The opportunity principle (DW #857)
Dec 29, 2020
Continuing with our discussion on regret from yesterday, let us explore this a little more.
Some years ago, researchers from the University studied people’s biggest regrets in life. They found that the six biggest regrets people expressed (in the USA) had to do with education, career, romance, parenting, self- improvement, and leisure.
After ranking the regrets, the researchers Roese and Summerville went about dissecting the mechanism of regret and mapped a three-stage process of action, outcome, and recall.
Here is the summary:
The action stage is where we take steps toward a goal.
The outcome stage is where we experience the result of our effort. If there is failure to act, or if the action is unsuccessful, it can often trigger regret in the recall stage, which is the third stage. Recall is when we look back on the event and consider whether we are happy with the outcome or not.
What was interesting was that the researchers found that "Feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment are strongest where the chances for corrective reaction are clearest."
They called their finding "the Opportunity Principle". Put very simply, it means the more tangible the opportunity for change, growth and improvement, the bigger the regret if the opportunity is not taken or messed up. If the opportunity is not easily present, people do not tend to have much regret. In other words, "opportunity breeds regret".
This is why (the lack of) education tends to be the biggest regret for people (e.g., should have stayed in school, should have studied harder, should have gotten another degree, should have gone back to school).
Why do you think the failure to use the opportunity for education causes so much regret?
Firstly, getting more education is highly likely to lead to an improvement in life circumstances
And secondly, with the rise of community colleges, student aid programs and virtual and adult learning, education of some sort is accessible to nearly all socioeconomic groups. You can always go back to school (or learning) in some form or another. And if you don’t, you are likely to regret it.
Lastly, regrets of inaction usually last longer than regrets of action in part because they reflect greater perceived opportunity. In other words, you are much more likely to regret opportunities that you did not make use of than what you tried and failed at.
The takeaway from today? If you are at all thinking of upgrading your education in any way, shape or form, go for it!!
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