The Principle of Minimum Regret

A clever guy (I'm not sure if he was wise or not) once remarked that he lived his life based on the principle of minimum regret. What that means is that whenever he was faced with a decision in life, he chose the option that he would regret the least. At first this might seem like a negative way of looking at things. Trying to minimize regret sounds very much like trying to live life the least painful way. But is it that simple? Does living life like this make one avoid actions that have a risk associated with it? Or can this actually encourage risk taking instincts? Lets apply this principle to a few scenarios all of us are typically faced with and see if it actually makes any sense.

The career paths we choose are usually near the top of the list of important decisions for most of us. So lets start with this question: What if one has the opportunity to participate in an exciting path-breaking venture that one is passionate about, with its inherent uncertainities versus a conventional 8 to 5 'respectable' job? What should one do?

Sure, any decision of this sort is a result of a uniquely weighted combination of a host of factors. Listing all the variables involved and analyzing all the possible outcomes would be the rational way of approaching the problem. (too rational, some would say.)

Another way is to go by instincts, a gut feeling, with no regard to the intricacies of the problem. A lot has been said for this method, but personally I feel it needs a very high level of self-awareness and experience for this method to have a high success rate. At any rate, I would not be completely comfortable making a decision on this basis alone.

Then the third is the principle of minimum regret. You decide and pursue the option you would most regret NOT doing. This really clears up a lot of the rational or emotional debris that may have been clouding your judgement. When you take a long term view, it becomes immediately apparent that you should at least try the idea that excites and motivates you because you would regret it if you did not.

Decisions are aplenty in our personal lives as well. In such cases most of us follow our instincts, 'listen to your heart' kind of thing. But the principle of minimum regret can be applied here as well. To take the effort of making a new friend, or the classic tale of unrequited love, all can be addressed by this principle. If everyone in love followed this principle, I think it would save a lot of people much pain and confusion!

Personally, I have lately made a few decisions in my life using this idea. Though I wouldn't yet elevate it to the status of 'my philosophy in life', I really appreciate the additional perspective it provides.

And who was the clever guy who came up with this? Well, I'll only reveal that he is a billionaire founder and chairman of a Fortune 50 company, and gave this principle as the reason why he ventured to start the company leaving a high paying job. So it surely worked for him!


  1. Well it also depends on how you define regret. Minimizing regret need not seen in the long term view.

    I am pretty sure there are plenty who wouldn't regret for leading a peaceful but not so exciting life (the 8t o 5 job). But I do agree that in some sense even they are minimizing regret.

  2. I realized a flaw here.. You can also regret doing things, of course.. Has happened quite often in the recent past, that I've done stuff thinking I wud regret not doing them, then found myself regretting the fact that I did them.. Wonder what's the way out..


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