Photo by Francesca Tirico on Unsplash
It happens to the best of us. We have good intentions, but then we fail to follow through on them. We forget. We get busy. We worry. And then we miss it. We get to the end of the summer, the end of the year, or the end of our lives and we realize that we spent a lot of time doing things we didn’t really care about and not enough time doing the things that were really important to us. We want to end up with a lot of great memories, but what we actually end up with is a lot of regrets.
How you can avoid regret:
1. Make the right kinds of plans
Researchers have found that we’re more likely to follow through on our goals when we develop implementation intentions—plans for how to achieve our goals.
Think about what you don’t want to miss out on this week (or month or year) and develop a specific, concrete plan. Your plan should include the details of how you will carry out your goal.
- Who are you going to do it with?
- What do you need to do ahead of time to prepare?
- When are you going to do it?
- Where do you need to go?
Once you have your plan set, put it on your calendar and set a reminder. We’re more likely to follow-through on things when we have them scheduled.
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
2. Don’t try to optimize every decision
Research has shown that constantly trying to find the best options can actually make us less happy and less satisfied with the options we choose.
How can you tell when you’re trying to optimize? Think about your expectations and how much time and energy you’ve spent trying to make your decision. Are you spending hours reading reviews and checking every available store in search for the perfect item? Are you having a hard time saying “yes” to events in order to keep your options open in case something better comes up?
If so, you might be setting yourself up for regret. If your goal is perfection, anything short of that can lead to disappointment. Instead of always striving for perfection, try following the decision-making strategy of Nobel laureate Herb Simon: Choose the first option that meets your criteria of “good enough.”
If you have trouble letting yourself make a “good enough” decision, make sure you are accurately factoring in the costs of pursuing perfection. We tend to want to strive for perfection because we think it will make us better off. Reminding ourselves that striving for perfection can actually make us more likely to regret our choices can make the pursuit of perfection less enticing.
Photo by Cam DiCecca on Unsplash
3. Be okay with missing out on some things
Sometimes we have the opposite problem. Instead of having a hard time saying “yes,” we have a hard time saying “no.” Our desire to do everything can stem from the same fear that drives our pursuit of perfection: FOMO (fear of missing out).
However, just as trying to optimize every decision can ultimately make us worse off, so can trying to do everything. Research has shown that our implementation intentions are more effective when we don’t try to plan too many things. So, once you figure out what the most important things are, let go of the rest.
Instead of focusing on what you might be losing, focus on what you’re gaining. Remind yourself that by missing out on some of the little things, you’ll be less likely to miss out on the really important things.
Photo by Andreas Selter on Unsplash
4. Be truly present
Once you make your choices, enjoy them. Research shows that when we are focused on the present moment, we are happier than when we’re thinking about other things. Even for mundane tasks, when we allow ourselves to be truly mentally present and focus on our current experience, we’re happier than when we let our minds wander. So next time you’re at lunch with a less-than-exciting coworker or you’re at your nephew’s piano recital, don’t just mentally check out. Make the most of the experiences you find yourself in. You’ll be happier if you do.
Photo by Andreas Selter on Unsplash
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