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Common Regrets Can Help Motivate Us

Common Regrets Help to Motivate While too many regrets can interfere with life and mental health, new research suggests some remorse can help us improve our current situation.

Researchers Mike Morrison, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Illinois, and Dr. Neal Roese of Northwestern University discovered a healthy amount of regret can motivate us to improve our lives.

The researchers telephoned a representative sample of nearly 400 Americans to ask them about what they regret.

The most frequent regrets of Americans are about love, education, and work. Romantic regrets—America’s most common—focused on lost chances for potential romances, and relationships that did not live up to their potential.

The other common regrets for Americans involved family, education, career, finances, and parenting.

Women were more likely to have regrets about relationships (romance, family), and men were more likely to have regrets about work (career and education).

It was the lack of romantic relationships and the lack of higher education that were regretted most.

An interesting finding in the research is that initially people tend to regret the things they’ve done more, than the opportunities they didn’t take. However, with the passage of time, people come to regret more keenly the chances they failed to explore.

In other words, over time, Americans mostly regret opportunities they let slide by rather than the choices they’ve made.

“We tend to regret matters that are most important to us,” said Morrison, “people crave strong, stable social relationships and are unhappy when they lack them.”

Regret can be painful, but it can also be useful.

“Some people say they try to live life without regret, and I think that’s being unfair to the human condition,” said Roese. “If we try to squeeze regrets away, we’re sacrificing a bit of our humanity.”

Their findings are found in the current issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: SAGE Publications

Common Regrets Can Help Motivate Us

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Common Regrets Can Help Motivate Us. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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