People often choose not what they really want, but what they will regret less. This is especially evident in turbulent times, when you can’t make a list of pros and cons.
It’s hard to make up your mind, and then some regrets arise: What if it turns out later that you left for nothing? And now the man is no longer thinking about the pros and cons, but about the “for nothing,” which weighs on his conscience.
We don’t know which decision will turn out to be the right one for the reader, but we do know how to eliminate regrets from the decision-making process as well. There will be many more important decisions in life, so the skill of ignoring the “for nothing” and focusing on your real interests will always come in handy.
We Have a Hard Time Deciding Because We Are Afraid of Regrets
The Dutch psychologist Marcel Zelenberg proved that people tend to make decisions so that they regret their choices less afterwards. In his experiment, subjects were offered two boxes. Only one could be opened and there was a prize inside. If you open the first box, you see what was in the second. If you open the second box, the contents of the first remain a mystery.
As a result of the experiment, most people chose the second box, although this didn’t increase their chances of getting something of value. They still participated in the same lottery, but deprived themselves of the opportunity to find out what was in the other box.
The reason is regret. People are afraid to find out they made the wrong choice.
The experiment shows that regrets directly influence our choices: we don’t think about our real needs and interests, and we choose things that are not threatened by regrets.
Regrets Don’t Exist, It’s a Dialogue With the Future Self
Recall the experiment. Here’s what might be going through the mind of the subject at this point: “I’m going to open the first box, and then I find out that the second box contained something more valuable. It will turn out that I, like a fool, chose some nonsense.”
Notice that the regrets themselves don’t lie in any box. It’s as if the future self is conveying them to us, “Couldn’t you have made a normal choice?”
So why is the future self so confident, and why might that confidence not be there for us in the present? Yes, because from the future self, the decision and its consequences look like a straightforward sequence:
Moved → found a job → found an apartment → applied for a residence permit → what doubted at all?
Or vice versa: spent all the money on the ticket → did not find an apartment → had to return → why did I go anywhere at all?
A real person in real life has to make a decision with a lot of unknowns. He doesn’t know what will happen next and how life will turn out. This is the same box lottery or a recent promotion online casino – if you don’t try it, you won’t know. But the man compares himself to himself in the future, who already knows everything, and rebukes himself: “Why can’t I understand everything the same way and make the right decisions?”
The thing is, the future self doesn’t know anything either. He’ll turn out to be smart only after the fact, and right now he’s drowning in both options equally. And when the future self arrives, he’ll be able to say, “And I told you so!” anyway.
Let Yourself Get Rid of Regrets
So that regrets don’t get in the way of making a decision right now, you have to somehow negotiate with yourself in the future. He isnt as smart as he thinks he is, but he can make a great mess of life in the present. Here are a few thoughts that might calm him down:
- No one knows what will really happen. It’s easy for Future Me to say when he turns out to be right in fact. But the decision is made now.
- Irretrievable losses are normal. When we make a decision, we give up something, in any case. If we leave, we leave our beloved apartment. If we stay, we don’t know what it would be like to live in another city or country.
- Not all steps are life-changing forever. If you stand on the edge of a precipice, a step forward will be irrevocable. But in other cases, there will be a new one after every step, and another one after every turn.
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