20 Jun 2015 15:35 IST

Regret is futile… and dangerous

It’s better to learn from your mistakes and move on

One of the most common emotions that people experience is regret over decisions made in the past and the way it has unfolded in their lives. The very thought of regretting choices and decisions made is not only futile but also dangerous. It is obviously futile as the events have already taken place and looking back and regretting is not going to change anything. At best it would be better to learn from that experience and move on.

Negative emotions

It is dangerous because invariably regret leads to a series of negative emotions such as frustration, anger and despair. This pattern of thinking clouds the thinking of a person and he might end up making more mistakes and then the cycle of regret, frustration, etc., sets in all over again.

Regrets could be over small non-essential things like not ordering the tasty looking dish that has been served at the other table in the restaurant to larger life events like the choice of educational institute, the stream of studies chosen, career choices, etc.

Vicious spiral

All these tend to lead a person into a vicious spiral of continuous wrong choices and further regret… or they can be used as stepping stones to learning and improvement. The key difference between these two alternatives is how one makes decisions and choices. An informed and well thought out decision making process helps to reduce emotional conflict and regret. However, that is not enough.

For a person to avoid regret, his/her decision making needs to factor in the concept of trade off. Every decision is a choice amongst various alternatives. This automatically leads to having to give up or trade off certain elements which exist in the current state. Therefore there is a default element of trade off between the alternatives. The most common pitfall is to focus on the preferred option and tend to assume the very best with regard to that choice and the expected outcome.

Available options

Conversely the other options are either ignored totally or tend to be downplayed in the thinking process. For example consider the choice of a job offer. The mind starts to focus on all the possible positive outcomes of the job offer while contrasting it largely with the negatives being experienced in the current job. This is a fatal flaw as the comparison is between hope and reality. Hope is always a positive emotion and will always be comparatively better than reality. A better alternative would be to list out the various elements such as salary, company culture, job profile, etc and compare each objectively. The next step would be to consciously list out the positives in the current scenario and consciously accept the reality that these might no longer be a part of the new choice.

The trade off

Trade off is all about being aware and accepting what a person would be giving up in order to make a change. More importantly, thinking through such trade offs and becoming comfortable with the same.

This is relevant in almost every facet of a person’s life and is an important element to make rational choices. Learning to recognise the trade off required in every decision and accepting the same helps avoid regret over decisions made.

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