The Power of Regrets
We all make mistakes, but science can help predict the choices we’re most likely to regret – and how to avoid them.
Experiencing regret is a normal part of life. The choices we make don’t always work out perfectly, and hindsight often reveals our mistakes.
But by understanding how regret works, we can teach ourselves to make better decisions in the future. This exhibit will help you take a step back and reflect on the choices you’ve made, and read the reflections that others have shared. Discover patterns in these choices that may help you minimize regret.
This exhibit gives visitors two different time frames to consider: the recent past, and their entire lives. By asking visitors to share and reflect on their regrets, a pattern of data appears that reflects the findings of psychological research into the nature of how people understand actions and inactions over the course of their lives.
In the short term, we often regret our actions—the things we did. But in the long term, we may be more likely to regret our inactions—the things we didn’t do but wish we had done.
When we regret an action, we often deal with our mistake by trying to fix the situation, looking for a silver lining, or forgiving ourselves for what happened. Yet for inaction, it’s difficult to find such closure. The open-ended nature of missed opportunity, and the possibility of what could have been, makes the regret of inaction grow over time.
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Further Readings: The Science behind the Exhibit
When people face a difficult decision, they tend to favor inaction because the costs of doing nothing are less obvious than the costs of taking action. This may be too shortsighted. In your own life, try to recognize the long-term consequences of choosing inaction. Considering both short- and long-term consequences may help you make better decisions about when to seize the moment and when to let it pass.
- Gilovich, T., & Medvec, V. H. (1995). The experience of regret: what, when, and why. Psychological Review, 102(2), 379.
- Gilovich, T., Wang, R. F., Regan, D., & Nishina, S. (2003). Regrets of action and inaction across cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 34(1), 61–71.
- Gilbert, D. T., Morewedge, C. K., Risen, J. L., & Wilson, T. D. (2004). Looking forward to looking backward: The misprediction of regret. Psychological Science, 15(5), 346–350.