David Strittmatter

Never regret anything – how to guide your decisions

We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret

Together with a large group of friends I traveled to Israel. We had a full-packed schedule: Every day we went to startups, visited important institutions or did sightseeing. Although it was exhausting, we had a lot of fun. On Saturday, though, we decided to skip a stop on our itinerary (travel plan) and to make different use of our time. Most people in our group wanted to harness the unique chance to leave Israel and take a look at Bethlehem in Westbank (Palestine/Jordan). I decided against it, though, and honestly, I really regret it.

My friends told me I should come with them and make use of that one-time opportunity. However, I thought it wasn’t going to be worth it. I felt a little sick and wanted to use the time differently (studying). Moreover, I still felt jaded with traveling because of my semester abroad. I was convinced that resting and keeping up with my study plan is better for me than visiting another spot.

Regarding this internal conflict and feeling of regret, I wondered which guiding principle was subject to this decision, how I generally make decisions, and what would be an ideal guiding principle for me.

What is a guiding principle?

A guiding principle is generally any simple and memorable rule for living. It encompasses your personal beliefs and values and guides you throughout your life in all circumstances. Most of your conscious decisions are based on your guiding principles.

Which guiding principle was subject to my decision I regretted

When I think about the aforementioned situation and how I made my decision against traveling to Westbank, I come to the conclusion that I strayed from my usual guiding principles. I decided against the trip because I thought I can use the time more wisely for something that seemed more important and enjoyable to me (in the short-term).

How I normally make decisions

Most of my decisions – minor as well as major ones – are based on a simple question: “When I looked back on this decision 80 years from now, which alternative would I regret most?” It encompasses my decision making rationale very well. I try to think very long-term since I want to maximize my long-term happiness and prefer it over short-term pleasure.

If I had used my usual guiding principle, I would have decided differently. Whether I spent 3 hours fewer on my GMAT preparation or I am a little longer sick doesn’t really make a difference in the long-run compared to the one-time opportunity to make the trip to Bethlehem (which is very interesting for me).

Now, I have to live with this decision. Yet, I am very glad that I made this experience as it triggered this thought process.

I asked my friends who are with me in Israel and wanted to know how they make decisions and what could be “ideal” guiding principles. After contemplating a while, I still think my “usual” guiding principle fits me very well.

Never regret – an ideal guiding principle?

Yet, making all/most of your decisions based on a long-term rationale comes at an expense. Aligning all your actions according to your future makes it really difficult to enjoy the moment. In my opinion, it is really important to stick to your decisions and don’t question them once you chose your course of action. In case you always want to make up your mind differently or are afraid of choice, you cannot really enjoy life even when you made “the ideal” decision. Maximizing your happiness with a good guiding principle will only work out when this process/guiding principle doesn’t make you feel more negative in general when it comes to choice.

Moreover, I lack a lot of experience. Thus, my decisions are biased when they are subject to my guiding principle: How can I know what I will regret in 80 years? You can only imagine and estimate what is really important to you in the future. This inaccuracy can lead to misjudgment.

Finally, aligning all your decisions with your long-term vision takes so many opportunities to please yourself. When you always think about your future, you might be afraid of the outcome of my decisions. Consequently, this “never regret anything” guiding principle might withdraw many of those little enjoyable moments, such as unplanned trips, having great conversations while procrastinating, doing what pleases you most at a certain moment, etc.

All in all, I am still convinced that long-term thinking is one of the most important values to me. There is nothing more that motivates and pleases me more than the certainty that it can always become better and usually, it becomes so much better. Yet, it seems really important to know about this decision-making fallacy.

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