How to Live Without Regret by Following the 10–10–10 Rule

Let me introduce to you William.

William is a smart, quiet, introvert with a dry sense of humor and a generous spirit. He’s 20 years old, a college student and has never been very good at talking to women.

One day, a girl that he has liked for months sits next to him in his chemistry class. He is nervous, but knows that he needs to summon the courage to talk to women one of these days.

Then, by a stroke of luck, the professor assigns the two of them to work on a project together. He starts building a friendship with her. He is awkward at times, but they generally get along well.

After a week of working together, they exchange phone numbers to collaborate on the project. With her number in hand, William wants to call her and ask her out on a date, but he is terrified.

THE DREADED ACT OF VULNERABILITY

William runs through every possible scenario in his head.

What if he messes up and sounds weird on the phone?

What if she says “no”? The rest of the project is going to be extremely awkward!

What if she says “yes” just out of pity?

The more he contemplates the many negative scenarios that could occur, the more he feels the pain of rejection. He begins to convince himself that the risk is not worth it.

After all, there are so many possible negative scenarios and only one positive one in which she says “yes” and eventually becomes his girlfriend!

Is that really worth the potential pain of rejection and awkwardness?

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL WILLIAM TO DO?

According to a study, more than 70% of people would tell William to take the chance. Because what does it really matter if she says “no”?

Plus, he’ll have taken a big step to getting over his fear of talking to women!

Sure, it may be a little bit awkward, but isn’t living a life in fear worse? He has to summon the courage to put himself out there sometime!

But, when the tables are turned, and people are asked what they would do in the same situation, only 30% of people said they would ask the girl out on the date! It seems that we have courage for others, but still fear the consequences for ourselves. [1]

You have probably been in a similar position to William at some point in your life. It may not have been to ask a girl out on a date, but any situation where you have to make yourself vulnerable feels the same way.

Asking your boss for a 10% raise.

Making friends in a new city, new job, or at a new school.

Lifting weights at the gym when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Putting our creative work out there for the whole world to scrutinize.

It doesn’t matter what the act of vulnerability is, we imagine all of the possible negative outcomes and fear what might happen.

So we usually keep to ourselves. We don’t take that risk because we feel like it just is not worth it.

How, then, do you become brave enough to take the advice you would have given to William?

How can you fear the short-term consequences less and be able to see the incredible benefits of being more vulnerable?

THE 10–10–10 RULE

Put yourself back in William’s shoes. Let’s say that he decides that he is going to call her and ask her out on a date.

How will he feel about the decision 10 minutes after?

Maybe a little embarrassed and worried about what their project will be like if she says “no”. But he will probably still feel proud that he overcame his fear and did it.

But if she says “yes”, he will feel elated! He will be proud of the fact that he overcame his fear and excited that he has a date with a girl he really likes!

How will he feel about the decision 10 months after?

He will either have completely forgotten about the dreaded phone call if she said “no,” or there’s a chance that he could have a girlfriend!

How will he feel about the decision 10 years after?

He will either have completely forgotten about the girl, or there’s a tiny chance he will be with his soul mate.

From this perspective, the only somewhat negative scenario is a mix of embarrassment and pride. And the positive scenarios are overcoming fear, a girlfriend, and maybe even a soul mate.

In their book Decisive, Dan and Chip Heath call this “The 10–10–10 Rule”.

We have a tendency to overvalue the moments that are right in front of us.

From our current lens, we can’t see that decisions like these mean very little to our long-term happiness. So when we face them, the 10–10–10 rule helps to change our perspective and think about things from a longer timeline.

HOW TO APPLY THE 10–10–10 RULE

The 10–10–10 rule doesn’t just apply to shy introverts, here are some more examples of real applications you can use. [2]

Asking your boss for a raise:

How will you feel about the decision 10 minutes after?

You may be elated because you now have a higher salary! Or you could be a little bit embarrassed, but also have a bit of clarity that you should test the job market and see if you’ll find someone else who values you.

10 months after — you could be 10% richer or you could be happy in a new position somewhere else.

10 years after — you could have found that asking for a raise put you on a better career path within your company, or glad that you didn’t waste your years in a company that didn’t value you.

Going to the gym:

10 minutes from now — you may be suffering a little going through your workout, but ultimately you’ll be proud of yourself for going. Or you may be happy that you got the day off, but maybe feeling guilty that you skipped your workout.

10 months from now — you may have developed the habit of exercising regularly, or feeling stuck and ashamed that you haven’t made any progress.

10 years from now — you may have finally achieved the body that you have always wanted, or maybe suffering some long-term health consequences of not exercising regularly.

Choosing to study rather than procrastinate:

10 minutes from now — perhaps a little bored with the studying, but glad that you’re making progress. Or feeling entertained by whatever you’re procrastinating with, but also a little stressed about the test coming up.

10 months from now — the grade that you got, whether good or bad, is now a permanent mark on your record. So you hope that you did what you could to ensure it was a good one.

10 years from now — it probably didn’t make a whole lot of difference, but it could have been the difference between getting into a school you wanted and settling for your second choice. This could have led you on two very different life paths.

From this new perspective, it becomes much easier to use your willpower to make the right decision.

You might despise every one of those first 10 minutes in the gym, or be completely bored studying, but the 10–10–10 rule will remind you that the results will be worth it in the end.

This doesn’t mean that making the right decision will be easy, but reminding yourself of the consequences — good or bad — for yourself 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now will give you more willpower to take action.

CONCLUSION

Making the right decision can be tough. We envision all of the nightmare scenarios that could possibly go wrong. When thinking about whether or not to “put ourselves out there,” we get a distorted view of the risks and potential benefits.

But, if you look at the situation from 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now, you can see how insignificant the downsides are and how big the potential upsides are!

So the next time you’re struggling with a tough decision, go through the 10–10–10 exercise. You may just find it easier to summon the willpower you need!

Sources:

  1. Beisswanger, A., Stone, E., Hupp, J., & Allgaier, L. (2003). Risk Taking in Relationships: Differences in Deciding for Oneself Versus for a Friend. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 121–135.
  2. Welch, S. (2010). 10–10–10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family. Scribner.