Hi Friend,

Recently I met a client who described feeling fearful about experiencing regret. When considering whether an item should be discarded, this person immediately thought of the regret they imagined they’d feel after letting the item go.

When I asked if regret was such a bad thing they replied that regret, for them, felt much like grief and loss and these were experiences that should be avoided.

This got me thinking about regret.

  • What is regret exactly?

  • Are there more than one type of regret?

  • Can regret help us or should it be avoided?

What is regret?

Research suggests there are two main components of regret:

  1. Imagination - idea, fantasy, vision of something we would have wanted)

  2. Self agency - belief that the idea, fantasy, vision could have been attained if one had acted more advantageously

Types of regret?

One of the ways humans differ from other animals is our ability to visit the past and the future. We can tell stories about things that never happened.

There are two types of regrets:

INACTION - regret for what we DID NOT do including missing /not taking advantage of opportunities when they arose

ACTION - regret for what we DID including mistakes/ poor choices /missteps.

So, there is a difference between regretting what we might have done vs. regretting what we did…and it turns out that the form regret takes relates to the amount of time that has elapsed.

Over SHORT PERIODS: (within approximately 12 months) People tend to regret ACTIONS they took - mistakes made.

Over LONGER PERIODS: People tend to regret INACTIONS - opportunities lost.

Daniel Pink, in his most recent pop psychology book outlines four deeper structures of regret…

Foundation regrets: Failure to be responsible, conscientious, or prudent.

Boldness regrets: Chances we didn’t take, risks we avoided.

Moral regrets: Poor behaviour, moral failings, or compromising our beliefs/values.

Connection regrets: Unrealised relationships, neglect of those that helped shape who we are.

Does regret help or hinder?

TL;DR: it depends on the type of regret.

When thinking about my client with regret avoidance I could see that giving in to the fear of regret in the short term could potentially lead to some major regrets in the long term.

Decisions not made now about the objects that are standing between you and a life lived according to your strongly held beliefs and values could become a deeper regret in the future.

Although I can see all of these deeper structures of regrets potentially playing out in the lives of those I work with, for me the most distressing lost opportunities are around connection.

Pushing family, friends, neighbours away because they threaten the hoard and our emotional homeostasis may meet our needs in the moment and avoid regret in the short term. Long term we are likely to regret our shortsightedness and loss of close relationships.

Doing the work to recognise and accept our current shortcomings and continuing that work to become more integrated and psychologically healthy individuals is the place to start. Feeling connection regret because we didn’t seek help from professionals when we first recognised the hoarding problem is heart breaking.

Cutting off or taking for granted those people closest to us in order to collect and keep infinite inanimate objects seems unthinkable, right? It doesn’t make sense logically, right? But, that is exactly what is happening.

The regret we might anticipate with respect to a missed opportunity to buy a collectable figurine today will be minuscule compared to the loneliness, despair, and deep regret we will feel when we realise, 5 years from now, we are alone.

That figurine wasn’t worth the profit we could make on the sale or the space it takes up on the shelf if our loved ones have gone.


Admitting we need help from professionals must happen before we attempt to repair our relationships with those closest to us.

Our family and friends are not the help.

They have their own work to do in order to repair their lives and grow. But, taking action towards connection, however daunting that concept may be, is worth the risk.

Something to test:

Many people who exhibit hoarding behaviours are very concerned with regret. You are not alone. When discarding, see if you can test your hypothesis about feeling extreme regret about parting with objects.

Research indicates that the likelihood of experiencing regret might be overestimated.

Regret is something to hold lightly and is not a reliable factor to consider when we make decisions.

We anticipate feeling more regret than we actually experience because we often underestimate our ability to manage such situations and bounce back from them and try again. We CAN handle it.

Until next week :)

Jan <3

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