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Regrets - we've had a few but so what?

Some of you may know the famous Sinatra song that starts with the words, "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention." I am sure everyone reading this post has had done at least one thing they regret; be it the job that the company you interned with offered you, but which you rejected because you were on scholarship and hence bonded; or the decision to let your best-performing staff leave because you could not possibly offer as much as the opportunities that lay ahead of him; or the house that you could have purchased but decided to forego because you wanted to have more cash in hand only to find that it appreciated more than 80% within two years? Any of these decisions could have led you to regret it, if you let it. But life cannot be filled with regret because we might start second-guessing ourselves. We have to take each decision as they come, live each day as they unfold, and make the right decision each day amidst uncertainty and accept the outcome. But wait! Isn't the right decision the one with the right outcome?

Well, the answer is no. And by understanding this and 4 other important ideas surrounding decision-making, we can avoid the pain of regret and focus on doing better each time. So read on for the 5 key ideas to avoid regret...

(1) Know what you want

When I was offered the job in that MNC while undergoing internship, I had to turn it down because I was bonded to the Army and I didn't want to break my bond. When I mentioned this to the MD, he inquired into the bond value ($230,000) and agreed to pay it off. Despite this, I still refused to join them. When people hear this, they always ask if I regret my decision, since I ended up leaving the Army after having served the bond anyway. The truth of the matter was, I signed on the dotted line when offered the scholarship and I don't want to be deemed as "ungrateful" by breaking the bond. In those days, no one broke their bond; their word was literally their bond! Hence, I was not going to be the first person to break his bond, even if the company offered to pay for it.

If you know what you want, and you do what you want, then there is no second guessing, and there is no regret. Be clear with your intent and work your intent!

(2) The right decision may not lead to the right outcome

What makes for a right decision? One that leads to the right outcome? Many people think so. But think about this for a moment - if you can only learn about whether the outcome of a decision is right or not in the future, then how do you know you have made the right decision today? The fact of the matter is that we will never know whether a decision will turn out the way we want it to, so to decide if a decision is right based on its outcome is foolhardy. In the same vein, therefore, to regret a decision based on its outcome is equally misguided. So, if outcome cannot be used to determine if a decision is right, then what?

(3) Process and inputs determine the rightness of a decision

In any system, there will be inputs, a process and outputs. If the output - outcome of the decision - cannot be used to determine the rightness of a decision, then it would fall on both the inputs and the process to determine correctness. And that is as it should be. If you use bad inputs, like you use bad ingredients in a dish, you cannot expect the outcome to be good. If you did not ascertain all the facts of a decision, and made one based on poor assumptions, then your decision quality will be poor.

And what if you used a poor decision-making process? What if you didn't know how to find the right inputs? What if you didn't know how to arrange the inputs in a logical fashion? What if you didn't even understand what those inputs meant? All these point to you having a poor - or worse, no - decision-making process.

So, should you regret your decision in this case? Again, no. It is what it is. You made the wrong decision because you didn't know how to make a good one. So what? No big deal! Just accept it and move on. Learn to make the right decision every time! The more you harp on the fact that you used the wrong - or incomplete - decision inputs, or that you processed those inputs poorly, the more you will not be able to move on. You would heap the responsibility of a bad decision onto yourself, and that will paralyse you into regret. Not a good situation, don't you think?

(4) Once decided, don't back track

Once you have made a decision to do something, stay the course. Do not reconsider if you had made the right decision or not. If you have applied your decision-making process correctly, and used the right inputs, then the decision is the right one, even if others tell you otherwise, or even if circumstances may cause you to second-guess yourself. For example, after my wife and I decided not to purchase the semi-detached house in 2004, we made a decision to renovate our flat instead. Yet, less than two years later, we could have sold the semi-D for $1M more than our purchase price; and the price was STILL CLIMBING! So do we now reconsider? No. So long as the intent of the decision is still valid, there is no need to reconsider. If we allow ourselves to keep questioning our decision, going back to it, and asking "what-if" questions, we will never be fully committed, and we will always be looking over our shoulders. That will surely invite regrets. Stay the course, and don't entertain differing thoughts because they only serve to give you greater confusion. Know what you want, go for it, and remain steadfast to it.

(5) Let sleeping dogs lie

So you made a mistake all those years (months) ago? Should you revisit the issue and try to right the wrong? The answer is an emphatic no! You did what you did based on your intent, and whatever happened after that, happened. Just accept it and move on. The more you try to revisit it, the more you want to "dive deep" to understand who is at fault, the more you are stuck in the past. You have to let go, and let sleeping dogs lie. Simply accept it as a decision input, and then factor it into your next iteration. The more you can accept that things happen for reasons beyond our control, the better it would be for you to simply let go and move on.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

So why do we regret?

Because we cannot let go. If you can learn to just throw your pride to the wind, accept that you cannot control everything, and things happen despite the best plans and intentions, then you will be alright. You will not regret.

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