Ok, I may have been misleading you there with the title just now. The truth is that no one truly lives a life with no regrets, even if that regret is something as simple as not being able to accomplish everything they set out to. In the realistic sense of living without, or more accurately, minimizing regrets there seem to be 2 common and likely oppositional approaches people often take.
No Regrets the impulsive way)
The first option seems to be the more vocalized version of living life without regrets, frequently seen to be tattooed artistically onto parts of people who clearly do have regrets. It seems to have wider popularity in demographics where individuals have not yet had the experience to recognize that the banner of “no regrets” flown over poor decision making does not transform these decisions into effective ideas.
I don’t want to be overly critical here. The truth is that it’s hard to admit to yourself when you’re being impulsive and trading long term gratification for short term gratification. I suck at it too sometimes. The truth is we all do from time to time, but not being frank about the fact that it happens only compounds the problem, further allowing a person to believe that a decision should feel good to be the better choice, when for the things that matter most, the opposite it so often true.
The execution seems to play out like something to this effect: Live you life without foresight and planning, while take lots of risks. Avoid taking responsibility for your actions or associating the cause and effect of your choices, and do what you feel like right now.
This often leads to blame others for the outcomes related to simply having “no regrets” when perhaps you should. The word “shaming” seems to get thrown around a bit in this scenario.
In a discussion about how to live life with less regret, I think this guy nailed it:
“Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.”
No Regrets the pragmatic way)
Plan your life out of “on purpose”. Give everything you identify as important your full long term effort. Not just the touchy feely things but also the things that give you more freedom-time, money, low debt, friends, family, etc. Fail, but learn from those failures. Take responsibility where appropriate. Maximize your time in rich and meaningful life experiences (This is not the same as fleeting short term pleasures, novelty, and convenience).
Live your life so fully that when your time is finally over, you can look back and say “I gave life my full effort, intelligently, and on purpose. I worked toward my goals. I embraced responsibility and rose to the occasion, more often than I ran away from it. I was was challenged and sometimes rose to the occasion, other times not. I started with no discipline but gained some. I started with aptitude but left with wisdom. I failed and I succeed in learning every time I failed. I had dumb ideas that showed me the way to better ideas. I’m ready to close my legacy although incomplete.” No man lives forever.
Just like most timeless concepts, this no regrets thing isn’t really a new idea. It’s something intelligent men and women have been looking at for millennia. This dude had it figured out about 200 plus years ago and even wrote it down for us in a way that’s both beautiful and insightful.
The Poem of Chief Tecumseh
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” –Chief Tecumseh
A useful tool for uncovering what’s important to you may be to start at the end and think about what you’d regret not accomplishing the most. What would you do different if you could do it all over again? Well I have good news! Since you’re reading this, you’re likely not dead. Since you’re not dead, you likely can still do many of the items you still want to. The KFC guy didn’t start his empire until he was 65. So get out there and truly craft a lift that you can live with no regrets. Just don’t be impulsive about it. The long road is often the fastest. Shortcuts are usually just marketing.