Daniel Pink On The Power of Regret And How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward

Daniel Pink is the best-selling author of ‘Win and Drive’ among other books. He recently published his new book, ‘The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward’. His recent turn on the theme of regret derives from his encounters with various people who expressed different regrets throughout their lives. He had noticed that people began to share their regrets with him after opening up to them. The realization that he had wasted many years covering his regrets was the driving force behind writing his latest book.

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The many regrets of our lives

There are numerous regrets we face in our lifespans. They are related either to career choices, study options or choices of friends or spouses. Mr. Pink remarks that an expressed regret is initially a mere emotional state. An emotional state involving a mental time travel results in the exploration of ‘what if’ scenarios. Admittedly, most of the time, people remain hooked on this feeling of regret for a respectable amount of time, and this process is a significant blow to their psyche.

The expression of our regrets is a form of vulnerability, and it requires a massive amount of strength to be exposed in front of other people. Being vulnerable may make us seem weak to our surroundings, but that is a fallacy. This fallacy comes from pluralistic ignorance, where we think that our beliefs are actual and not shared by other people.

Always thinking forward is against human nature.

The modern Self-Help Industry has us believe that dwelling on past mistakes or actions is a waste of time and that we should only look forward to attaining inner peace and blissfulness. Science has proved otherwise, though. Our brain is wired to reflect on past situations and evaluate whether we chose wisely or not.

Our innate functioning for retrospection is the practical guide for preventing us from making the same mistakes in the future. Mr. Pink declares that regrets are powerful and transformative emotions that facilitate us to be better and more resourceful in every aspect of our lives.

Being optimistic all the time is a straightforward way to make even more mistakes and is a dangerous delusion. Furthermore, the constant optimist prevents himself from feeling unprecedented sadness and remorse. Therefore, he restrains from living as an integrated adult with his fallacies, gifts, regrets and individual charisma.

Constant positive emotions are not joy at all.

Mr. Pink believes that negative emotions, such as fear and grief, help us survive and thrive. He points out that we would be hopeless in adverse situations without fear, such as being in a burning building. After referring to these examples, he concludes his argument by stating that he wants people to validate their feelings regarding their regrets and let this emotional experience have a lasting and constructive effect on them.

Mr. Pink’s research process for his new book, ‘’The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves us Forward’’.

Mr. Pink employed two regional surveys, one on American soil and another throughout the rest of the world. The sample size was 4489 Americans and 20,000 people from 109 countries. The research process also incorporated demographic analyses and an extensive collection of regrets of the participants.

There were various types of regrets expressed by the participants of the process. The most notable was the so-called foundation regrets, which refer to health, school, occupation and money decisions. The other types of regrets were indicative of the moral compass of the participants and questioned the choices regarding the participants’ relationships.

Being stuck in specific regrets can rue your chances of happiness

Mr. Pink reiterates his notion that we should use our regrets as a transformative tool that will alter our decision-making and overall life. Otherwise, if we end up feeling constantly hooked on our negative feelings, we would be miserable and with zero chance of improvement against our regrets.

The types of regrets we experience throughout our lives.

The first and foremost of regrets are the foundation regrets related to health, occupation, and money decisions. When experiencing such regrets, Mr. Pink suggests not being so critical of yourself but somewhat apologetic and steadily building the momentum to reverse a seemingly harsh reality. Our vital allies in such endeavors should be developing a process or a routine that helps us navigate effectively towards our goal.

Moral regrets deal with roads not taken, especially in our youth. Generally, the wild nature of a child usually directs us into selecting morally ambiguous choices that satisfy our instant gratification desires. The troubling part is that most of us regret these choices in the later course of our life. Mr. Pink’s research for his book showed that the predominant moral regrets were marital infidelity and engaging in bullying activities.

The last pillar of regrets involves our relationships. When referring to personal relationships, we talk about marital, friendly ones and within a family. Mr. Pink states again that creating a powerful bond between these relationships is the repercussion of expressing vulnerability.

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The difference between action and inaction regrets

Action regrets involve situations where someone desires retribution for some of his deeds in the past. Inaction regrets refer to roads that were not taken and contemplated with heavy thoughts upon reflection.

Another striking difference between these two thoughts is that inaction regrets we can practice downward counterfactuality by pondering the past and estimating that things could have been worse. In this way, you can derive several silver linings for your life to use as a compass to direct you towards a brighter future.

The demographics of Mr. Pink’s research brought forth a rather exciting statistic where older generations experienced more inaction regrets than the youth. This is highly proportional to the period of the demographic analysis, as older people are more prone to retrospection than their younger selves.

Regarding inaction regrets, another huge factor of their potency in our thoughts is the mysterious ways that our brain operates. The fact that inaction regrets are choices that we didn’t act upon can torment us until our deathbed. Furthermore, according to the demographics, Mr. Pink found that the two most common regrets were personal relationships and the absence of boldness in crucial parts of the participants’ lives. All the above are inaction regrets and usually occupy our thoughts.

In wrapping up..

Our action and inaction regrets may lead us to erroneous beliefs and display highly critical behavior toward the most important person for us in our lives: Us. Self-critical behavior usually stems from a troubled childhood and may have detrimental effects on our psyche.

Instead of succumbing to such ineffective tendencies, we should employ daily self-compassion techniques to absorb and remove all the unnecessary toxicity of our lives.

A predominant example of employing self-compassion is the way we treat our feelings. When we experience positive emotions, we should not lay any more troubles in our minds. We just let this positive force better our mood.

We must employ different techniques when our emotions are negative, though. In this case, it is paramount to question the origin of these nasty feelings by adopting a distinct identity and treating ourselves as a third party. An excellent strategy involves keeping a journal where we document our thoughts. This self-distancing ritual shall facilitate us in harnessing our negative emotions to notable achievements.

These techniques are suitable in the business world, too. All the leading figures of the corporate world should familiarize themselves with them and employ them to boost the morale of their teams.


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4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work

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Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work

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