Regret Minimization Framework v2.0

August 1, 2021

Most of us have come across the regret minimization framework by Jeff Bezos.

It became famous after Bezos used it to decide whether he should quit his comfortable job to start Amazon.

Here’s how he used the framework to arrive at his decision:

"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." - Jeff Bezos

What's great about this

I think the regret minimization framework is great because it allows you to put long-term and potentially life-changing decisions into perspective.

What's not great about this

I do not agree that thinking of yourself as an 80-year old or on your deathbed is the best way to make a life-altering decision that affects your present.

For starters, it puts too much value on an extremely long period of time, one that most of us aren’t able to fully comprehend as 20-something years old.

And secondly, it doesn’t take into account the present and doing things that make you happy today, versus things you potentially won’t regret in a distant future. Especially a future where your aspirations or goals or priorities in life may change.

What's the solution?

"I think you have to think ahead AND live in the moment.” - Rick Sanchez C-137

Combining the future and present, I made a few tweaks and came up with a revised version of the Regret Minimization Framework.

Regret Minimization Framework: Revised Edition

The biggest change I’ve made is by setting up the framework to help you achieve 2 outcomes:

  1. Directionally aligning your life with long-term goals and aspirations.
  2. Prioritising things that make you happy today, versus only doing things to achieve happiness in the distant future.

1- Long-term directional alignment

It’s important to consider one’s long-term direction and make decisions based on that.

For example: Do I want to build products, be an individual consultant, focus on passive income, work with a certain industry, be known for a particular skill, live a certain lifestyle.

You find answers by asking yourself this question:

“There’s this thing I’m crazy passionate or excited about. Fast-forward 1 or 5 years from now, what would I regret more? Going ahead and doing it and possibly failing, or never having tried in the first place?”

I love sharing real-life examples as they really help solidify concepts, so here’s one.

A friend of mine was contemplating whether to continue her job as a marketing head at an early-stage, funded and growing startup. On the other hand, she loves working as per her own schedule, having the freedom of time and more importantly of location.

She is also okay earning less, as she would rather be happy doing things that she loves, working on projects or with clients she enjoys, over earning the most amount of money possible.

We were having a chat about this when I asked her - what’s stopping you from doing this? She was unsure how to make the decision or the leap of doing either, instead of being in-between. She was also scared of an outcome where she ends up being more stressed and then regrets leaving her job.

So I said, “you’ll regret it either way, so do the thing that your future self would be happy to regret over.”

This was 3 weeks ago. Yesterday I learnt that she did quit her job to pursue the life path she would happily regret over, versus never trying it.

2- Be happy today

We often know that there are some things that would make us happy or feel great, but we don’t do it because we have work, feel laziness or find a distraction, or have some other aspiration-related priority that takes over.

Earlier last month, there were multiple deaths in my family and close friend’s families that made me think hard about the fact that life is short, and that there’s no room for delaying doing the things you truly want to be doing.

Last week, a medical emergency of one of my parents added a whole new level of urgency to this matter.

My dad is stable and recovering now, but the ordeal made me realise that when things hit closest to home, it affects you differently.

Life is short, it can come for you anytime and any day without warning, even to someone who is fit and has done most things right to maintain their health.

During this ordeal, I asked myself this question, which can you can too without going through the same ordeal:

“If I die tomorrow, will I die a happy person, or sad because of the way I lived?”

Unfortunately, my answer was that I'd die a sad person.

And that's just unacceptable to me.

What would I be sad about? Among other things:

  • My health, or not having taken care of it the way I used to when I was in and fresh out of college.
  • New experiences, or lack thereof and being stuck inside a room to a table and chair for the past 1.5 years. This one is still excusable due to Covid-19, but it’s true nonetheless.
  • High-stress, the non-enjoyable kind, from trying to build a startup that’s struggling in many ways, which without your realising manifests in other areas of your life such as sleep, patience during a conversation, the kind of thoughts such as self-doubt, confusion and helplessness revolving in your mind, etc.

I believe long-term goals are very important, but they don’t mean much if your journey towards achieving those goals isn’t filled with happiness and enjoyable experiences that help you grow.

After all, the purpose of life is not to arrive at a specific destination, but to experience and enjoy the journey you take as you move towards that destination.

I hope this framework helps you craft a life where you can be happy today while working towards your aspirational future.

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