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Three Reasons Why You’ll Probably Regret That Decision Later

Source | FastCompany : By ART MARKMAN

So much of life is vague and uncertain, but regrets are pretty distinct. When you look back and feel like things haven’t gone as you’d hoped, regret sets in—but it often attaches to something specific. Many of the situations you regretrelate to explicit choices you made. More often than not, those decisions fall into one of three categories, and understanding what those are can help you avoid making choices that’ll leave you feeling regretful in the first place.


One of the most frequent kinds of decision regret involves situations where you got carried away in the moment.

Many of our choices relate to “active goals” we have. And an active goal is simply one that’s been energized by your motivational system. That basically means that it starts driving your decisions—you begin making choices in order to get it. Research from my lab suggests that when a goal gets energized, it makes things related to achieving that goal seem more valuable than they were when the goal wasn’t active. And on the flip side, it likewise makes things unrelated to achieving that goal seem less valuable than before.

So what does this mean in practice? Well, when you’re sitting behind the wheel of that beautiful new car, the car takes on new importance for you. And at the same time, other goals—like paying for your kids’ college education—are suddenly less important.

The thing is, as soon as you achieve the goal (in this case by buying the car), the goal decreases in its “arousal”—in other words, it ceases to be motivating, so your decision-making engine needs to find a new fuel source. As a result, all of your other competing goals get a new boost of energy from your motivational system. And now you realize how important some of those other things were to you. Suddenly that new car starts to seem like a bad idea. You’re hit with buyer’s remorse.

Not all buyer’s remorse happens in the context of purchases, of course, but it’s also a decent bet that not everybody who gets married on a whim in an all-night Vegas chapel is pleased with their choice in the long run. If you think you might be in a situation where you’re liable to get carried away, you need to reduce the energy behind the goal you’re trying to achieve—and do it beforemaking a decision based on it. Get some distance from the situation. Sleep on it. See if you still think the option you’re considering is as important from a distance as it was at close range.

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