How to overcome “fear of regret” and take a new step forward in life?


Regret is an important learning process that the brain has acquired in order to learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating them. However, fear of regret can sometimes lead us to make irrational decisions, or to continue to procrastinate and maintain the status quo. In an article for ScienceAlert, Eyal Winter, professor of economics at Lancaster University, analyzes how to overcome this “fear of regret” from a behavioral economics perspective.

Fear of Regret May Be Holding You Back More Than You Think. Here’s How to Overcome It

◆Fear of regret prevents us from making sound decisions.

Investments and relationships are particularly susceptible to the fear of regret. One of the most well-known misjudgments that can lead to regret is the “disposition effect,” a psychological effect in which investors become reluctant to dispose of investments that have fallen. For example, when a stock that one owns begins to decline, investors are reluctant to let it go, thinking that it will soon rise in price, even though statistically speaking, it is likely to continue to decline thereafter. This is because if they sell the declining stocks and incur a loss, they will have to face the fact that their investment was a failure.

In relationships, the “embedded cost bias” is known to be at work. Also known as the “Concorde Effect,” this psychological effect causes people to turn a blind eye and continue working on a project even when they realize that the project for which they have invested so much effort will fail. This tendency is often seen in romantic relationships as well, where even after the passion and love has been lost from the relationship and it has become a source of trouble, the relationship often cannot be broken off to escape the regret and inconvenience of having to liquidate the relationship. Thus, when the fear of regret takes over, we choose to maintain the status quo, even if it is an irrational decision.

◆The Science of Regret.

Recent research on the brain has revealed that the hippocampus, which is believed to be responsible for memory in the brain, is involved in the process by which people feel regret. The “pain” felt by the brain when a failure occurs triggers the emotion of regret and causes the brain to learn not to repeat the same failure. However, this emotion often prevents us from making positive decisions to change the situation, making it more serious. Researchers have also found that the more neurotic a person is, the more regret he or she feels. This indicates a strong link between mental states such as anger, fear, and loneliness and feelings of regret. Furthermore, regret is closely related to “loss aversion,” a psychological effect that causes people to overestimate losses rather than gains.


◆ To overcome the fear of regret.

The first step in overcoming the fear of regret is to realize that regret does in fact influence our decisions. If we know that our brain causes us to make irrational decisions, we may not be fooled. If you find yourself unable to step toward your life goals, ask yourself if you are feeling fear of regret. And if you are indeed feeling fear, remind yourself that change involves risk, but doing nothing is also a risk.

It is also important to take someone’s advice. When embarking on a new relationship or severing a relationship, having the advice of a family member or close friend not only gives you a third-party opinion, but also allows you to share your regrets with someone else. If you can share your decision with someone, the fear of regret is much lessened because you are not alone if it is wrong. The important thing is not to get caught up in regret, which is only a temporary pain.