You won’t say “no regrets” again. Regret’s usefulness in improving future decisions. But also a warning against the pursuit of regret minimizing. Deeper insights than I expected.
People who say they have no regrets?
Think of them as actors playing a role - and playing it so often and so deeply that they begin to believe the role is real.
Psychological self-trickery is common.
Sometimes it can even be healthy.
But more often the performance prevents people from doing the difficult work that produces genuine contentment.
Negative emotions help us survive.
Emotion becomes regret only when contrasting with what might have been.
Regret is your own fault, not someone else’s.
Our ability to mentally travel through time and to conjure incidents and outcomes that never happened.
Athletes who finished third appeared significantly happier than those who finished second.
Thoughts about the past that make us feel better are relatively rare, while thoughts that make us feel worse are exceedingly common.
Positive counterfactuals preserve our feelings in the moment, but they rarely enhance our decisions or performance in the future.
Worse counterfactuals degrade our feelings now, but can improve our lives later.
Regret’s purpose is to make us feel worse.
By making us feel worse today, regret helps us do better tomorrow.
It can sharpen our decision-making skills.
Regret offers three broad benefits.
sharpen our decision-making skills.
elevate our performance on a range of tasks.
strengthen our sense of meaning and connectedness.
When others accept our first offer without hesitation or pushback, we often kick ourselves for not asking for more.
Price regret improves our decision-making process - because the stab of negativity slows us down.
We collect more information.
We consider a wider range of options.
We take more time to reach a conclusion.
Because we step more carefully, we’re less likely to fall through cognitive trapdoors
Lingering on a regret for too long, or replaying the failure over and over in your head, can have the opposite effect.
Thinking is for doing.
We act to survive.
We think to act.
But feelings are more complicated.
Feeling is for thinking.
Don’t dodge emotions.
Don’t wallow in them either.
Use them as a catalyst for future behavior.
If thinking is for doing, feeling can help us think.
Use regret to catalyze a chain reaction: the heart signals the head, the head initiates action.
Failure to be responsible, conscientious, or prudent.
Forgone opportunities. What haunts us is the inaction itself.
Moral regrets: When we behave poorly.
Connection regrets: Fractured or unrealized relationships - neglecting the people who help establish our own sense of wholeness.
Foundation regrets: If only I’d done the work.
Our brains entice us into valuing the now too much and the later too little.
To avoid regrets, reconfigure that person’s situation, setting, and environment.
Create the conditions at every level - society, community, and family - to improve foundational choices.
Beliefs about morality stand on five pillars:
Those who nurture and defend the vulnerable are kind; those who hurt them are cruel.
Our success as a species has always hinged on cooperation.
We value those whom we can trust and disdain those who breach our trust.
Our survival depends on the cohesiveness of our group.
That’s why being true to your team, sect, or nation is respected - and forsaking your tribe is usually reviled.
Hierarchies nourish members and protect them from aggressors.
Those who undermine the hierarchy can place everyone in the group at risk.
We avoid pathogens - a “behavioral immune system” to guard against a broader set of impurities such as violations of chastity.
The defining feature of religious thought is the division of the world into two domains, one containing all that is sacred and the other all that is profane.
We all have an
actual self: the bundle of attributes that we currently possess.
ideal self: the self we believe we could be - our hopes, wishes, and dreams.
ought self: the self we believe we should be - our duties, commitments, and responsibilities.
Discrepancies between these three selves fuels our behavior and directs which goals we pursue.
Finding a silver lining doesn’t negate the existence of a cloud.
Action regrets bringing you down? Ask yourself:
How could the decision I now regret have turned out worse?
What is one silver lining in this regret?
How would I complete the following sentence? “At least....”
Language, whether written or spoken, forces us to organize and integrate our thoughts.
It converts blobby mental abstractions into concrete linguistic units.
Writing moves the experience from the realm of emotion into the realm of cognition.
Instead of those unpleasant feelings fluttering around uncontrollably, language helps us capture them in our net, pin them down, and begin analyzing them.
By contrast, the same approach for positive experiences is less effective.
For life’s happy moments, avoiding analysis and sense-making helps us maintain the wonder and delight of those moments.
Dissecting terrific events can diminish their terrificness.
Self-compassion: extending ourselves the same warmth and understanding we’d offer another person.
Self-compassion is associated with:
increased optimism, happiness, curiosity, and wisdom
enhanced personal initiative and emotional intelligence
greater mental toughness
deeper social connections.
It can protect against unproductive mind-wandering.
Self-distancing: zoom out and gaze upon our situation as a detached observer.
self-distancing helps you analyze and strategize - to examine the regret dispassionately without shame or rancor and to extract from it a lesson that can guide your future behavior.
Self-distancing changes your role from scuba diver to oceanographer, from swimming in the murky depths of regret to piloting above the water to examine its shape and shoreline.
Self-distancing strengthens thinking, enhances problem-solving skills, deepens wisdom.
You’re often better at solving other people’s problems than your own.
Because you’re less enmeshed in others’ details than they are, you’re able to see the full picture in ways they cannot.
prompting people to consider how they might feel about a negative situation in ten years reduced their stress and enhanced their problem-solving capabilities.
Everybody would be entered in a raffle for a $75 gift card.
But if the organizers drew someone’s name and that person had not completed the survey, he would be ineligible for the prize and the organizers would select another name.
I’ll kick myself.
I can readily envision a future where I win the prize - but the gift card is snatched from my hands because of my own stupidity, laziness, or lack of effort.
Similar to “loss aversion”: the pain of losing something greater than the pleasure of gaining the equivalent thing.
When we envision how awful we might feel in the future if we don’t act appropriately now, that negative emotion - which we simulate rather than experience - can improve our behavior.
We’re particularly inept at predicting regret.
We often overestimate how negative we’ll feel and underestimate our capacity to cope or balm our feelings with At Leasts.
Anticipating regret can sometimes steer us away from the best decision and toward the decision that most shields us from regret.
Minimizing regret is not the same as minimizing risk.
Constantly trying to anticipate and minimize our regrets can become a form of unhealthy maximizing.
Applying this framework at all times and in all realms is a recipe for despair.
Regret is storytelling.
Our very ability to experience regret depends on our imagination’s capacity to travel backward in time, rewrite events, and fashion a happier ending.
We are both the authors and the actors.
We can shape the plot but not fully.
We can toss aside the script but not always.
We live at the intersection of free will and circumstance.
People forge their identities through stories.