Regret is overrated

Regret is an emotion, and it is also a punishment that we administer to ourselves. The fear of regret is a factor in many of the decisions that people make (‘Don’t do this, you will regret it’ is a common warning), and the actual experience of regret is familiar. The emotional state has been well described by two Dutch psychologists, who noted that regret is “accompanied by feelings that one should have known better, by a sinking feeling, by thoughts about the mistake one has made and the opportunities lost, by a tendency to kick oneself and to correct one’s mistake, and by wanting to undo the event and to get a second chance.” Intense regret is what you experience when you can most easily imagine yourself doing something other than what you did.

Decision makers know that they are prone to regret, and the anticipation of that painful emotion plays a part in many decisions.

We spend much of our day anticipating, and trying to avoid, the emotional pains we inflict on ourselves. Susceptibility regret, like susceptibility to fainting spells, is a fact of life to which one must adjust.

You can take precautions that will inoculate you against regret. Perhaps the most useful is to be explicit about the anticipation of regret. If you can remember when things go badly that you considered the possibility of regret carefully before deciding, you are likely to experience less of it. You should also know that regret and hindsight bias will come together, so anything you can do to preclude hindsight is likely to be helpful. You should not put too much weight on regret; even if you have some, it will hurt less than you now think.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow