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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Are Regrets Quantifiable?

Courtesy of en.hcht.org
Before I deal with the substance of the subject, it would be appropriate to have a common understanding of the term regret through its definition. As defined by Wikipedia, “regret is a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors. Regret is often expressed by the term "sorry." Regret is often a feeling of sadness, shame, embarrassment, depression, annoyance, or guilt, after one acts in a manner and later wishes not to have done so.

Wikipedia further explains that “regret is distinct from guilt, which is a deeply emotional form of regret; one which may be difficult to comprehend in an objective or conceptual way. It is also distinct from remorse, which is a more direct and emotional form of regret over a past action that is considered by society to be hurtful, shameful, or violent. Unlike regret, it includes a strong element of desire for apology to others rather than an internal reflection on one's actions, and may be expressed (sincerely or not) in order to reduce the punishment one receives.”

Courtesy of lifehacker.com
Not one individual go through life without some regrets.  Every one of us has some regrets especially on bad choices that we made whether they maybe trivial or serious concerns.  Although most regret can refer only to a bad action or decision made, there are many of us who felt regrets on things that we have failed to do. 

As I have elaborated in my earlier article “Making Decisions – An Essential Phase in Life’; “An essential part of our lives is making decisions. We make decisions on a daily occurrence; from the food we choose to eat, the dress that we buy, the friends that we keep and many other daily activities that we do. In many of these cases, decision making is something that we do without much thought, without hesitation, without concern. However, in important issues we tend to think twice assessing the situation giving us moments of hesitation, doubts and fears on the outcome of a bad decision.”

On the other hand, choosing a career, life partner and business ventures are classic example of crucial concerns that necessitate careful study and assessment before making decisions. Matters that will significantly affect our lives and our families are subjects that are included in this type.  Unfortunately, even the most carefully made decisions can leave us haunted with feelings of regret, always bothered by doubt on the question "what if?" Many of us carry these feelings of regret with us through the passage of time, most often permitting them to influence our future choices. The fact is though, by the time your pain or sadness is old enough to be a regret, or deep enough there is likely nothing that you can be done to repair the damage. Here again is where grieving is the only way to move on. As human beings, it is natural to have regrets.

Of course, regret necessarily is not bad. A person who regrets treating a friend badly because of gossips may learn not to make these mistakes again. In most instances, regrets help the person make better decisions in the future. Some people who live by the principle of "no regrets," may find it perturbing because without regrets we never learn from our bad decisions and provides us greater chances to replicate the past indiscretions. On the other hand, if we focus intensely on our regrets, it can lead us to imbed fear in ourselves and may doubt our ability to make options, which can prevent us from making any choice at all when confronted with a situation where we have to make a decision. Procrastination or withdrawal is surely to result.

Scientific studies show that people tend to overestimate the level of regret associated with a decision, and that the majority of people regret inaction above all else [source: Connolly and Zeelenberg]. When faced with a hypothetical decision, study participants believe that they are much more likely to regret things they do than things they don't do. When asked about real-life experiences, however, an overwhelming majority regretted the things they hadn't done much more than the things they had.

More recent studies show that people anticipate much higher levels of regret than they actually feel when making decisions. Participants on average felt less regretful about failures or bad decisions than they expected, and those who made the most reasonable and informed decisions experienced the lowest levels of regret.

Courtesy of grandviewbusinesssolutions.com
In Business Operations Management, decision theories can be used by management for a variety of different decisions, including capacity planning, location planning, production and service design, and equipment selection. There are three different elements that should be considered in decision making: list of alternatives, known payoff for each alternative, and a set of possible future conditions for each alternative. There are three basic environments in which decisions need to be made: certainty, uncertainty, and risk. In order to make decisions under uncertainty, the following four decision criteria are used:
>             Maximin (choose the alternative with the best of the worst possible payoffs)
>             Maximax (choose the alternative with the best possible payoffs)
>             Laplace (choose the alternative with the best average payoff of any of the alternative)
>             Minimax Regret (choose the alternative that has the least of the worst regrets)

In business management, regret is also known as opportunity loss, defined as the difference between the actual payoff and the payoff that would have been obtained if a different course of action had been chosen. This is also called difference regret. Furthermore, the ratio regret is the ratio between the actual payoff and the best possible payoff.

A Regret theory called the minimax regret rule is to minimize the worst-case regret in making corporate decisions. The aim of this is to perform as closely as possible to the optimal course. There are other similar approaches that have been used in a variety of areas such as “hypothesis  thinking”, forecasting and cost-benefit analysis.

One advantage of the minimax regret rule is that it is independent of the probabilities of the various outcomes: thus if regret can be accurately computed, one can reliably use minimax regret theory. However, probabilities of outcomes are hard to estimate.

After making a decision under uncertainty, a manager  may discover, on learning the relevant outcomes, that another alternative would have been preferable. This knowledge may impart a sense of loss, or regret. The decision maker who is prepared to tradeoff financial return in order to avoid regret will exhibit some of the behavioral paradoxes of decision theory.

So the question is;  why do we sometimes regret the decisions we make?  The obvious answer is that we sometimes make bad choices, with adverse consequences that are unforeseen or cannot be projected. Most regrets of people emanates from speedy decisions which normally result to be bad decisions.   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.

A world known sociologist had recorded; “Too many borderlines, each in his/her own way, ruminate about regrets. Looking back with "what-if's" and "if only's". The fact is that behaviour impacts people. If you have behaved in ways that have caused people to leave your life or tell you they can no longer deal with you, or in ways that have ended relationships, again, there really isn't any going back. Others have a right to heal too. Most often when they do, they do not want to go back. Trust is easily broken and it is much harder to repair. Often it cannot be repaired.” 

“There is the opportunity, for you, in and with each and every regret to mourn the events that took place and to take personal responsibility for your part in what you lost. If you let it, loss, and the pain of regret can be great teachers and healers. If you feel troubled about past events that now cause you regret, rather than going over and over it, or around in circles challenge yourself to address the causes, the reasons for your regret in a very honest manner. As you identify your part in things you can then become more aware of what you might be doing that others cannot tolerate in relationship with you.” “Active mourning of your losses will help you to move out of regret. Some regret is healthy. But to dwell on it or continually re-visit it (the same regret) is not healthy. Each loss that we have suffered needs to be grieved and let go so that we can move on. 

Sadly, when we have regrets, there is little that we can do to rectify the cause of those regrets. Let your regrets teach you to adjust your behavior to more socially-acceptable engaging relating as opposed to needy borderline relating, often co-dependent and enmeshed and very selfish. If you continue to relate in these very borderline, selfish ways, you will continue to add to the stockpile of all of your regrets.”

Now, are regrets measurable?  The answer is yes.

Individuals may feel regrets to a varying degree of culpability and distress governed by shame, onus, remorse, guilt and conscience.  

Business organizations can feel the impact of regrets on bad business decisions through loss of profits, loss of business reputation and opportunities to be competitive in their respective markets or in the worst scenario, the dissolution of the organization.  

Rogelio G. Balo
Central Valley, California USA
Oct. 7, 2013

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