Tiny idea: Use the Regret Test for daily decision-making

by Luis P. Prieto, - 2 minutes read - 344 words

Have you ever spent an hour scrolling on Instagram (or your ​social media addiction of choice​) and later realized with a pang of regret that such a time could have been spent much better doing something else you deeply ​value​? This sort of realization is at the core of this week’s blog post: a tiny practice to guide our daily decision making about what to do next. This idea will also be familiar to long-time newsletter subscribers, as it was an early “newsletter exclusive”.

No matter how well planned-out our days are, we still take dozens of small decisions every day (mostly about what to do next, or whether to stop doing what we’re doing). Another pomodoro of writing, or a bit of Facebook scrolling? making that difficult call, or defrosting the freezer? Etc, etc. One way to gain clarity quickly when making these tiny decisions (but also bigger ones) is “the Regret Test”: Think which option you will regret less by the end of the day (or by the end of the week). Then, do that. This is not about doing what your supervisor or other people would like you to do, necessarily – go by your own experience. Do you often regret later on having done this activity?

Not sure who came up with this idea for the first time (it does sound like ancient wisdom), but behavior designer Nir Eyal popularized it in technology design circles. Just remembering to think this way catches about 80% of my mindless procrastination activity (or, at least, gives me the chance to do the right thing from the point of view of my long-term goals). You can create and keep a “mantra card” handy, to help you remember and create the habit of thinking in this way.

Will I later regret having done this?

A mantra for daily decision making.

What are your typical regrettable activities? Are there things you do which you never regret afterwards? (exercise and meditation are two of mine). Let us know about them in the comments section below!

Header image generated by DALL-E via the Bing chat.

comments powered by Disqus

Luis P. Prieto

Luis P. is a Ramón y Cajal research fellow at the University of Valladolid (Spain), investigating learning technologies, especially learning analytics. He is also an avid learner about doctoral education and supervision, and he's the main author at the A Happy PhD blog.

Google Scholar profile