Daniel Pink: Reclaiming “Regret”

Daniel Pink wants you to know declaring “no regrets” is both wrongheaded and backward. It’s OK to have regrets. We all do. We just don’t all know what to do with them. 

When he sat down to write his latest, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward,  his goal was to reclaim regret as an indispensable emotion. The World Regret Survey he started found stories from 16,000 people across over 100 countries willing to share theirs. It’s a good time to look at our own too. 

Here are the 3 ways Pink says we can look at our regrets, and – BONUS (not exclusive, I got this from his podcast with Brené Brown), this is not in the book:

We can see regret as:

  1. A stranger. Like the person in the car next to us or the passerby on the sidewalk, purely meaningless and ignorable.   
  2. A judge. Imagine St. Peter, standing at heaven’s gate to cast judgment upon our value as human beings. Or, 
  3. A teacher. The “fair but tough,” elementary school kind. The kind that shows you how to do something, where once you implement the steps, you can do a new thing you couldn’t do before (“I know how to add” or in some cases, “I know kung-fu”).

When regret is an indispensable emotion we aren’t hiding from it or ignoring it like a stranger. We aren’t feeling painted into a corner by it like a judge. We have the opportunity to approach our regrets as a teacher. 

You really do only live once. But you aren’t going to do it perfectly. So don’t let the regrets define you and make sure they teach you. 

Pink’s ideas here are really powerful. And, they’re very applicable both for our personal lives and organizations. When we think and talk about things we wish had turned out differently – *without getting stuck in the knee-deep mud of pain and anguish* –  we have the potential to make a real difference in our personal and collective futures. 

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