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New York, New York

Columbia '14 | urbanite | foodie | explorer | aspiring ukulelist | wanderlust 

Thought Sketches



Filtering by Category: Strategy

Why Regret is Surprisingly Effective

Sarah Chang

Regret is a tricky one. It's clearly not rational, and its afterthoughts are impractical. Yet regret can be a fantastic and efficient impetus for making decisions. 

I realized a lot of the choices in my life have been made by using regret as the metric to project how I would feel about potential consequences. There was a persistent trend underlying the source of a lot of dissatisfaction:

  • I was bothered by things I didn't do.
  • More bothered by the things I didn't dare try.
  • And most of all, hated the unforgiving curiosity of endless "what if's" and "might have's".

Really, why live with this nagging feeling when it's possible not to

Weighing every choice with the intention of preempting regret does wonders. It puts an abrupt stop to unease tinged with fear of missed opportunity. When there is no definitive best solution, future-oriented hindsight adds so much perspective, especially if one of the choices is at odds with what is logical or with what feels like is expected by others.

As much as my decision-making relies on this, the problem with this strategy is twofold: 

1. It’s ultimately a reactionary tactic. The course of your life is dictated by seizing what you would rather not want to miss out on than what you actually may want to do. It seems unnecessarily relativistic if what we value is objectivity.

2. The feeling of regret, at its core, is a dimension of sentimentality. By definition, that sentimentality allows emotion to trump logic.

So the question really is: can using a comparative, logical framework to make decisions based on predicted emotions still be logical in the end? But then again, how unfulfilling our lives would be if we allowed logic to be the supreme driving force in all our decisions?

If we believe happiness is synonymous with lack of regret, then this tactic would be all but infallible. It was particularly surprising to hear this was the very approach that prompted Jeff Bezos to take a leap of faith to launch Amazon, as he officially formalized into "The Regret Minimization Framework". It seems like a systematic method, but I'd also be curious to see if it would always lead to the optimal outcomes we're looking for. Arguably, regret minimization deals with consistently avoiding the most negative results but doesn't necessarily generate the most positive

Looking back, I can pinpoint that this was the underlying motive that drove me to do a lot of things that seemed strangely ambitious or even out of place. But it’s also the same rationale that has gotten me a lot of things I couldn't have fathomed attaining otherwise.

I'd rather do more than wonder if I missed out.

I'd rather risk looking foolish than avoid dismissing something before it’s even had a chance to happen. 

Seeking a regret-free conscience requires the conviction that there’s nothing to lose. It's simply makes more sense to just go for it.

If nothing ends up happening, then it won’t matter. But if something does work out, it just might mean the world.

And the fact that that possibility exists is worth everything.