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Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda: Turn Your Regrets into Big Opportunities

By ClientWise | February 25, 2014

"I wish that I were more successful…"

"If only I had gotten my CFA…"

"I should have gone independent…"

"I wish that I could spend more time with my family…"

"Where would I be today if I had been a better leader…?"

"If only I had been super-bullish two years ago…"


If you are a financial advisor who spends time thinking about “missed” opportunities, you are in good company. Many of us daydream about what might have been.


Here’s what is really interesting about these regrets:


    • The emotion of regret is virtually unavoidable.
    • Research shows that our brain produces our “what might have been” laments with a real purpose in mind.
  • This purpose is to guide us toward improvement.


Regret has been defined as a negative emotion that is based upon a self-focused, contrary-to-facts inference. Regret feels bad because it implies a fault in personal action. You feel that you should have done it differently, therefore self-blame is a big component of regret.


The Opportunity Principle

What is really, really interesting is that...opportunity breeds regret! Feelings of disappointment are strongest when the chances for corrective action are clearest. Counter-intuitively, regret persists in precisely those situations where the possibility of corrective action is high. Moreover, regret often initiates corrective action because individuals are more likely to undertake forward-looking steps when they believe that it will lead to probable, effective change. 

Neal Roese, Ph.D., is one of the leading researchers on the subject of regret and contrary-to-the-facts thinking. In his book, “If Only…”, he sketches simple strategies to manage your life and turn your regrets into opportunities:

  • Do not overreact.You may have a tendency to react to a regrettable situation by taking fewer chances. Don’t. Taking less “risk” ensures that you will miss out on new opportunities.
  • Regrets about inaction last longer and cause more severe losses than do regrettable actions.
  • We have the most intense regrets about situations that we can still change.
  • We have two choices: 1) Closure on this regret, or 2) Take corrective action.
  • Flip it around. Instead of gnashing our teeth at this regret and thinking over-and-over "If only I had...", harness this misused energy to motivate you to build an action plan moving forward. (If you decide to do something and it turns out sour, research shows that it probably won’t haunt you forever-and-ever. More likely, you’ll reframe this failure and move on.


The beauty about being a financial advisor is that you are in a career of virtually infinite second chances for self-improvement and betterment. What other profession offers the freedom to re-frame who you are, and to achieve what you want? What other calling allows you to work as long as you are of healthy body and brain?


It’s never too late.


Do it.


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