative things you tell yourself every day. Start to say them out loud—both to more clearly identify and hear the thoughts that usually play in the background of your mind and also to help you realize how harsh those thoughts really are. By saying these words out loud, most people usually stop making these harmful statements because they realize they wouldn’t treat others as harshly as they do themselves. The very second the words leave a person’s mouth, they feel regret and want to take them back. It is when we keep these thoughts inside that continues to feed anything but a self-loving soul.
2. When faced with a decision that could harm either your human condition or soul, ask yourself, “What is the most loving thing I could do right now?” If you are an emotional eater, you are less likely to eat something that is unhealthy. If you never let yourself rest, you might choose to go relax for a while instead of exhausting yourself with an unnecessary task. If you don’t want to spend time with someone who is toxic to you, you might choose to feed your soul with a fun or enriching activities instead.
Asking this simple question will not only help you live in the moment more, you will also live with more self-love as a result.
3. When asking a tough question, say “What would I regret more?” Then listen for a response. Whatever would cause more sadness or disappointment will create regret in one way or another, so leaning in the opposite direction will be a better choice for fulfilling your soul.
4. Although you may think you love yourself, there is one sure way to find out. When working as the lead psychologist for a weight management program, I would ask clients, “How ready are you to lose the weight?” Most would respond that they were very ready. Then I would ask “How ready are you to do what it takes to lose the weight?”—and they would start to back-peddle.
With self-love in mind, ask the question “Do I love myself?” Then ask, “What am I willing to do today to show myself love?” This question creates a conscious awareness of what we need to choose in order to live without regret. We instantly become aware of the behaviors we stumble over, which nudges us to choose a different path.
If necessary, then ask, “If I choose________ behavior, will I experience regret?” If the answer is “yes”, you are sure to experience sadness over not making a choice that would prevent this offense to the soul.
Regret and self-love go hand in hand—the more you love yourself, the less regret you will have in your life. Leading a life with little or no regret may mean letting go of friends, family, or circumstances that diminish you and the light of your soul. It might mean leaving an unhealthy job or career, even if you risk the security of your salary. A regret-free life may also mean that you start to do things you wouldn’t have previously done—you choose a healthier lifestyle, you stretch your edges to learn new things or meet new people.
You see, a life without regret is nothing more than a life aligned with your soul. By choosing to make every moment count, you can avoid disappointment, sadness, and frustration that your life is not going in the direction you would like it to go. Instead, you will choose to add LIFE to your years and ensure both an enriched and evolved life overall.