Our Most Enduring Regrets Come From Failure to Live Up to Our Ideal Selves


Jun 6, 2018


Regrets. Everyone’s got one.

And according to a recent research by Cornell University, the most enduring regrets we experience are the ones that where we fail to live up to our ideals.

The researchers found the what people regret the most tend to be forsaken hopes or failed dreams and aspirations, as opposed to failing on duties and responsibilities.

Published in the journal Emotion, the research categorizes a person’s self into three segments – the actual, the ideal and the ought self. The actual self constitutes traits that a person believes they have in actuality. The ideal self is what a person perceives themselves to be ideally, encompassing qualities they would ideally want to possess, including hopes and aspirations. The ought self represents what a person imagines they should have been based on their duties and responsibilities.

Psychologist Tom Gilovich and Cornell graduate Shai Davidai conducted a survey involving hundreds of participants using a course of six studies. The participants were explained about the concept of three selves and then asked to enlist and categorize their regrets based on the three selves explained to them.

The study showed that the ideal self was the one that a large number of participants had greatest regrets about (72% versus 28%). More than half of the participants expressed more ideal self regrets than ought self regrets, upon being asked to enumerate their life regrets. When asked about their single biggest regret in life, a whopping 76% of participants expressed a regret that connected to unfulfilled ideal selves.

The researchers speculated why ideal self regrets seemed to be the most enduring ones. It is probable that the ought self represents more solid, specific rules, for instance, how to behave in certain environments, which is why they are easier to fulfill. They are more goal-oriented. However ideal self goals tend to be more generic, with no limitations or boundaries of specific rules, for example, be a good daughter, be a good mentor, et cetera, there is no deciding limit or benchmark of what represents ‘good.’ “Well, what does that mean, really?” says Gilovich.”There aren’t clear guideposts. And you can always do more.”

It is observed that ideals often comes to an abrupt stop at the hands of inspiration. Individuals often claim the need for inspiration in order to complete our ideal selves. However, researchers in psychology show the contrary.

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

Another big factor that affects peoples’ ability to achieve their ideal goals is worry of what others might think. For instance, you might want to sing out loud, but you may hold back on doing so, for fear of how others will react and think about it.

“People are more charitable than we think and also don’t notice us nearly as much as we think,” assures Gilovich. “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.”

So next time you’re waiting on inspiration to take control of your hopes and aspirations, go ahead and take the plunge. There’s at least one person who will certainly benefit.



Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.


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