The science of regret - Deepstash

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A fear of regret can lock us into bad relationships, jobs and habits - here's how to break free

The science of regret

Regret is important in our lives because it facilitates the process of learning from our mistakes and avoiding repeating them.

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Status quo bias
Status quo bias

Status quo bias is when we prefer that our environment and situation should remain unchanged.

The bias has the most impact in the area of decision-making, as we tend to prefer the more familiar choice over the less familiar, but often better, option.

Common Explanations for Status Quo Bias

These explanations are all irrational for preferring the status quo:

  • Loss Aversion: When we make decisions, we weigh the potential for loss more heavily than the potential for gain.
  • Sunk Costs: We continue to invest resources like time, money, or effort into a specific endeavor just because we are already invested, not because it is the best choice.
  • Cognitive Dissonance: In decision-making, we an option as more valuable once we have chosen it. Considering an alternative can cause cognitive dissonance.
  • Mere Exposure Effect: It states that people prefer something they've been exposed to before.
  • Rationality vs. Irrationality: We may choose to keep our current situation because of the potential transition cost of switching to an alternative. It becomes irrational when we ignore choices that can improve a situation because we want to maintain the status quo.
Status Quo Bias examples
  • When offered several sandwich options, individuals often choose a sandwich they have eaten before.
  • In 1985, Coca Cola reformulated the original Coke flavor and started selling a "New Coke." Although blind taste tests found many consumers preferred New Coke, consumers continued to buy Coke Classic. New Coke was discontinued in 1992.
  • In political elections, the current candidate is more likely to win than the challenger.
The disease of "What if"

It’s human nature to linger on feelings of regret. We look back and think that missed opportunities(real or not) could have set us on a different, possibly more rewarding path. Unchecked, these emotions become overwhelming sources of stress and anxiety.

Turn regret into motivation
  • Acknowledge how you cope with regret: ignoring it makes it more present
  • Stop the regrets spiral, until you are ready to face the situation with more clarity
  • Revisit the story and identify practical lessons you can learn from it
  • Treat yourself like your ideal mentor would
  • Ask yourself why you feel regret and work backward to identify the values that are tied up in your feelings
  • The cure for anticipating regret isn’t feeling lousy or overthinking, but pursuing solutions, using the wisdom gained through self-reflection.
Turn regret into motivation
  1. Acknowledge how you cope with regret: ignoring it makes it more present;
  2. Stop the regrets spiral, until you are ready to face the situation with more clarity;
  3. Revisit the story and identify practical lessons you can learn from it;
  4. Ask yourself why you feel regret and work backward to identify the values that are tied up in your feelings;
  5. The cure for anticipating regret isn’t feeling lousy or overthinking, but pursuing solutions, using the wisdom gained through self-reflection.
Admitting Failure

Humans tend to blame mistakes on external events, circumstances and people. Admitting failure goes against our ego, as we think it exposes our incompetence, leading to potential loss of respect and self-esteem. 

This makes us fear failure and highlights our tendency to attribute success to our efforts, and failure to circumstances.

Destigmatizing Failure

Recognizing that failure is healthy and a normal consequence of working in a complex environment can help us look at failure as a learning process instead of dreading it. It also helps to let your failure(s) be out in the open, making them visible to yourself and others.

A public failure is a learning for all, as they learn to make errors and take ownership of their mistakes. Openly admitting your mistakes also sends out a strong message of your being courageous, humble and bold.

Admitting Errors 

Many mission-critical work environments report errors and mistakes on time. This is because the employees are allowed to commit and share mistakes, and report them without fearing that they will be sacked. This psychological safety is crucial to a healthy work environment.

It helps to know that failing is an inevitable part of our complicated working life, and aids our lifelong learning.