Human beings are the most intelligent species on this planet. We're so complex that's crazy!

A metric that reflects such a complex animal is our level of predictability. This one is ridiculously low compare to other species. A simple bottle cut in half upside down with some sugar liquid at the bottom is sufficient to lure and trap wasps.

Humans, on the other side it's a different story. When I think about it, in addition to our intelligence, what makes us very unpredictable and so, entirely outside the competition compare to other animals is perhaps the wide range of emotions we can feel.

Wasps don't encounter anger, sadness, grudge, etc. They have basic needs to slake and work at it. We also have basic needs, but it's not something we need to work on anymore.

The era when we got up in the morning with the only concern of the day "eating" is long gone. We now have more profound concerns, thoughts, needs, worry, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worse.

Our overly brilliant, complicated mind has made us masters of the world but slaves of our happiness. With our short life that passes, pressure, concerns about the future, and regrets about the past get involved. We all have regretted the time we were kids, free of everything, living in the moment, responding to our little inner voice without fearing the future or regretting the past.

This essay is a humble attempt on my part to :

  1. Understand regrets (where do they come from, what area of our life they originate from, and so on).
  2. Trying to avoid them,
  3. How to live with those that are unavoidable.

I want to understand this emotion and how to deal with it. I want to bring answers that may or may not help me—and you—with it.

Knowing your enemy

When we talk about regrets in their most damaging form, we often refer to end-of-life regrets. According to Wikipedia, regret is the emotion of wishing one had made a different decision in the past.

Mathematically, it's evident that the older we get, the more likely we would develop regrets. Even harder, the older we get, the less time and energy we have left to change of life path.

Definition Of Hell: “On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” — Unknown

This does not prevent that whatever your age, you can always change your life situation.

Keep in mind this: You could indeed have taken an infinite number of other paths, but It doesn't take away from the fact that you still have an infinite number of paths at your disposal!

All credit goes to to Waitbutwhy

Asking the older what they regret can be terrifying but very rewarding. Rewarding in the sense that it's always interesting to learn from the experience of others, and it's the best way to know our enemy.

There are tons of regret stories of caregivers working in retirement homes and other facilities. Most of the time, they are confronted with senior men and women living the last moments of their lives. It frequently leads to discussions that revolve around regrets.

The main themes I was able to extract from this kind of interaction are (not ranked in order of importance) : 

  1. Learning,
  2. Friends,
  3. Work, 
  4. Courage,
  5. Forgiveness.

Beware, our world and the people who inhabit it have evolved insanely fast in the past decades. There is much to learn from other's regrets. However, remember this: you're not them, and more importantly, the older's people concern about their past is also very dependant on their era.


Don't use learning as an excuse to climb a ladder. The regret of not finding passion and meaning in what you learn appears to be pretty frequent. 

Informal education is our greatest gift because learning is everywhere, and this is even more true today with the internet.


Even though people, including you, change over time, keep in touch with them. The people that make you laugh and feel like a better person deserve to be a part of your life.

Accepting change is hard and scary. Flexibility and adaptation appear to be excellent components to have, so we don't have to look back on our past decisions.

Give value to the quality of relationships you make. Live every day of your life like it is the last and somebody else's last.

Loving yourself is paramount to become independent. But you need to love others as well. Making excuses to push people away from us, pretending you don't want them to know you have only one way out: you will feel alone.


Work should not be your entire life, and so, you should not spend too much time on the treadmill of work.


Many people wish they dared to do what they want to do.

  • Courage to forgive a loved one,
  • Courage to not find yourself excuses to get out of your comfort zone, 
  • Courage to give value to the quality of relationships you make,
  • Courage to express your feelings is critical, and so on.

Be brave and stand tall!

Going through this short period on this planet earth with a little more courage every day. Not too much, just a little bit.


We talked about the courage to forgive, but forgiveness can be a section on its own. Forgive to a good friend, to your family, basically to every person that makes you better as a human being.

What an important step to know could be the cause of our regrets, whether it's the present ones or hypothetical ones.

Fighting your enemy

Key concepts to avoid regrets are first and second-level thinking. The instant gratification monkey and the rational decision-maker, as Waitbutwhy put it.

“First-level thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it (a bad sign for anything involving an attempt at superiority). All the first-level thinker needs is an opinion about the future (…) Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted.” — Howard Marks, Investor & Writer

All regrets come from our inability to see the cascading results and the overall negative impact of an immediate yet good issue. Making better decisions is what can defeat the enemy!

First-level thinking is what, in its softest form, will make you eat chocolate when you were planning to go on a diet, and in its most devastating form, will make you fall into the addiction. So It's paramount to move out from first-level thinking.

Switch from first to second-level thinking can be a little bit overwhelmed at first glance. Indeed, all our decisions are : 

  1. made under the influence of biological responses happening in the background (#dopamine),
  2. are realized by relying on mental processes biased by our memories.

So, how are we supposed to deal with it? Well, it first starts with questions.

A bunch of good questions

  • What is the range of likely future outcomes?
  • Which outcome do I think will occur?
  • What is the probability I’m right?
  • What does the consensus think?
  • How does my prediction differ from the consensus?
  • How does the current situation align with the consensus view of the future, and with mine?
  • What will happen if the consensus turns out to be right, and what if I’m right? 

Note: These are from the book The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks.

Regret minimization framework

Then there are mental models. Mental models are tools to make decisions. They are, of course, unique to each person, but some are still very useful to know and adapt in your own life. Some will work, others not. It remains that having mental models in your toolkit is essential to make hard decisions and lead a life in line with your ideals.

The regret minimization framework, for example, was made famous by Jeff Bezos in this interview : 

As with the above questions, it starts with a question: "In X years, will I regret not doing this?"

The thoughts that will arise from this simple question force you to think beyond the moment and past the fears and doubts. It's like if you fast forward into the future and assess things from that perspective.

 10-10-10 technique

In the same vein, I find on nesslab's blog these three simple questions very powerful to move out from the first-level thinking :

  • How will I feel about it 10 minutes from now?
  • How will I feel about it 10 months from now?
  • How will I feel about it 10 years from now?

They are surprisingly efficient, and they will make you consider not a hypothetic long-term future, but another one more short-term and so, more tangible. 

Why spend so much energy imagining the years-long impacts of a choice if it's already bad for you short-term? Here is the power of this technique!

Living with your enemy

Now that I've written 1500 words to fight regrets, I want you to acknowledge something. The inability to experience regrets is one of the diagnosed symptoms of sociopath and brain damages.

In other words, to be fully human, we must feel regrets.

The desire to remove all your regrets is vain, do not adopt this way of thinking! Yes, eliminating some regrets is deeply desirable, but we must remain realistic: we will never be able to completely separate ourselves from regrets, it is impossible!

The final step is to live well with your regrets.

In 2011, the American journalist and author Kathryn Schulz made a TED talk on regrets and basically said that we must not regret having regrets. It was very different from what I had read up to until now.

As stoic said, we must focus on what’s in our control and accepts what isn’t. Regrets are somewhat controllable, but not entirely. It is, therefore, necessary to accept to have them instead of desperately living in the illusion that it is possible not to.

"The point is not to live without any regrets, the point is not to hit ourselves for having them." — Kathryn Schulz

Kathryn, therefore, raised 3 points : 

  • Regrets are universal (you're not the only person),
  • Regrets do not stand the test of time (For most of them, the passage of time is a good remedy),
  • Regrets are often not as ugly as we think they are (like many things, we can see the good side of regrets).

In the final analysis, regrets don't remind us that we did poorly, it reminds us that know we can do better.