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Using Regret for Good

by Beth on March 15th, 2022

In his latest book, The Power of Regret, Daniel Pink argues that regrets can be used to make us better. Instead of ignoring our regrets or ruminating about them, we can reflect on them to gain insights into how to live a better life. Regrets can signal what really matters to us. They can teach us lessons for how to act differently in the future.

Pink collected 16,000 regrets by surveying people in 105 countries. He found that most of the regrets fell into one of four categories.

  • Foundation regrets stem from making choices that don’t allow you to have a stable life. Some examples are not saving enough money, not taking care of your health, and not working hard enough in school. “If only I’d done the work.”
  • Boldness regrets involve playing it safe instead of taking a chance. They include not asking someone on a date, not having started a business, or not speaking up. “If only I’d taken the chance.”
  • Moral regrets occur when we don’t do the right thing. A common one is marital infidelity. Many people mentioned regretting having been a bully. “If only I’d done the right thing.”
  • Connection regrets result from relationships ending, like letting friends drift away or becoming estranged from family members. “If only I’d reached out.”

According to Pink, these core regrets reveal what we humans value the most. Foundation regrets represent our need for stability. Boldness regrets stem from our need to grow and make an impact. Moral regrets demonstrate that people want to do the right thing. Connection regrets show how important relationships are to us.

Pink suggests three steps that we can take in using regret to improve our lives.

  1. Inward – the first step is to reframe the regret using self-compassion. Recognize that you aren’t the only person with this regret and that regret is part of the shared human experience. Treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt.
  2. Outward – the second step is to talk about your regret. Disclosure helps to relieve the burden by making sense of what happened. Sharing your vulnerabilities and weaknesses leads people to like you more.
  3. Forward – the third step is to determine what lesson you can learn. What will you do differently in the future? Has your regret taught you to speak up, to take a chance, or to reach out?

I think one of the most important insights from this book is that connection regrets are the most common. This isn’t surprising since relationships are the top source of well-being. We choose not to reach out because we feel awkward or think the other person doesn’t care. The truth is, reaching out isn’t as awkward as we expect, and the other person does care. So the next time you wonder whether you should reach out, the answer is always yes!

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