Bale terrific free kicks at the Euro games – Peccadilloes like the text message of the past week – Bill gates famous regrets – while action weighs ounces, but inaction weighs tons (at least if taken less literally).
My very last discussion with Petros (my friend from 2 blogs ago) entails the usual intellectual mesmerizing aura. But this time at a different location (away from the restaurant-near-the-lab). It was on the soccer pitch, while we intermittently went for water breaks, thanks to an-almost-100 degree Fahrenheit temperature literally heating up our skins.
A disjointed discussion ensue – it started with the EURO 2016 goals and matches’ commentaries: Bale terrific free kicks, Xherdan Shaqiri acrobatic stunner, etcetera; and finally, we swayed in a somewhat unpredictable manner into the psychology of regret.
In retrospect, we had carried out what I will call ‘a psychological meditation on regret’.
We noticed a temporal pattern of regret: In the short term, we regrets actions more than our failures to act. However, in the longer term, we experience a starkly opposite trend – inactions are regretted more often than actions.
Treating this more or less as an hypothesis, we decided to run personalized experiments.
We recalled the most regrettable action and inaction in the past week and compared both, and selected which one we regretted the most.
We did the same for our long term regrets, that is, we recalled the most regrettable action and inaction and compared both, and selected the most regrettable event.
My final results looked something like this:
Past week regret: I wished I had not sent the text message. [I regretted an action more]
Long term regret: I wished I had read more books while I was younger [I regretted an inaction].
Petros ran his own experiment, and his results bare semblance to mine – almost identical.
Another important point that gave me goosebumps during this intellectual foray was that each time I did this experiment, my short time regret is always of lesser significance compared to my long term regrets. This could translate to mean that I might not be paying enough attention to what I will regret in the future while I am being cognitively occupied by peccadilloes like the text message of the past week.
Anyways, our results stunned me, and at the same time, I was leery of a confirmation bias, so I looked up some primary literatures on the psychology of regret after the pick-up soccer.
And it seems we are all on the same page: empirical evidences show that we regret actions more often in the short term, but our inactions cause us more distress in the long term. (You could look up Gilovich and Medvec 1994, 1995)
This psychology makes us very prone to regrets: that is, what will cause us more regret in the future is not apparent to us at the moment and we take it for granted, since we cannot live in our future self. More like the psychology of instant gratification
Hence, understanding (and internalizing) this underlying psychology of regret could literally be a life changer. However, understanding is easy, internalizing is hard – very hard!
As a side note, here are some famous regrets I found on the internet:
Bill Gates: “I feel pretty stupid that I don’t know any foreign languages”
Paul McCartney: “When a fan asked McCartney what he would do if he had a time machine, the former Beatles member said that he’d go back and spend more time with his mother”
The most hilarious I found:
Economist John Maynard Keynes: “I wish I’d drunk more champagne.”
If I was asked to come up with a one-sentence-abstract for this blog post, I will probably come up with something like this: “If you think it’s important, do it, inactions hurt more than action”. or, provided it is taken less literally and in context “action weighs ounces, inaction weighs tons”