Can using time-consistent values solve your regret?

Have you ever bought something then later regretted buying it?

Or said something that you reaalllllyyy wished you could take back?

Of course you have. We all have.

One of the things that I personally fear the most is regret. So it was awesome when I found something out. Every time I used time-consistent values, I never regretted what I did.

I know what you’re thinking,

“What is time-consistency?”

But before I can explain that, you first have to understand the 3 different time perspectives that people can have.

What are time-perspectives, and which one do you have?

Are you present-oriented? Past-oriented? Or future-oriented?

Past-oriented people are those who simply think about the past a lot. They remember the good old times, the memories and the mistakes.

Present-oriented people are those who live in the moment and don’t really care much about the future. They don’t plan much but they enjoy life to the fullest.

It turns out that most people who are addicted to anything (gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol) are generally also present-oriented. It makes sense. They enjoy whatever they’re doing a lot more than others would.

These 3 selves are the key to stop yourself from regretting anything ever again

Future-oriented people are the ones who think about the future, constantly working for a future reward. Why else would you study so hard for a job 5 years from now? Why work for money at the end of the month? Why save and plan for a home in the future?

Being future-oriented is usually a good thing, and makes sure that you plan your life out well, and that you can work hard now to enjoy yourself later.

Remember that post I made about your multiple self? You can also think of your multiple self in terms of different time-perspectives, with your future self, past self, and present self.

And it’s not like we fall only into one category. We’re usually bits and pieces of each category, but we’re stronger in one.

We are often a mix of all of our multiple selves

Once we know this, the interesting question that pops up is…

…which time-perspective do you use to make your decisions?

It turns out that when we make most decisions, we evaluate them using present-hedonistic values. We think in the moment and only make our choice based on what we want right now.

THIS is when we enjoy something in the moment then later hate ourselves for doing it.

THIS is when we wish for something like crazy. Then when we actually get it, we realize it wasn’t that awesome and we regret buying it.

THIS is when we say something in the heat of the moment and wish we could take it back later.

You’re not thinking with your future self. You’re think with your present self, and your emotions are firmly in control.

Your present self usually isn’t the smartest, but it’s usually the one that wins… Problem alert!

So, what we really want is a way to make decisions using our future self. Unfortunately, this isn’t so easy when your present self wants something completely different.

And when your present and future self are in battle, most times your present self wins, simply because whatever it is that you want to enjoy is right in front of you.

And this leads to regret.

When your present self wins and the future self that you look up to and want to become loses, you become disappointed with yourself. You feel regret.

So… how do we solve this dilemma?

How do we solve regret?

I’ll give you the shortcut first.

Don’t live in the past

Yup, that’s it.

Don’t live in the past.

If you never go back over your past mistakes and memories, you’ll never feel regret.

The bad news is that you’ll also never learn from your mistakes, and you’ll never improve to be someone better.

If you don’t look back over what you did right, you’ll also never build up your self-esteem and aim higher the next time around.

Don’t ever remember the past. Simple. But not very smart.

So… does this method work?

Yes, but I still don’t recommend it.

Ok! Second method! Evaluating in multiple time-frames…

Multiple time-frames

So! We live in 3 different time zones…

It also means we can evaluate our decisions based on those 3 different frames of mind.

The problem is that these different time-perspectives can sometimes give contradicting answers about what you should do and what choice you should make.

Choice A might make you happy in the moment (present) but you can’t bring your future self to approve.

Choice B might make your future self approve, but you know that your past self will hate looking back on it and can’t be proud of it.

And on and on…

So the trick is to evaluate any decision you want to make in multiple time-frames.

Every time you want to make a decision (especially the big life decisions), make sure that the decision sounds good to all 3 of your multiple selves.

In fact, you can take this to the next step, and decide for yourself certain time-consistent values that you can base all your decisions on.

Time-consistent values

When you evaluate your decisions in multiple time-frames, you’ll start to see a very interesting pattern. The decisions that stand up the best in all 3 time-frames are the values that most of your elders have given you about life:

  • Remember God
  • Family first
  • Don’t spend too much time at work
  • Do what you love
  • Or learn to love what you do

I’m sure you know a few more.

More importantly though, this means that there are some values that you can choose for yourself, then evaluate to see if they are time-consistent.

Try these steps:

  1. Pick a value that you feel is important (i.e. hard work)
  2. Check if it would make you feel good while thinking about it using your future self, present self, and then also if you were to remember your past as someone who worked hard. If it all checks out, great.
  3. Try something else (i.e. eating junk food)
  4. With my future self, I’d feel bad about eating junk food. My present self would love it. My past self would hate me for getting fat and wasting money.

Ask yourself if making that decision would make you feel good. But not just in the moment!

Ask yourself if it would make you feel good and if it fits your image of who you want to become (future) as well as if you could be proud of yourself when remembering (past) it if it was in your past.

Using time-consistency in your decisions

If you can figure out what values are important to you, it becomes easier to make decisions. When a decision comes around, just ask yourself if it fits your time-consistent values.

More importantly, does the choice you want to make go against any of those values?


When you take up a new job… does it take you away from family? (Assuming family is one of your values)

When you want to do some dodgy activity with your friends… could you be proud of yourself about it tomorrow?

When you’re about to buy a new car or home…will you one day look back on it and wonder why you bought something so expensive that you couldn’t afford?

Solving your regret

We all know regret is when we do something now (present self) but hate it when we look back (past self). And to avoid regret, you always try to plan (future self).

Once we start seeing things using time-perspectives, it becomes shockingly simple. All you have to do is make sure that all 3 of your selves agree on what to do.

Once you have that consistency, it becomes easy for your present self to follow along, instead of fighting the whole way.

Make sure that you don’t regret what you buy, especially if it’s going to be expensive!



Credit: Philip Zimbardo – The Secret Powers of Time

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