If you look up the term “decision regret,” you'll typically find suggestions like “Better decisions, make fewer regrets” or “How to make decisions you won't regret.” They're all interesting to consider before making a decision, but what happens when it's already made? Then what?
You might be interested to know that there is a decision regret scale used to measure the level of regret a patient has about health care decisions. The fascinating thing is that regret is typically greater among those that changed their decisions than those who did not.
I find that interesting – the patients who stayed with their original decision felt less regret than those who changed their decision. Whether the health decision was to do something or not, they experienced less regret when they didn't change their decision.
When you think about it, it makes sense because when you are clear about the path you want to take, the other options don't confuse you or make you reconsider. But if you choose one way and then change your mind and choose another, you've just allowed confusion and overwhelm into the equation, making it easier to regret changing the decision later on.
So that's all about health care decisions, but what about all the other decisions we have to make in our lives? What about the big and little decisions we make all day, every day? What about the decision to switch jobs, buy a new car, get our children vaccinated or not, or whether to stay up late to finish a show we're watching?
The issue when it comes to regret about a decision that's already been made is that it can often lead to feelings of shame, anger, and, frequently, depression. When this happens, there's typically the initial regret about the decision, but then there's the added layer of other negative emotions that can create a spiral of negativity.
Unfortunately, most of us have not been taught how to deal with decision regret in a helpful way. As women, we tend to hide the shame of making a decision we regret, fearful of someone finding out or shining a light on it, making it incredibly uncomfortable even to admit a possible mistake or regret making a particular decision.
When this happens, we can often beat ourselves up so much that we fall prey to decision-paralysis. This is typically when you lack self-confidence and have been so hard on yourself for past decisions you've regretted that now you're stuck, not wanting to make any decisions, checking in with everyone else's opinion to make a decision you believe you won't regret.
I get it because that was how I ran my life for quite a long time – not having the self-confidence to make many decisions, I asked other people their opinions so I could make up my mind. I allowed the feelings of shame or frustration about certain past decisions to create a lack of trust in myself, creating an unhealthy co-dependency on others.
Thankfully though, I've learned over the years how to deal with decision regret in a helpful way, and I'm happy to share that with you today. As I've said on this podcast before, when I find something that works, I will share it with you as much as possible.
This week I'm going to discuss 3 steps you can take before making a decision and what you can do if you've already made a decision you regret.
3 steps you can take before making a decision
If there's one thing we cannot avoid on a daily basis, it's making decisions. As a working woman and a mother, you probably have to make more decisions than most people you know, making it quite challenging to move throughout your life with ease.
There are decisions for you personally, your children, your family, your work-life, your home, and your personal life – it's a lot! No wonder you want to curl up under the covers and let someone else take over.
As I was researching this podcast, I read about an interesting study done at Columbia University that found that we're faced with more than 70 decisions a day. If I had to guess, this was not a study of only working moms because I'm going to bet that 70 decisions a day would be a low number for us.
But no matter what, the sheer number of decisions we make each day can lead to a phenomenon called decision fatigue, where your brain tires like a muscle. Just like a muscle that has been overworked and becomes weak and unable to do what it's supposed to, the same thing happens to your brain.
Interestingly, another study from the University of Texas showed that even when our brains aren't tired, they can make it very difficult for us to make good decisions. The study found that our brains focus on specific, detailed memories when making a decision instead of referencing the knowledge we've accumulated.
Let's say, for example, that you're in the market for a new car and trying to decide if you should go for leather seats, even though you know you can't afford that model. The issue is that your brain may focus on specific memories of the wonderful smell and feel of the leather seats in your uncle's car when it should be focusing on the issues you'll have to make your monthly car payments.
If you don't yet have memories of an issue with making the monthly car payments on this car that you can't afford, it's hard for your brain to consider it when you're deciding on that car. The memory of the fantastic smell of the leather in your uncle's car will take over unless you understand how to use the higher part of your brain that can see the bigger picture and can make a well-informed decision instead of a reactionary one.
This topic might sound familiar because I've talked about making better decisions and how to deal with decision fatigue on this podcast, yet I'm always learning new ways to approach different issues, so I wanted to share that information with you today. I'll discuss how to deal with decision regret in a few minutes, but I first want to share some helpful things I recently learned about making decisions.
While we'd all love a crystal ball that could tell us whether we're making a good decision or not, until technology has invented one, we're just going to have to do what's within our power to do. Here are 3 steps for making decisions:
Step #1 – The first two steps will sound very familiar, but how I explain them might be different from what you already know. The first step is to list the pros of the different choices you have regarding a particular decision. Every decision you make has more than one option, so in this first step, start by making a list of the things you will enjoy about each option.
For example, if you choose to take that new job, what are the benefits to you that you could imagine right now? And if you decide not to take that new job, what are the benefits of that option? For each option, begin listing the pros financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, etc.
Just like someone on a debate team must be prepared to argue both sides of an issue, you want to be clear about the choices you have and the pros of each of those choices. The pros of a yes and the pros of a no.
Step #2 – For this second step, you're now going to list the cons of your choices. What are the potential losses for each choice, given what you can imagine they might be.
Please do not underestimate the power of writing these all down instead of trying to process them in your head. Your brain will become easily overwhelmed if you try to make sense of the options, so make sure you write down everything that you come up with.
