Decision-Making and Regret

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A client said to me recently, “I don’t want to make the wrong decision. What if I have regrets?”

Decision-making is challenging for many people. But it can be gut-wrenching when going through a breakup or divorce. What’s going to happen? What do I do now? If I choose this option, will I get the outcome I desire? There’s so many choices, what if I make the wrong decision?

Worrying about potential regret is a terrible feeling. Yet, we make micro-decisions all day long: Which toothpaste? Do I want sparkling water with lunch or just tap? Which piece of furniture matches my new rug? Most decisions don’t alter the course of our lives. We forget about them pretty quickly.

However, when you’re going through a breakup or divorce, there are tougher decisions to make: Was my reason for wanting to end this relationship a good one? Do I need to change jobs to make more money? What do I tell my kids about why my partner left? Where will we live? How am I supposed to get through the day?

There is some real potential for regret: a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better. Sometimes regret comes from things out of our control, yet we can see where there was a potential for doing something different that maybe could have brought a different result.

We have no way of knowing which decision is the “right” or “wrong” one, because we can’t see down the other path. When things don’t go the way we had hoped, we automatically assume that the other path was actually the right one, or that it would have brought some amazing outcome that we are now never going to get. But we need to have compassion with ourselves. We made the best decision we could with the information we had available at the time.

Regret helps us learn and change course for next time. It’s a universal feeling, and it makes us human. I wish I would have decided to buy Google stock in 1998. But I had two little kids and was thinking about what I needed to do to take care of them, not what stocks I should buy. I’m more aware now! That’s a valuable lesson I learned from regret, and you bet I won’t let that opportunity slip by again. We need to change how we view regret. Often our most regretful moments teach us the most valuable lessons.

Here are three tips for making decisions that will minimize the possibility of regret:

  1. Play by the rule of 10’s. Will this decision matter in 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years?  The answer to this will influence your decision. If it’s 10 days, no big deal. If it’s 10 years, spend a little more time analyzing.
  2. Let your mind image both best and worst case outcomes. Ask yourself, “How would I live with either of these outcomes? If the worst-case scenario happens, would that really be that bad?” This will help clarify what is important.
  3. Write a pros and cons list. Later on, this will help you see why you made a certain decision. I once made a big decision that didn’t go the way I hoped. When I went back and reviewed my pros and cons list, I remembered that my decision was based on solid reasoning. It helped me have a lot more compassion for myself.

You have a lot of decisions to make going through a breakup or divorce. Some will be better than others. Some will even be good. Keeping a journal of your journey and writing down pros and cons lists can keep you from getting stuck in regret, gain clarity, and even build decision-making acumen for the future.


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