As humans, we make decisions every single day. These decisions that we make can be difficult. How do we decide what to make for breakfast, what to watch on Netflix, or what to wear for the day? Our entire life is shaped by the decisions we make every day.
But, how do we make decisions? How do we decide anything? Do we weigh the pros and cons, ask for advice, or let someone else make decisions for us?
One proven way to make effective and smart decisions is to use our past experiences and mistakes, especially our regret.
What is Regret?
Regret is a comparison-based emotion surrounding self-blame. People experience regret when they believe their current situation would have been better, if they have decided differently.² It can also interfere with important aspects of life, such as finance, relationships, and career.³
Everyone feels regret at least a couple of times in their life. But how do we turn that negative emotion into something constructive? Studies show that using regret to make decisions can lead to less risky behavior and more caution when approaching decisions.²
There are two types of regret during the decision-making process. They are pre-decisional regret and post-decisional regret.
The most common type of regret is pre-decisional regret or anticipated regret. This is the type that prepares us for future outcomes.² Most of us may have experienced it already. We are so afraid of the outcome of our next decision that we prepare to minimize any future regret as much as we can. We anticipate any kind of regret that we might feel to make the most satisfactory decision.
But one cannot go without the other. Sometimes, we anticipate future regret because we may have already experienced it. This is where post-decisional regret comes in.
Post-decisional regret is the type of regret that is learned from the past to anticipate future decisions. As we are faced with various unique decisions every day, we presumably take our time to make those decisions. With the help of our previous regret, we might be able to associate such experiences with exact or similar decision options we have faced before.⁴
We can then make sure that we choose differently this time around. It’s safe to say that we have all made some bad decisions in the past. Some that we do not want to make again. So, we take those experiences to make better decisions in the future.
No one would experience regret if they knew what the outcome would be. Making decisions is also a learning process. Using these types of regret while making a decision can lead to a satisfactory outcome.
Regret in Risk-Taking
When it comes to risky decisions, we might not consider using regret to make such a decision. When it comes to risk-taking, using regret to decide on something might be overlooked. Sometimes, we don’t predict certain outcomes while thinking about taking risks. That’s because that’s exactly what they are...risks. Risk-taking consists of uncertainty and probability. There’s a chance it either turns out well or doesn’t. But studies show that those who have anticipated regret before are most likely to do it for future decisions.²
This applies to risky behavior as well. Individuals who have engaged in risky behavior have reported anticipated regret for future decisions. Such risky behavior that individuals have experienced can be binge drinking in college or speeding.²
When using regret to make a decision, there may be a time where we flashback to the painful regretful experience we had. Although they might have a negative connotation in our minds, they might create more caution during the decision-making process.¹
Many studies have shown the significant impact of regret-based decision making. The anticipation of regret leads people to avoid unfavorable choices.¹ Next time you are about to make a decision, think about the possible regret you might face, and then make your decision. You might have avoided an unsatisfactory outcome and picked the best choice!
1. McCormack, T., Feeney, A., & Beck, S. R. (2020). Regret and Decision-Making: A Developmental Perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29(4), 346-350.https://doi-org.ezproxy.memphis.edu/10.1177/0963721420917688
2. Lauriola, M., Panno, A., & Weller, J. A. (2019). Regret-based decision-making style acts as a dispositional factor in risky choices. Psychological Reports, 122(4), 1412-1431. https://doi-org.ezproxy.memphis.edu/10.1177/0033294118786687
3. van de Calseyde, P. P., Zeelenberg, M., & Evers, E. R. (2018). The impact of doubt on the experience of regret. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 149, 97-110. https://doi-org.ezproxy.memphis.edu/10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.08.006
4. O'Connor, E., McCormack, T., & Feeney, A. (2014). Do children who experience regret make better decisions? A developmental study of the behavioral consequences of regret. Child development, 85(5), 1995–2010.https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12253