Quick Decisions Create Regret, Even When They Are Good Decisions

We routinely regret perfectly good choices–not because of the outcome, but because of our experience of choosing.

Why do we sometimes regret the choices we make? The obvious answer is that we sometimes
make bad choices, with unforeseen
(though not necessarily unforeseeable)
negative consequences. But that’s
not the only time we experience the pain of regret. In fact, we routinely regret perfectly good choices —
not because of the outcome, but because of our experience of choosing.


In his excellent book, Blink,
Malcolm Gladwell argues that the quick decision–the “snap” judgment–is much
maligned. He cites many studies
showing that human beings are remarkably good at “thin-slicing”–making a speedy
assessment of situations and acting on conclusions based on very little
information. Haste doesn’t always
make waste, and Gladwell’s got plenty of scientific evidence to prove it.

But even if speedy decisions aren’t necessarily bad ones,
they still have a significant downside–they feel wrong. The popularity of Blink
notwithstanding, people seem to implicitly believe that a quick choice is
always a bad choice. In fact, new
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.

Two other interesting insights emerged from these studies
that are worth noting. When we
make a choice from among many options, we naturally feel more rushed because
there is so much more information to consider. For example, in one study, people who chose a DVD from a set
of 30 felt significantly more rushed–and regretted their choice twice as much–as those who chose from a set of 5, even when they could take as much time as
they needed.


The second,
related insight is that regret comes from feeling
rushed, not from being rushed. In other words, it’s not how much time
you take to make your decision–it’s whether or not you felt you took enough time.

In the end, if you don’t give yourself the time you feel you need to make a judgment or
choice, you will undermine your satisfaction and your subsequent
experience. You will regret you
decision, even when it is completely unwarranted.

So when someone tries to pressure you into deciding right now–whether it’s a colleague, a
friend, or the guy waiting to take your drink order – get used to saying, “I’m
going to need a little more time.”
You won’t regret it.


To learn more about reaching your career goals, check out Heidi’s new book is Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. Follow her on Twitter @hghalvorson. Her website is