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The Power of Regret: Book Reflection

by Marianne Navada
power of regret

Title: The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward  | Author: Daniel H. Pink | 2022

Regret makes us human. Regret is a process that helps us live happier lives. In the book, we learn about the different types of regret. And with rich information from the World Regret Survey, we hear stories of people’s regret and how we can learn from them. The author, Daniel Pink, provides ways that will allow us to optimize regret. The point is not to avoid regrets, but to optimize them. Regrets, when analyzed a certain way, will make us better decision-makers and happier in life. 

I read books that never make it to Lifdb’s book section. I have one criteria when choosing which books to write about: did the book make me think deeply about my life? This book did. As usual, this reflection is not meant for you to skip reading the book all together. I can’t capture here, the level of research Daniel has put into his work. Rather, I hope it makes you want to learn more about how regrets can work for you. 

The 4 Foundations of Regret 

  • Foundational: failure to be responsible, conscientious, and prudent. This includes not taking school seriously or not saving enough money for the future. Statement Association: “If only I’d done the work.”
  • Boldness: over time we are much more likely to regret the chances we didn’t take than the chances we did. This can mean not starting your own business or meeting someone you connected with, but decided to not pursue it. Statement Association: “If only I’d taken that risk.”
  • Moral: when we know that we didn’t do the right thing. For example cheating in a relationship. Statement Association: “If only I’d done the right thing.”
  • Connection: this concerns our relationships with family and friends. Statement Association: “If only I’d reached out.” As we get older, we are more likely to have connection regrets.

It’s a great exercise to reflect on situations that led to either action or inaction and regret and categorize them using the foundations.

Steps to Optimizing Regret 

The author offers steps to optimize regret. Here are a few: 

Self-disclosure: think and talk/write about your regrets. 

Compassion: instead of criticizing or judging yourself, being kind to yourself allows you to take actionable actions to optimizing your regret. 

Self-distancing: we can assess a situation better when we think outside of ourselves. This is one of the reasons why we are better at solving other people’s problems that our own! To self-distance, first, we can refer to ourselves in the third person when recounting our story. Second, we can try distorting time by thinking about how we feel about the situation in ten years.

Subtracting positive events: When you find yourself ruminating in regret, imagine things you value and that you currently have–how would these be affected if the thing you regret did not exist? What positive events will you lose?

The Downside of Anticipating Regret 

Optimizing regret means that we’re not constantly trying to avoid it. When we live life trying to avoid regret, it can lead to decision paralysis. In our effort to maximize all our decisions, we never feel satisfied. Or we feel as if we’re always getting the raw deal. 

The advice: if your regret falls outside of the four foundations, probably not worth dwelling on it. 

Today, our world constantly bombards us with choices, possibilities, advice…from the small things, such as a sweater you want to buy, to big things, like career choices. Knowing the types of regret that will have everlasting impact and how to deal with the feeling of regret relieves us of the unnecessary weight we carry around–that nagging feeling of what if, or could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Call the friend you’ve been thinking of calling, and have lost touch with. Start that hobby you’ve been putting off. Know that decisions you make when you’re younger about money, love, education, have compounding effects. You are in control of your regret. 

Tell me about your thoughts on the book: Did the book change the way you look at regret? Was there an action you took after reading the book? Let me know at marianne@lifdb.com. I may use your contribution in a future article or newsletter.

Commit to living.