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Lasting Regrets May Come From Not Living Up to 'Ideal Self'

Lasting Regrets May Come From Not Living Up to ‘Ideal Self’

Regrets may be bred of forsaken dreams, romance not pursued, or taking a job near home rather than an adventurous position overseas. But the most enduring regrets are the ones that stem from our failure to live up to our ideal selves, according to new Cornell University research.

In a new study, researchers found people are haunted more by regrets about failing to fulfill their hopes, goals and aspirations than by regrets about failing to fulfill their duties, obligations and responsibilities.

Psychologist Dr. Tom Gilovich and former Cornell graduate student Dr. Shai Davidai, discuss their findings in an article “The Ideal Road Not Taken,” which appears in the journal Emotion.

The research builds on the idea that three elements make up a person’s sense of self: the actual, ideal and the ought selves.

The actual self is made up of the attributes a person believes they possess. The ideal self is the attributes they would ideally like to possess, such as hopes, goals, aspirations or wishes. The ought self is the person they feel they should have been based on duties, obligations and responsibilities.

Gilovich and Davidai surveyed hundreds of participants through the course of six studies, describing the differences between the ought and ideal selves, and asking them to list and categorize their regrets based on these descriptions.

Interestingly, study participants said they experienced regrets about their ideal self far more often (72 percent versus 28 percent) than the other perspectives. More than half mentioned more ideal-self regrets than ought-self regrets when asked to list their regrets in life so far.

Moreover, when asked to name their single biggest regret in life, 76 percent of participants mentioned a regret about not fulfilling their ideal self.

Why do ideal-self failures spark such enduring regret?

The expectations of the ought self are usually more concrete and involve specific rules — such as how to behave at a funeral — and so are easier to fulfill. But ideal-related regrets tend to be more general: Be a good parent, be a good mentor.

“Well, what does that mean, really?” Gilovich said. “There aren’t clear guideposts. And you can always do more.”

The research has practical implications, he said. First, we often assume we first need inspiration before we can strive to achieve our ideals. But a significant amount of psychological research shows that’s not true, Gilovich said.

“As the Nike slogan says: ‘Just do it,'” he said. “Don’t wait around for inspiration, just plunge in. Waiting around for inspiration is an excuse. Inspiration arises from engaging in the activity.”

And people often fail to achieve their ideal goals because they’re worried about how it will look to others. For example, a person might want to learn how to sing but feel they could never let others hear how bad they are.

Again, Gilovich says, just do it.

“People are more charitable than we think and also don’t notice us nearly as much as we think,” he said. “If that’s what holding you back — the fear of what other people will think and notice — then think a little more about just doing it.”

Source: Cornell University

Lasting Regrets May Come From Not Living Up to ‘Ideal Self’

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). Lasting Regrets May Come From Not Living Up to ‘Ideal Self’. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/05/31/lasting-regrets-may-come-from-not-living-up-to-ideal-self/135786.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 May 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 May 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.