In the moment, we may not realize regret is looming, but when the end of our life rolls around, that notion tends to become very clear upon reflecting on all the things we didn't make time for when we had a chance. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Regret is optional, which is why Jordan Grumet, MD, a hospice doctor and author of Taking Stock: Hospice Doctor's Advice on Financial Independence, Building Wealth, and Living a Regret-Free Life, recommends conducting regular "life reviews," which are a common practice for dying patients in hospices.
Why doing a life review early (and often) is beneficial
Once a dying patient's medical needs are taken care of, hospice workers help them conduct a life review, which is a structured series of questions that asks about the person's past and present, as well as the things that are most meaningful to them. "The whole point is for people to go back and really start thinking about what had purpose and meaning in their life and come to terms with the fact that they're dying soon," Dr. Grumet says.
So why do a life review now, even if you're not nearing the end of life? The short answer: time. "One thing we often see in the dying is that only when they realize that the end of life is near do they give themselves permission to really start thinking about those things they really want in life," Dr. Grumet says. The problem, he adds, is that by waiting until their deathbed to do this life review, hospice patients often find it challenging to do some of the things they've always wanted to do in their last days because they may not be physically well enough to do those things.
The biggest benefit of doing a life review now is that it allows us to really think about what is meaningful and important to us and do those things while we're alive and well. "If we start doing this as a young person, maybe once a year, maybe once every six months, we can start working on these things now so that we don't have regrets," Dr. Grumet says. "Life is finite, and we don't know when our last month will be here."
How to do a life review to live without regrets (or at least fewer ones)
To give a life review a try, first, set the scene. Carve out some quiet time to really dive in, turn off all distractions, and get comfy. Next, Dr. Grumet instructs envisioning your doctor informing you that you only have one year to live. (Side note: This may be a bit anxiety-inducing, but it's part of the process. Take a few deep breaths and let it pass.) Then begin reflecting on the life review questions and answering them with as much specificity as possible.
Dr. Grumet notes you can find many of these big-picture, end-of-life questions by Googling “hospice life review,” but as a starting point he shares a few questions here.
- What do you most want to do, experience, or achieve before leaving Earth? Include life-long goals and dreams you had as a child.
- What are your biggest regrets?
- What were your biggest successes?
- What needs have you yet to fulfill?
- Who are the most important people in your life? What relationships need repair?
- What moment in life if you could go back and redo, would you go back and why?
Dr. Grumet says you'll likely need to return to your life review and repeat it a few times. "Usually, when people first sit down to do this, they're not very good at it because we're not used to sitting down and thinking about these things," he says. “It may take you a few hours, days, or weeks to get through."
Another tip he shares is to focus your answers around the big life themes like purpose, identity, connections, and legacy—you know, the stuff that really matters. Once you're clear on what those important and purposeful things are for you, he says you can start building a life that supports them. Given that our careers and finances are two significant parts of our lives, he says those are good places to start. For instance, if your job isn't fulfilling your sense of purpose, begin shifting to a job that does align with your values.
This implementation process is, of course, not an overnight thing. The important thing is that a life review brings the things that are most important to us (not what society, our parents, peers, etc., deem necessary) to the forefront so we can start pursuing them sooner, rather than later.
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