If you choose to take that new job, what are the problems that could come up? If you decide not to take that new job, what are the potential problems with that option? Do not skip this step of writing down the potential downsides of each option, and if you need some help, ask people you trust what they see as the cons to your choices.
Step #3 – Now that you have your pros and cons written down, it's time to take those cons and consider how you will cope with each option. This is about turning potential obstacles into potential strategies.
This third step is essential because you need to know you can recognize how you would handle or cope with a potential problem associated with each decision and every option you have laid out. It would be best if you made an informed decision by not only weighing your options but also understanding how you could potentially handle the problems with each option.
For example, let's say that the benefits of that new job in public accounting include a lot more money, but one of the cons is that you’d have to work more hours and that’s been an issue in the past. In this third step, you would write down the problem with working more hours and then come up with a plan to handle that con – maybe get clear from the onset what you’re willing to work during regular season versus busier seasons and negotiate that as part of your employment contract.
The importance of this step is that you are detailing the particular skill set you already have to deal with the cons of each option, but here's the key – if you cannot come up with how you can manage a con, then maybe it's not the best decision for you. Even though it has its pros and benefits, if you cannot think how you'd handle the cons, it may not be the best choice for you right now.
Another thing I want to point out about making decisions you won't regret is that there is also an opportunity to learn from others' regrets. You've probably heard about the 5 regrets that most people express on their deathbed, but if you haven't, they are: they wish they hadn't made decisions based on what other people think, they hadn't worked so hard, they had expressed their feelings more, they had stayed in touch with their friends, and they would have let themselves be happier,
It might sound strange, but I take comfort in the lessons I can learn from the decisions others regret on their deathbed because I've got plenty of life left in me to hopefully have fewer regrets when it's my time. The decisions other people regret can help me look at what I’d like to not regret in the future.
Hopefully, now you can see that by taking these 3 steps, you're less likely to have decision regret. But if you do, let me share how to deal with the feeling of regret after a decision has already been made.
What you can do if you've already made a decision you regret
While it would be nice to have the ability to make decisions ahead of time that you never regret, it's also impractical to think that that's never going to happen. With all the little and big decisions you make on a daily basis, you're bound to feel regret about some of the decisions you've already made.
But here's the most important thing I want you to get from this episode – regret is one of those emotions that feels necessary, but it isn't. The truth is that it might feel useful, or what you should do, but that's not necessary in most cases.
You see, regret is not coming from a decision you made – it's coming from what you think NOW about that past decision. So if you can't go back in time and change your decision, then there is no upside to regretting it.
If you think about it, it doesn't help you move forward or change the decision that was already made. The only thing regret does is diminish your ability to be resourceful now and in the future, because here's the key – when you feel bad, you're less effective.
You're much more effective when you focus your thoughts on the present and future rather than on something in the past that you cannot change. Instead of spending your energy regretting a decision from the past, I suggest you ask yourself, “Now what? What do I want to do going forward?”
The thing I want you to take away from this episode is that regret doesn't just happen to you – you create it by the thoughts you choose to think, which means it's within your power to choose a more helpful emotion than regret. Instead of regretting a decision already made, try telling yourself, “That is what I decided then; now I'm going to plan on moving forward.”
For a lot of women, we think it's unkind not to feel regret for things we believe we were wrong about. While I get where we're coming from, I also want you to consider this – has beating yourself up with regret ever been helpful? Has that ever been kind to you? Has it ever not led to shame? Has it ever improved your self-confidence?
I'm going to guess that the answer to those questions is probably no. I completely understand why you would think that regret is necessary when you've done something wrong or made a mistake, but I promise you that regret is not as helpful as you might think it is.
I’m not saying you don’t apologize for something you’ve done or make amends. What I am saying is that you can take those actions from a feeling of acceptance rather than regret – in other words, regret doesn’t need to be the feeling driving the action of apologizing.
Let me give you my example and how I applied what I'm sharing here – one of the regrets I was dealing with a number of months ago was a decision I had made to ask a friend a question which resulted in her turning around and ending the friendship. At the time, I didn’t think the question was a big deal, but I later started to regret it because of her reaction.
But instead of continuing to spin in regret and beating myself up for something that had already happened, I took a look at the thought that was creating the feeling of regret and I shifted it slightly to a more helpful thought. The thought that was creating the feeling of regret was, “I shouldn’t have asked her that question,” but I instead chose to think thoughts like “It was a valid question” and “She gets to be upset with whatever she chooses to be upset about.”
The truth was that there was no upside to me feeling regret for something that had happened. If I wanted to, I could have apologized for asking the question, but to be honest, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was nothing to regret or apologize for.
The bottom line with how to deal with decision regret is that regret doesn’t just happen to you; you have a thought that creates the feeling of regret. Therefore, if you don’t want to feel the disempowering feeling of regret, you just have to choose a different optional thought.
Hopefully, you not only understand the 3 steps you can take before you make a decision, but you also know what you can do if you’ve already made a decision you regret by what you choose to think now. Please be kind to yourself because I don’t know one woman that hasn’t regretted at least one decision she’s made, and give yourself some grace.
- The issue when it comes to regret about a decision that's already been made is that it can often lead to feelings of shame, anger, and, frequently, depression
- As women, we tend to hide the shame of making a decision we regret, fearful of someone finding out or shining a light on it, making it incredibly uncomfortable even to admit a possible mistake or regret making a particular decision.
- The only thing regret does is diminish your ability to be resourceful now and in the future, because here's the key – when you feel bad, you're less effective.