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In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the difference in the regret we experience when thinking about two different situations in our past. The first situation is an action that did not turn out well (acts of commission) – for example, asking somebody out and getting a negative response. The second is a situation of inaction (omission) – for example, not even asking somebody out on a date. This is what Schwartz writes:
When asked about what they regret most in the last six months, people tend to identify action that didn’t meet expectations. But when asked about what they regret most when they look back on their live as a whole. People tend to identify failures to act. In the short run, we regret a bad educational choice, whereas in the long run, we regret a missed educational opportunity. In the short run, we regret broken romance, whereas in the long run, we regret a missed romantic opportunity. So it seems that we don’t close the psychological door on the decision we’ve made, and as time passes, what we’ve failed to do looms larger and larger.
And I ask you this: What kind of behaviors are you omitting because of this fear of short-term regret? Speaking up in the next meeting? Confronting you peer or boss? Trying that new strategy or tactic? Making a different choice? Sitting in a different chair? Taking up a new managerial skill or process?
We all know that failure and risk are important. We all hate failure and risk just as equally as we know they are important. But if we also know that we will regret not trying even more in the long run, isn’t it worth a try? Isn’t it time we starting committing?