Regret minimization framework

Regret minimization framework

Regret minimization is a mental model that helps you fight analysis paralysis when facing a difficult choice. The premise is simple - to maximize your fulfillment, you should prioritize the projects you’d most regret not having pursued when you’re old and looking back at your life.

🔖 Table of contents

💡 About the framework

This mental model helps reframe complex life-changing decisions. When faced with such choice, our brains often present us with a range of fears and doubts:

  • What if this all goes wrong?
  • Why would I abandon certainty?
  • What happens if I decide to pursue this path, but end up not liking it?

The model asks you to imagine your future self and look at the decision from that perspective. By moving beyond the short-term frame of mind and asking your future self a series of yes/no questions, you can better assess if the risk of loss is worth the potential for gain. This framework can be applied to various situations - deciding your next career step, making decisions about your relationships, moving to another country.

✂️ How to use it?

1. Capture all your options

Write down the choice, or the solution space of choices you're dealing with.

2. Put yourself in the shoes of your future self

Don't jump straight into making a decision, this exercise is an opportunity to challenge your thinking process. Try projecting yourself into the future - think about your self in 5, 20 or 50 years time. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong in the next year, think more about what you could miss out on when you're 80, if you don't follow through with your big decision.

Going through the choices, ask yourself these questions - see which ones resonate:

  1. In 5 years, will I regret having tried this? Project yourself into the future and look back on this decision with a new perspective.
  2. In 20 years, will I regret having tried this?
  3. When I’m 80, am I going to regret having tried this?
  4. What decision would minimize the number of regrets I have in my life?

3. Reflect

Reflect some more - you will likely have more from never having tried than from trying and failing in the end.

If the risks of your choice are high, consider alternatives - How can you minimize feelings of regret right now, without making a drastic change? For example, if you're thinking about making a career move but cannot afford to quit your job to make time for space hunting, are there other things you can do right now? Can you take up a new role with your current company? Can you go part-time and use the rest of your time to pursue a side project?

🌊 Example

Check out the example in the Additional reading resources section that discusses how Jeff Bezos has applied this model when deciding whether to keep his job or to pursue his gut feel and participate in the Internet business.

📚 Additional reading resources