Optimize your life (and decisions) for fewer regrets

Twenty years from now, will you be disappointed by the choices you are making today or the path you didn’t take?

Making a decision can be painful — not because you might get it wrong, but because it forces you to sacrifice all but one of your possible futures. A future that’s unpredictable but in your control.

“We don’t always have control over outcomes, but we do have control over our process,” says Amy Summerville, a psychology professor at Miami University.

The good news is you can optimize your decisions based on regret avoidance, instead of making big decisions based on success/failure, or happiness/pain.

Regret minimization helps us to optimize decision behavior.

When you optimize your life based on the path of least regret, you assume a simulated future state for one of your future selves and try to feel how much regret you will experience.

You then run this simulation again, choosing a different option, and compare that simulated state of regret/non-regret to the other options.

In the end, you choose the path with better prospectives — few regrets.

It’s an incredible way to consider your options in life and career as long as you use accurate, better and complete information available to you.

If you are afraid of failure, ask yourself, “Would I regret that failure?” If the answer is “no,” then that is absolutely a risk you can pursue.

“Similarly, a lot of us love envisioning massive success. But if we ask, “Would I regret never having that success?” usually we find that the answer is “no.” Only when it’s “yes” should we probably make the sacrifices to achieve it,” argues Mark Manson. The right decision can become clear when you use the regret avoidance approach.

Project yourself into the future: think long-term

Every major decision, whether it’s choosing a career path, accepting a job offer, choosing a life partner, deciding to have children, quitting a job, starting a new project, or moving to a new city has major implications on your life.

Legend has it that when Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com left his high-paying Wall Street job to start Amazon, he applied what he now calls the “Regret Minimization Framework” to make a decision.

Here’s his explanation of his decision model:

“If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, ‘What will I think at that time?’ it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later, ” Jeff Bezos once said.

Bezo’s ‘Regret Minimization Framework’ is applicable for anyone making big jumps in their personal and professional life. When you think long-term, you are likely to evaluate the consequences of your actions today with a lot of caution.

Don’t worry too much about missteps, argues Malia Wollan, Tip columnist and contributing writer at New York Times. She writes, “Regrets of action (quitting a job, say) are generally stronger at first but fade more quickly than regrets of inaction (staying in a career you dislike), which persist and can become a sort of passive wistfulness.

Will you regret your decision to stay at your current job in the next 10 years? How about your decision not to pursue what you really care about?

Make a decision today you won’t regret in 20 years. Don’t make a decision you will be happy with within the short-term. There is a difference. If you think about the long term, then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

In any major decision, if you get stuck, try this:

Flash forward to your 80-year-old self and think “Would I regret not doing this?” If the answer is yes, go ahead and give it a try.

Or, flash back to your 15-year-old self and ask “Would 15 year old me have wanted to do this?” If the answer is yes, make it a priority.

Improve how you make decisions to prevent or reduce regrets.

Every decision gets you closer to either your best future self or worse self. Later in life, you don’t want to look back and feel regret for neglecting certain areas of your life (health, career aspirations, etc.) because you didn’t take the necessary steps to make things better. Living a satisfying and purposeful life will assist in minimizing the number of regrets.

This article first appeared on Medium.