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Posts Tagged ‘regret’

I’ve been noticing lately how often anticipated regret plays a role in the decision-making process.

Regret can be a helpful emotion, however unpleasant it might be. After all, it is when we feel regret that we might take a closer look at ourselves and our priorities and decide if there are any changes we want to make. Regret can potentially push us to improve ourselves and our situations.

But making decisions to try to avoid regret in the future is a recipe for self-limitation, as is discussed by Jeremy Dean in his post The Power of Regret to Shape Our Future:

“Anticipated regret is such a powerful emotion that it can cause us to avoid risk, lower our expectations, steer us towards the familiar and away from new, interesting experiences.”

I’m in the middle of making a major decision myself, and I notice my fear of regret coming into play big time. I have three basic choices, and whenever I think of any of the three, my first thought is about the potential regret I’ll feel in the future. Unfortunately, this is more a recipe for paralysis than it is a viable decision-making strategy. Not surprisingly, the decision I perceive as the least risky in the long term is also the one that is the most boring and playing-it-safe.

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

What’s particularly interesting to me is that I’ve made a lot of decisions in the past, and I actively regret very few of them. Even the ones I do wish I’d made differently aren’t black and white: they usually did give me some benefit, even if only that of more knowledge. But when considering feeling regret in the future, I don’t have the gift of hindsight to see both sides, so I’m much more likely to be caught in the trap of only considering the negatives of regret while forgetting the potential positives that haven’t had a chance to happen yet.

It’s also easy to overestimate how unpleasant and lasting the worst case will be. We think we are shielding ourselves from the harm of having something so negative come to pass, when in reality we are exaggerating in our eagerness to avoid a regretful result. This too can distort our decision-making process and dissuade us from taking risks.

I don’t know what decision I’m going to make for myself, but I hope I can keep fears of future regret on the back burner while I’m making it. When I shove those fears aside, I realize how lucky I am to have more than one option, all of which have a decent chance of making me happy.

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James Altucher wrote one of those popular list posts of things he learned from being a day trader. It is really interesting, as his posts often are. Two of his points particularly caught my attention:

  • Say “no.”… You have to decide every moment if this is the situation you want to be in.”
  • “This is crazy” means you’re crazy. …I know when I feel like, “ugh, this situation is insane” that the first place I need to look is at me.”

I like these points, and I think they go together well. Because when a situation feels insane, it’s probably particularly important to decide if that’s really the situation you want to be in. And those are the situations in which the skill of saying no is going to be particularly valuable.

The second point is crucial because it’s so easy not to look at ourselves. Sometimes we want to look anywhere BUT ourselves. But ultimately the situations in which we find ourselves are often about us. They are about us whenever we have a choice.

Even if it’s a painful choice. Those count too. Saying no can be one of the hardest things to do. Deciding to remove ourselves from a situation is often deeply unpleasant. Making different choices than we usually do can take huge amounts of effort.

Which road do you take? Photo Credit: simonsterg via Compfight cc

Sometimes we feel so attached to the way things have been or the way we wanted things to be that it takes awhile to make this choice. Sometimes after making the choice, we feel regret. We second guess. We wonder how it might have been if we’d chosen differently.

But really all that matters is the choice we’re confronted with right now. We can’t do anything about those other choices. We’ll never know how things would have gone if we’d chosen differently. We can’t go back and change things.

Sometimes we’re tempted to blame other people. We look at their behavior, and we want to point fingers and say, “Look! There is where the problem is.” And I’m not saying people don’t do some crappy things to each other sometimes. They do, and it sucks, and we don’t have to be okay with that kind of thing.

But in the end, we still usually have a choice, and so it becomes about us too. We get to decide if we’re willing to be in a relationship with this person. We get to set and hold boundaries. We get to say no. We get to say this is no longer a way I’m willing to be treated.

And what we’ll tolerate and what we won’t tolerate? The message that sends is about ourselves. So then the question becomes, are we choosing to send ourselves hate mail? Or today, are we going to send a love letter?

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