It’s impossible to go through life without regretting something from time to time. Regret may be an unpleasant feeling – but you can make it work in your favor. In his much-anticipated book, best-selling author Daniel H. Pink – who likes to turn conventional wisdom on its head – argues that regret can serve as a powerful catalyst for improving your life and that of others.
In this book summary, Pink shares three tools for processing regret and moving forward positively. The summarized Wall Street Journal article is based on his latest book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.
Banishing regret from our lives is not just futile, but also, unhelpful.
Most people don’t want to experience regret – yet it’s impossible to go through life without regretting something from time to time. Best-selling author Daniel H. Pink – who likes to turn conventional wisdom on its head – argues that, rather than being an unpleasant feeling that holds you back, regret can serve as a powerful catalyst for improving your life and that of others. In this Wall Street Journal article based on his latest book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, Pink shares three tools for processing regret, so you can benefit from it.
- Feelings of regret are not just a fact of life, but a powerful catalyst for self-improvement.
- Feeling regret is part of the human experience.
- A three-step process can help you reap the benefits of regret.
Feelings of regret are not just a fact of life, but a powerful catalyst for self-improvement.
Feeling regret is painful. What’s more, individuals tend to view regret as futile – as something preventing them from looking forward. People as varied as Christian conservative Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and liberal US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg publicly endorsed a “no regrets” maxim. Yet decades of scientific research suggest that banishing regret from your life is not just futile, but also, unhelpful.
“Regret is not dangerous or abnormal. It is healthy and universal, an integral part of being human. Equally important, regret is valuable.”
Intrigued by these findings, author Daniel H. Pink conducted a survey of 16,000 individuals in 105 countries and came to the same conclusion: Feeling regret is not just part of the human experience, it also helps people learn from their mistakes and move forward.
Feeling regret is part of the human experience.
A 1984 study at San Francisco State University found that regret is the most common negative emotion people express. Researchers associate the inability to feel this emotion with brain lesions, neurodegenerative diseases and mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Regret has a key place in human evolution: It sharpens people’s thinking and helps them avert future mistakes.
A three-step process can help you reap the benefits of regret.
The way people deal with feelings of regret determines their ability to turn it into something positive. Trying to suppress the feelings, or endlessly ruminating over them won’t do much good. Instead, you can make feelings of regret work for you by following a three-step process.
First, try to gain perspective on your regrets. Don’t whitewash or self-criticize. Instead, practice self-compassion by acknowledging that making mistakes is human. Also, consider the fact that other people might have gone through a similar experience, and that the event may not taint the rest of your life.
“The effectiveness of self-compassion is especially evident with regret.”
Next, put your feelings out in the open. If you don’t want to entrust them to a friend, write about your negative experiences or speak them out loud into a recording device. Research shows that putting feelings into language helps individuals clarify and process them. If you decide to share your feelings with others, know that people tend to view others who show their vulnerability more favorably.
“Instead of those unpleasant emotions fluttering around uncontrollably, language helps us capture them in our net, pin them down and begin analyzing them.”
Third, draw a lesson from your experience. Try to self-distance from the experience by pretending you are giving advice to another person who had an identical experience. Or, imagine your future self-looking back at your current problems. Another technique is to pretend you are a neutral expert analyzing your predicament, and then write an email to yourself outlining the lessons learned and giving instructions on how to move forward.
About the Author
Daniel H. Pink is the author of seven books, including the bestsellers Drive and When.