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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: To Regret Or Not To Regret, That Is The Question

*Photos from
This has been a very busy week, since I was away from Sunday till Tuesday afternoon, so here's a slightly updated Trivia question and answer. It has also been an emotional roller coaster in reaction to Robin Williams death and news of his bout with depression. I will be on the radio tonight on the LA Bachelor show at 7 PM (EDT) if you want to tune in and ask questions, it's airing live. We will be talking about depression and how it relates to athletes and celebrities.
Thought for the Day: This week we have been looking at emotions (Motivational Monday & Wednesday's Words of Wisdom). Our Trivia question on Tuesday was about the feeling of regret. Here's the question we asked:

       Regret is:
           a) just a backward looking emotion & therefore it doesn't impact much on people's lives;
           b) not an emotion at all; or
           c) can be a powerful emotion

What do you think?

Did you guess a., that regret is "just a backward looking emotion & therefore doesn't impact much on people's lives?" Many of you may have agreed with Answer a), we tend to regret things that have already happened. If you cannot change the past, why let regrets impact on your life? Because living without regrets is easier said than done. Regrets for things we have done & are ashamed of tend to haunt us. Does the fear of regret immobilize you like in the above picture?

Regret is a feeling. Like all feelings, it's not easy to just ignore or turn it off! Feelings are like the safety valve which allows the steam to escape on a pressure cooker. Without the safety valve of feelings, our emotions would fester inside or eventually blow up. Internalizing regret, letting it stew, could lead to physical symptoms like obsessive thoughts, headaches, sleepless nights, & anxiety or low self esteem. On the other hand, if you try to externalize regret or blame others for your inaction, resentment, anger & bitterness grow. It may explode in relationships in negative ways. How many people hold onto anger towards a parent, teacher or boss who they feel are to blame for a lost opportunity. As you can see, the answer to the question is c., "Regret can be a powerful emotion." More precisely, the fear of regret can be a powerful emotion.

The idea for this week's Psychology Trivia Question came from an article called,"The Power of Regret to Shape Our Future," on PsyBlog. They found that regret "can be a terribly powerful emotion which affects our behavior in the here and now... because we also have the power to anticipate feeling regret in the future, which we naturally try to avoid."

They cite a 1996 study by Bar-Hillel & Neter in which subjects were given fake lottery tickets.  They were told that only one person could win. Then they offered to exchange the participants' tickets for another ticket with the same odds of winning the lottery. To sweeten the deal, they offered a chocolate truffle as an incentive to switch the ticket. Even though the odds of winning were exactly the same, less than 50% of the participants agreed to exchange their tickets. In comparison, a second group of research participants were given pens instead of lottery tickets & then asked whether they were willing to exchange them for different pens. When given the option to exchange their pens & get a truffle, over 90% agreed.

Why were the results so strikingly different? Bar-Hillen & Neter attribute the difference to the anticipation of regret in the group with the phoney lottery tickets. The fear of regret if they swapped what happened to be the winning lottery ticket made the participants reluctant to switch. Since all the pens were considered equal, the second research group had no problem accepting a different pen.  Therefore, anticipation of regret is what stopped people from exchanging their lottery tickets.

Psychologists have also found what is called called the "inaction effect." This effect makes us feel more regret for inaction, than for failed action. This principle explains why sayings like, "It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all," are so well known & accepted. Therefore, in life, many people are motivated to take action in order to avoid feeling regret for their inaction later in life. The Dream Positioning System ™ described in my book, The Wake Up and Dream Challenge, seems to help people take action to make desired changes in their lives. By imagining a future filled with their dreams & the steps they can take to reach them, it seems to free them to overcome both the fear of failure & fear of regret which allows them to take action.

Has regret or the fear of regret motivated you to take a risk & try something new? Which is stronger for you, the fear of regret or the fear of failure? When the odds appear to be stacked against you, which emotion wins? It may be different for different people.

* Photos from

 (From top of mirror image)
Top Left:  'After drunken night at Chris' II_MMVI' http-/
Bottom Left: 'no regrets' http-/

Bottom Right: 'I Dont Know Why' http-/


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