One of the most common misattributed Mark Twain quotes reads, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” While those wise words actually belong to another American author, Harriett Jackson Brown Jr., no matter who said them, the quote lives on as valuable advice. Take the risk, dare to dream, make mistakes. Live with no regrets. It turns out, Brown was right.
According to research done by Dr. Medvec of the Kellogg School of Management and Dr. Gilovich Professor of Psychology at Cornell University, inaction has greater psychological effects and leads to a greater emotional reaction in the long term than in situations when action was taken. Essentially, if two situations were to have the same negative outcome, the one where action was not taken will have a greater sense of regret than the one that called for action.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating multiple decisions in my life. Rather, the decisions I failed to act on. The list is embarrassingly long, and to no ones fault other than my own. The list includes several tangible goals that I could have, or, should have, accomplished by this point in my life. My excuses ranged from ‘I’m too busy to focus on that right now’ to ‘I’ll have plenty of time to do it later’. It’s the same inner monologue time and time again, year after year, that manifested from thoughts to poor habits. In actuality, busy was a mental construct I built as a euphemism for procrastination and ‘later’ never came. My immediate delay turned into permanent inaction.
When I created Nikki On The Daily™ in 2011, I thought I had the world ahead of me. Instagram was just picking up (launched in the US in 2010) and the concept of branding oneself was still new. I distinctly remember family members asking “What is your brand? What are you building” and I answered, “Myself.” My vast interests and independent spirit made me fearless, I wanted to experience everything and meet everyone. At the time, I had a goal to become the go to writer for all things food, fitness, and general lifestyle pieces from Manhattan to Montauk. I just received my BA in media studies, with a focus on broadcast journalism. I had an idea for a YouTube channel, similar to NBC Live. Through my expansive list of contacts, I also wanted to plan events for small businesses looking to connect with a wider audience. The web of ideas continued to grow as I sat still. I was caught up in concepts at a time when I should have been driven to act.
At those particular moments in my life I didn’t see an immediate reason to act on anything because I never felt ready. I felt that I didn’t have the proper space, the latest technology, the experience, etc. I was more concerned with being rejected than I was with laying the groundwork to accomplish all of my goals. Nine years later, with more experience and exposure than I started with in 2011, I suddenly feel those goals echoing in my mind. The deepest parts of me are filled with annoyance, a self-loathing of sorts, for having not acted sooner. I look at the success of so many others and think, how could I have allowed so much time to go by?
According to “The Inaction Effect in the Psychology of Regret,” regret is a “goal-directed emotion” that can inform us to our own goals and how we aim to achieve them. It’s “an emotion that is functional in mastering skills and learning and in attaining a better grasp over decisions.” Rather than get caught up in a negative mindset of what could have been I’m consciously aware of each decision I make moving forward. Introspection has the power to bring me closer to where I want to be: making Nikki On The Daily™ an accessible brand across various outlets, where I’m churning out new content, and reaching a wider audience.
It’s easy to get caught up in regret, as our minds spin off into various scenarios and fears. No matter how confident I may have been, I let my inner uncertainties take over for almost a decade. In acknowledging the mistakes of the past I can create a successful future. I’ve learned the only way to be ready for a challenge is to take it on. I’m going to start a podcast, produce video coverage, execute events, and cover more stories. The only regret I’ll have is if I never tried at all.
“The Inaction Effect in the Psychology of Regret” Zeelenberg; van Dijk; van den Bos; Pieters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 2002, Vol. 82, No. 3, 314–327
“The Experience of Regret: What, When, and Why” Thomas Giloviqh and Victoria Husted Medvec. Psychological Review Copyright 1995 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 1995, Vol. 102, No. 2, 379-395