DO THIS: The upside of Regret

Jeff Bezos had a problem. He had a very well paying job with a promising career track, but this “internet thing” had caught his interest and overtaken his dreams. Should he leave the good job and start an internet book seller? He told everyone around him. Most counseled to stay with the “sure thing”. That didn’t feel right to him.

I have written about the downside of regret. Today is about the (limited) upside.

As with all emotions, the problem is not their existence in our consciousness. That we have little to no control over. The rub comes in our reaction to the appearance in consciousness. Do we ascent to and identify with the emotion? “I am regretful.” “I regret that.” “You did a regrettable thing.” Once you attach an emotion to a thing, it can become deeply colored by it. While regret is generally an adjective/adverb modifying some “thing” or action we are regretful about, it can become a noun when consciousness identifies very closely to it “I am…” Existence of the emotion doesn’t tend to cause problems, identification, attachment, personalisation tends to.

Yea, yea, Martin I know all that shit, get to your point. The upside comes in the wisdom of the difference between recognition of the existence of an emotion and ascent/identification/attachment to the emotion. Understanding the destructive, disruptive power of a negative emotion like regret can be powerful wisdom to take right action TODAY to avoid future regret. This “regret minimization framework” is how Jeff solved his problem. Of course it has been studied by other choice theory researchers also. As Bezos puts it:

I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.

Jeff Bezos

Knowledge of the massive negative power of regret was useful to Bezos. It gave him confidence to take a big risk. He calculated the damage of regret from not trying was greater than any damage from failing at the venture. Now this regret minimization framework didn’t cause the success of Amazon, but it was the spark. Likely this mental model has been applied continuously to new projects at Amazon as they moved beyond books to groceries, web services, payments, and more. Continuing to apply the framework likely has kept them on the leading edge.

Useful: regret minimization framework

Not useful: Attachment, personalization, ascent, identification with regret.

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