Regret Minimisation Framework
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Overview

What potential major life change simultaneously tempts and terrifies you? Got a startup idea you've been too scared to pursue? Want to change your career? Or maybe, you've been too nervous to ask someone out on a date? This mental model might be for you, after all, it was the reason why Jeff Bezos gained the courage to quit his day job and start Amazon. 

The Regret Minimisation Framework asks ‘In X years, will I regret not doing this?’ as a guide for action today. 

YOLO.

My kids would call this YOLO, or 'You Only Live Once', which admittedly rolls off the tongue better than 'Regret Minimisation Framework' ;). Either way, planning how to reduce regrets for ‘future you’ helps you to connect you with your values and overcome fear. 

LEVERAGING LOSS AVERSION. 

The model is deceptively smart because, by challenging you to really imagine your Opportunity Cost, it leverages your Loss Aversion to hold your Fear of Failure at bay. In other words, you're emotionally connecting with your potential loss to gain perspective, and perhaps even ignore immediate risks as a result. A handy bit of self-manipulation. 

Like the sound of it? Then go live your best life with the regret minimisation framework*.

* By the way, while we're happy to take a cut of any successful startup you build as a result of reading this, we take absolutely no responsibility for the crazy stuff it might inspire let alone the big fails it might lead to. Just so we're clear ;)

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Actionable takeaways
  • Use the Regret Minimisation Framework to challenge fears and doubts

This mental model helps you think beyond the moment and overcome your current fear and inertia. 

  • Use it to tap into your real values and priorities.

This approach can help you identify what you really value and take action accordingly. Take it to the next level by considering what you’d like to be remembered for or what you’d like to leave after you die.

  • Combine it with other decision-making mental models.

The Regret Minimisation Framework is one way to break free of passivity and fear, but any decision will ideally also consider the reality of the situation, your chances of success and other considerations. Thus it’s best used in the context of other decision-making frameworks.

  • Learn from other people’s regrets.

Common regrets that people in palliative care have revealed include having worked too hard, trying too much to please others, not expressing their true feelings, not spending quality time with friends, and not allowing themselves to be happier. They're dead now, but you can still learn from them.

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In Practice

Bezos starting Amazon

Bezos described how he left his well paying job and to start Amazon.

“The framework I found, which made the decision incredibly easy, was what I called — which only a nerd would call — a “regret minimisation framework. So I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.

“I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried."

Limitations

The Regret Minimisation Framework tends to take an emotive approach to decision making that might lead people to take riskier actions than are advisable. At worst, when not used with other decision making considerations, it might be used to justify hasty or even reckless behaviour. To that point, rather than an considered decision making tool, it might be argued that this framework is more about helping to gain the courage and fortitude to commit to something significant that you know you want but are scared of doing. 

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

The regret minimisation framework is a decision-making approach that would ideally be combined with other decision making process. 

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave regret minimisation framework into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • High velocity decisions: other decision making tools from Bezos.
  • Opportunity cost: the regret minimisation framework effectively asks you to ‘live into’ the opportunity cost of inaction. 

Complementary models: 

  • Golden circle: using the framework might help connect with ‘why’.
  • Ikigai: again, the framework might help get in touch with a happier life. 
  • Risk matrix: consider risks likelihood and impact. 

This is a similar concept to the more recent ‘YOLO’, or you only live once’ approach to seizing opportunities.

Origins & Resources

The Regret Minimisation Framework was coined by Jeff Bezos, and described in Brian Christian’s  Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions.

View a short video of Bezos talking about this framework

 

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