You aren’t risk-averse. You’re regret-averse.

You’ve been at this job forever. It is going nowhere. But you know the job inside and out, and the people are familiar.

A part of you is afraid of making a change; another fears getting stuck. You’re torn.

😨What’s behind your fear to make a change? Regret.
😱And what feeds your fear of getting stuck? Regret.

The first kind is 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐫𝐞𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐭. Looking ahead, you see yourself living the consequences of a decision gone wrong–a worse job, a worse pay, a worse culture. You stay put.

The second kind is 𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐫𝐞𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐭. This is what Jeff Bezos has baked into Amazon (as part of the regret minimization framework). You imagine your 80-year-old self looking back at life and wondering what you could have done differently. You find yourself charged up.

Forward regret is ‘what if it gets worse than what it is now?’ Backward regret is ‘why didn’t I try?’

The forward folks are mortified of commission; the backward brigade abhors omission.

When you’re in a fix, forward regret may make you want to hold on to the status quo. You anticipate regretting a change so you stay put. The trick at this point is to switch direction and look back. ‘How would I feel at age eighty?’

My guess is that it is the band of forward-regret people who have decided the dictionary for us. That is why they have us call it a comfort zone. I can imagine Bezos calling it a discomfort zone.

Regret is a powerful driver of your actions. It can cloud your judgment as much as it can clarify it. How you see it decides you make the big choices in life.



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Satyajit Rout

Satyajit Rout


I write about decision-making, mental models, and better thinking and things in between