The brain and 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 brain and regret

Brain imaging helped identify the neural circuits that are involved when we feel regret.

A substantial activity is taking place in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory. Also,  experiencing regret and being scared of feeling regret involve very similar neural circuits – indicating that fearing regret is actually practically the same as experiencing regret. 

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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.
Sabotaging behaviors
  • You are controlling and rigid in the way that others should treat you and are easily disappointed. 
  • You have issues with real intimacy. 
  • You tell yourself internally that this relationship will never work because you inherently feel inside that you’re not good enough. 
  • You are sure that it’s only your partner that is the one at fault.
  • You constantly test your partner's love for you.
Examine your history

This goes back to your childhood. 

For example: if you’re drawn to the excitement of meeting and starting a relationship with someone who has a lack of morals, character and is untrustworthy, try to find out about how your parents’ unhealthy habits have affected your choice in partners.

You are part of the problem

If you have a fear of abandonment and rejection and you are constantly ‘setting’ up scenarios that lead to your disappointment, you are the puppeteer controlling this.