3 Ways To Ensure You Live Life To The Full

Picture of Jet Engine Over The Sea
Conscious, Thankful, Forgiving, How to Live Regret Free

I listened to BJ Miller in his TED TalkWhat Really Matters At the End of Life“, then again in a podcast interview recently. As someone who has witnessed over 1000 deaths, he is arguably one of the best people to share what makes a good life from those at the end of theirs.

[ted id=2325]

We've all read the poem(s) about 'If I Had My LIfe Over – I'd Eat More Ice Cream.” It seems the earliest attribution is to Nadine Stair at age 85.

If I had my life to live over, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.

And it is a truth that: “No-one on their deathbed ever wished they'd spent more time at the office.”

Actually I'm not sure I know anyone who wishes they spent more time at the office, deathbed or no. One of the responses you never get when you ask people what they enjoy doing, is spending (any) time at the office. But I digress.

I really like BJ's more nuanced response.

I like it because our lives aren't all on a timeline towards a tidy deathbed in twilight years. Death is a mere car accident away. BJ's response is one that allows us to live a full life, whether it ends tomorrow or 70 years hence. (Or if you're a transhumanist, never.)

Unfortunately most of us don't live a full life. Most of the people I know at best end up in a 'Ground Hog Day' type of grind, at worst are bitter.

And you don't get to live it again.

So how do you live that regret free life?

1. Make Conscious Decisions

You have agency…

…Societal pressure, peer pressure, your parents, your spouse/partner, your job, succumbing to any of these is a choice. Ultimately you either make decisions, or they are made for you. But pretty much everything that describes our life is a man-made construct.

So be conscious about your decisions. Think about how you spend your time, your money. A very simple rule of thumb I've found is “you can make the right decision, or the easy decision.”

If it's a tough decision, because there are many right choices, make the decision that increases your opportunity to enjoy deep relationships and give to others. If that doesn't help, toss a coin and follow your emotional response to the toss. Commit to making this the best decision.

This isn't only valid for the big life decisions: Vocation, Location, or Life Relationship; but the little ones too. Consciously choose the farthest car park so you can increase your walking. Consciously pay for coffee to brighten someone else's day. Consciously tithe and give to charity. Consciously choose the bedtime story over the sales proposal.

As far as possible, don't default to automatic decisions, but be conscious.

2. Live in Gratitude

This morning I commented on Instagram about having to fly in economy, so chose the exit row. My daughter teasingly reminded me this was a #FirstWorldProblem. Indeed she's right. I don't have to fly, I get to.

There is so much to be thankful for. Even the painful gout that reminds me every single step: I can walk, I have shoes, I'm alive. (Much better than the alternative)

Write down every night 3 things you're thankful for. Send a thank-you card to someone every week. Thank the people that serve you, no matter how little they do.

Thank them by name.

Thank your God, or the universe, for the simplest flower, the sunset, the rain. For the incredible times we live in where we can access the wisdom of people throughout the ages in an instant.

When you're tempted to criticise, or complain, be thankful instead. The richest people are not those with the most money, but those who're most thankful for what (& whom) they have.

3. Forgive

Resentment, anger, rage, disappointment these are all cancers that eat you. Rarely the other person even after revenge. The worst is when they're directed at yourself.

This doesn't only make you into a bitter person at the end of your life, but throughout your life. And not only socially, but physiologically. In my late twenties I had Ulcerative Colitis, an auto-immune disease, that is largely exacerbated, if not triggered, by stress. That stress was in a large part due to my inability to forgive.

Acknowledge hurt.


Let it go.

The End

Whether the end is next week, or in your dotage, if you can get there happy with the path you chose because it was the right path, thankful for the richness of your life, and unfettered by bitterness, yours will have been a good life.

If you get there with deep loving relationships, having given to others, and changed their lives; yours will have been a great life.

You get to choose.


