Why do we sometimes regret the choices we make? The obvious answer is that we sometimes make bad choices, with unforeseen (though not necessarily unforeseeable) negative consequences. But that’s not the only time we experience the pain of regret. In fact, we routinely regret perfectly good choices – not because of the outcome, but because of our experience of choosing.
In his excellent book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell argues that the quick decision – the “snap” judgment – is much maligned. He cites many studies showing that human beings are remarkably good at “thin-slicing” – making a speedy assessment of situations and acting on conclusions based on very little information. Haste doesn’t always make waste, and Gladwell’s got plenty of scientific evidence to prove it.
But even if speedy decisions aren’t necessarily bad ones, they still have a significant downside – they feel wrong. The popularity of Blink notwithstanding, people seem to implicitly believe that a quick choice is always a bad choice. In fact, new research reveals that when people feel they were rushed while deciding, or that they rushed themselves, they regret the decisions they make even when they turn out well.
Two other interesting insights emerged from these studies that are worth noting. When we make a choice from among many options, we naturally feel more rushed because there is so much more information to consider. For example, in one study, people who chose a DVD from a set of 30 felt significantly more rushed – and regretted their choice twice as much – as those who chose from a set of 5, even when they could take as much time as they needed.
The second, related insight is that regret comes from feeling rushed, not from being rushed. In other words, it’s not how much time you take to make your decision – it’s whether or not you felt you took enough time.
In the end, if you don’t give yourself the time you feel you need to make a judgment or choice, you will undermine your satisfaction and your subsequent experience. You will regret you decision, even when it is completely unwarranted.
So when someone tries to pressure you into deciding right now – whether it’s a colleague, a friend, or the guy waiting to take your drink order – get used to saying, “I’m going to need a little more time.” You won’t regret it.
thanx for this post. really timely
So Heidi, we must take our time, but not leave our options opened (older post). Isn’it too tricky?
Heidi Grant Halvorson says
It can sometimes seem that way, certainly. But I think that if you give yourself time to make a good decision, then really stick to that decision, you can combine both strategies.
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Raghul Nair says
Heidi, I personally think that it is more what one does after making the choice that matters more than the choice itself. My personal experience validates that but I would feel vindicated if you could point me to any scientific research around “my theory”.