Regret Is an Unreliable Emotion

I have long thought that thinking of remorse is a powerful incentive for action. When youre feeling indecisive, attempting to figure out if a specific action is a good one, consider how youll feel if you dont take the action. Typically this leads you to what looks like the ideal direction.

However while mental designs can be helpful, the majority of them likewise have limits. Recently Ive recognized theres a defect in the reasoning of focusing your attention on the avoidance of regrets. Put simply, remorse is an undependable emotion.


Consider that for a minute– what does it imply?

It suggests, in brief, that remorse is both tough to anticipate and even more difficult to identify in retrospect. , if you feel particular about your options in either instructions– either looking back or looking forward– you might be basing your interpretations on selectively chosen details.


This post on asymmetric opportunities affected my thinking on this topic. The author describes the argument in more context here:

” You only experience regret when you later on find out something that reveals a past error.

Looking back on past choices, we presume we have the benefit of hindsight … but how could we? We just have the advantage of what weve discovered on one path. Maybe the other course branched out into an alternate universe, but if so, its not one we have access to.

Likewise, a round of business layoffs that doesnt include you might lead the way for fast promos. If you leave, youll believe Thank god I left that sinking ship!, and never ever learn about what could have been.”

If you exit a stopping working relationship, youll never ever see how things may have gone, therefore obviously youll never wish you had remained. On the other hand, if you stay too long, you might discover out its a wild-goose chase and desire you had left earlier.

Remorse in these circumstances is purely a function of choice bias, and has little to do with which decision was really much better.

In other words, how typically do we actually know we made the right choice? The best answer is: hardly ever, if ever!

Naturally, in many cases I think its a quite safe bet to state we did the best thing, objectively speaking. My option to begin writing online and setting out to visit any nation, for example– that choice came about when I began believing seriously about regret.

Or perhaps its like Sylvia Plaths traditional metaphor of the fig tree. In the story, the lead character stands prior to an unfolding set of choices, actually branched off prior to her in the shape of a tree. Feeling a deep sense of overwhelm, shes not able to pick a single one.

Remorse, on the other hand, is a feeling hindered by bias– sometimes practical for deciding to move on, however rarely conclusive in our analysis of the ideal life.

Theres always the roadway not taken, the option left. If you feel pleased with the option you made, thats fantastic– but could you truly say its much better than any other?

That a person seems pretty specific to me. Still, I suppose theres always a counterfactual that remains unknown, the limited info by which we are constrained. If I had died in an accident just as I began my mission, I might have spent my last couple of minutes of life thinking, Hmmm, possibly this wasnt such an excellent concept after all.


If, in the end, you look back and think “Im so happy I made that option,” perhaps this is simply positive self-talk. Because youll never ever know for certain one way or another, you may as well choose to be delighted with where you ended up.

I cant picture any alternate universe in which I thought of writing online however chose instead to get a job at a bank, or imagined seeing the world but decided rather to remain home.

Tags: decisions, lessons, life, preparation, regrets

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If, in the end, you look back and believe “Im so pleased I made that option,” perhaps this is simply favorable self-talk.

I have long believed that thinking about remorse is a powerful motivator for action. When youre feeling indecisive, trying to figure out if a specific step is a good one, consider how youll feel if you do not take the action. Lately Ive understood theres a flaw in the reasoning of focusing your attention on the avoidance of regrets. Merely put, remorse is an unreliable feeling.