5 Reasons Not To Plan Your “Once In a Lifetime” Trip

Regularly when people learn I'm a traveller they'll tell me about the 'Once in a Life Time' trip they're planning. Many haven't progressed much beyond a:

“one day I'd like to travel through [locale]”

Whereas others wax lyrical in detail about their life dream.

Almost to a one my response is “Don't plan a 'once in a life time trip'

No I'm not against travel. Far from it. Just against planning a 'once in a life time' anything.

Just One

You have just one infinitessimal life, and live it on just one awesome planet suspended in infinity. 197 countries, thousands of peoples, foods, and experiences.

When you meet your maker, She is not going to ask you whether you stuck to the speed limit (you didn't), or avoided lying (again…).

He's going to exclaim: “I gave you so much! So much you didn't bother to enjoy! Why did you neglect nearly everything I gave you?”

Why Not?

Surely then if I should encourage your desire to travel why am I so against the 'once in a lifetime trip?.'

1. Planet Misalignment

I used to instruct scuba at Aliwal Shoal in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Now Aliwal is a great reef! When conditions are good, they're spectacular! My best dive ever (yet) was here. Unfortunately spectacular is less than 10% of the time. Mostly conditions are ok, and very occasionally they're abysmal.

As you'd expect there are regular local divers, annual visitors, and 'once in a lifetime' tourists that visit the shoal. When even the 'annual' divers' trips coincided with 'ok' conditions they were disappointed. And if there for just 3 short days, with the wind pumping and swell running, they were devastated. In short to experience the 60m viz, dolphins, turtles, rays, morays, shark, butterflies, angels, clams & corals in a single dive, you have to dive regularly, or be very, very lucky.

The chances of your trip coinciding with bad weather, poor health, or socio-economic challenges is, well pretty darn high. It's rare for the planets to align, and you simply cannot pick it.

You become the person who's invested their life savings to catch a total eclipse at the Pyramids, on a cloudy day.

2. Changing Maturity

You aren't the person you used to be. At any age in your life, 10 years perviously you were a totally different person. Your tastes, relationships, income, health, strength, intelligence all change. What you dream for the 'bucket list' today is simply different to what you'll enjoy in a decade.

That's if you can even prosecute your plans. Chances are you're not going to make it to Everest Base Camp in your 60's or 70's.

3. Done Myth

You hear it all the time. “I've done the Caribbean,” as if the cruise ship docking in Antigua for a day is 'doing' a country. Let me say it here and now, you cannot 'do' a country, or a city.

For one thing, space is immutably tied to time. You may have been there, visited, lived for a while even. But even your boring suburban street will be different this winter, let alone next year. Seasons change; buildings are built, repurposed and destroyed; businesses come and go; entire people groups change.

To really experience a place, you need to live it. Through time. Not once as a spectator.

4. Pretty Common

What's sold as 'once in a lifetime' is usually nothing of the sort really. A bus tour through Europe is a commodity. Trip to Disneyland? Locals get an annual pass. There are very few experiences that you can't repeat.

In my experience, those that are, are mostly tied to relationships, such as taking off from a strawberry field in a Cessna 140 with my late father; or experiences you can't buy, like presenting on the stage of the Ministry of Science at in Warsaw at a worldwide competition. You can almost never plan them.

5. Practical Priorities

Mostly I'm against planning the 'once in a lifetime' trip because it's cowardice. It let's you off the hook from the tough choices.

The deferred action allows you to prioritise everything else first, because your travel will be 'once in a lifetime.' Your job, house move, children's education, next car, promotion, everything becomes another “priority” that stops you from getting out of your 'safe' harbour.

We Have Just The One

Soon the nations of Kiribati and the Maldives will sink into the sea. China will look more like the US than the US. The rain forests of the Amazon, and glaciers of the Antarctic will have lost their majestic vastness.

One day you'll wake up too old, too infirm, or simply too disinterested to actually live that dream. Even if you did save the money to fund the trip.

Your children won't have experienced the wonder of our planet except through a screen.

You'll miss all of those opportunities to eat exotic foods, love new friends, and expand your spirit.

Which will be a shame.