The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward

The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward

by Daniel H. Pink

In The Power of Regret, Daniel H. Pink delves into the profound impact of regrets on our lives. Backed by an extensive range of research data, Pink uncovers the four fundamental regrets that shape our very existence. These deeply-rooted regrets offer valuable insights into our choices, illuminating a path toward a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

Summary Notes

The Four Core Regrets

Regret is a feeling that can help us make better decisions and give more meaning to our lives. It's when we feel unhappy about something in the past and wish we could have done things differently. The reason regret is different from other negative emotions is that it involves comparing and blaming ourselves.

It takes time for us to develop the ability to experience regret. Most kids don't really understand regret until they're about six years old, but by the time they're eight, they start to anticipate it. During adolescence, our thinking skills fully develop, and we become capable of experiencing regret.

In fact, a study found that if someone can't feel regret, it might indicate a serious problem. People with conditions like Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, or schizophrenia often have trouble understanding or feeling regret because of how their conditions affect their thinking.

In 2020, the World Regret Survey collected over sixteen thousand regrets from people in 105 countries. They looked at the survey responses and interviewed more than 100 people, and they found that almost all regrets fell into four main categories. These categories are: foundation regrets (regrets about the past), boldness regrets (regrets about not taking risks), moral regrets (regrets about not doing the right thing), and connection regrets (regrets about not connecting with others).

Actions to take

Balancing Opportunities and Obligations

In 1987, Tory Higgins, a social psychologist from Columbia University, developed a theory of motivation based on three selves: the actual self, the ideal self, and the ought self.

The actual self refers to who we are currently, including our attributes and qualities. The ideal self represents the person we aspire to be, encompassing our hopes, wishes, and dreams. On the other hand, the ought self is the person we believe we should be, defined by our duties, commitments, and responsibilities.

According to Higgins, our behavior and the goals we pursue are influenced by the gaps or differences between these three selves. For example, if you desire to be healthy and fit but feel lazy and overweight in reality, that difference might motivate you to start exercising. Similarly, if you believe you should be taking care of your elderly relatives but haven't visited your grandma in months, you might feel guilty and compelled to make an effort.

When there's a discrepancy between who we are and who we want or should be, it often leads to unpleasant feelings. We experience regret when we fail to bridge that gap.

Interestingly, studies have shown that people tend to regret not living up to their ideal selves more than not meeting their "should" selves. The reason is that the emotional consequences of these two types of regrets are different. Failing to reach our ideal selves makes us feel down and disappointed, while neglecting our obligations makes us agitated and prompts us to take action. We feel a sense of urgency to address our "should" regrets, leading us to rectify past mistakes, apologize, or learn from them.

It is more common to regret missed opportunities than unfulfilled obligations. However, a fulfilling life involves finding a balance between pursuing personal dreams and fulfilling duties to others. A life solely focused on obligations limits our potential, just as a life solely driven by opportunities can feel empty. An authentic life integrates both opportunities and obligations. To cultivate such a life, it is essential to learn how to address existing regrets and anticipate future ones.

Actions to take

Self-Disclosure as a Powerful Tool for Dealing with Regret

In 2012, psychologists Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell conducted a study that aimed to understand what people value most. They wanted to explore how individuals prioritize different behaviors and determine the extent to which people are willing to disclose personal information about themselves.

Interestingly, the study shows that participants in the study were more willing to accept a lower amount of money in exchange for disclosing personal information compared to any other behavior. This led to the conclusion that self-disclosure holds intrinsic value and is considered a rewarding activity by individuals.

Numerous studies support the notion that opening up and sharing our thoughts, feelings, and actions can yield a range of benefits. It can help improve our physical health, bolster our mental well-being, and even contribute to our professional lives.

Self-disclosure can be particularly valuable when it comes to addressing regrets. Failing to acknowledge and confront regrets can have negative effects on both our minds and bodies. However, by openly revealing and discussing our regrets, we can alleviate some of the associated burdens. This act of disclosure helps us make sense of our regrets and allows for a sense of release.

When dealing with regrets, adopting a self-compassionate approach proves more advantageous than engaging in self-criticism. Rather than being harsh and judgmental toward ourselves, practicing self-compassion entails treating ourselves with kindness and understanding.

Furthermore, employing a technique known as "self-distancing" can be effective in analyzing and strategizing about regrets. Self-distancing involves mentally stepping back from a situation and considering it from a third-person perspective.

By adopting this perspective, we gain a broader and more objective understanding of our regrets, enabling us to develop strategies for learning, personal growth, and moving forward.

Actions to take

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