Book Review: The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink

I pre-ordered this book after watching a podcast with Daniel Pink and didn’t really think a lot about the topic before doing so.  This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year now and I decided it was time to check it out.  Honestly, I had never thought that much about the idea of regrets and how they impact our lives. 

Pink did extensive research into the topic of regrets with his World Regret Survey to come up with his conclusions.  He begins the book with a story about a popular 1960’s French song “Je ne regrette rien” (I regret nothing at all) and the tragic life of the woman who sang it. He also adds some stories about a bunch of people who have “NO REGRETS” tattoos.  Which leads to the realization that most people think of regrets as a negative. Pink then goes on to show how we can use regrets as a positive force in our lives. 

In the book Pink identifies three benefits of regrets:

Regret can improve decision making: When people think about things that they have regretted in the past, they can use those regrets to make better choices in the future.

Regret can raise performance: Regrets from setbacks can help you be more deliberate with future decision making.

Regret can deepen meaning: Often we put regrets into two categories, “if only” regrets and “at least” regrets.  Doing this helps one understand their choices better.  

Pink does caution here though that one must be careful in their reflection of regrets.  A regret is a feeling and there are three ways to deal with a feeling.  You can ignore it which means you are not learning from the experience.  You can “feel” the feeling and get overwhelmed by it which can lead to depression.  Or you can think about the feeling and analyze the situation which leads to “better decisions, improved performance and deeper meaning”.

Pink then goes on to describe four categories of regret:

Foundation: These are regrets where we chose short term gains over long term success.

Boldness: These are regrets of inaction.  This is when you regret something you didn’t do.  The research shows that these types of regrets are what people feel most deeply because the “what if” is unknown and we often spend a lot of times making up stories about what might have been.  

Moral: These types of regrets are only reported by 10% of the people in Pink’s research but these are the ones people feel most deeply about.  These are regrets that you have when you go against your conscience like lying, stealing, or hurting someone. 

Connection: These are the regrets that you have when you have lost connections with family or friends. 

The author gives the reader some advice on how to deal with regrets in a productive manner depending on the type of regret that it is.

Undo it: Apologize or try to fix a problem that you may have created.

At least it:  Remind yourself that things could have turned out worse.

Practice Self-disclosure: Research shows that talking or writing about your regrets can help deal with the negative feelings surrounding your regrets. This helps to relieve the burden of carrying the regret.

Show self-compassion: This is when we can deal with the negative emotion in the same way that we might deal with a friend who came to us with the same regret. Using self-compassion reframes the regret as a human imperfection and not an incapacitating flaw. 

Self-distance: This is where we learn to put our regret in perspective.  Imagine that we are someone else dealing with this regret or imagine how it will impact us 10 years from now.  This helps us to analyze and learn a lesson that could help us in the future.

At the end of the book, Pink suggests that you can use regrets in your decision making by first deciding if your choice will trigger one of the four categories of regrets.  If it does, then project yourself to the future and think about what choice will help you get to a place you want to be, or maybe connect with others to help you make your choice but in the end, you just must use the knowledge that you have to make a sensible decision.  If your choice will not trigger one of the four categories of regret, then don’t agonize over your choice.  Again, use what you know to make a sensible decision and move on.

While I do think that this book makes some very interesting points it also had a lot of fluffy stories about people and their regrets.  While stories can make a topic more relatable sometimes, I think authors can get too far away from the topic with these stories.  In my opinion that is what Pink does with this book.  One “no regrets” tattoo story would have been plenty.  I found myself rushing through those parts of the book without paying a lot of attention and when I do that I always wonder if I might have missed some key points.  I did however enjoy the story about Arthur Nobel and how the Nobel prizes came into being.

For me the key take away from this book is to not view your regrets in a negative light.  Don’t dwell on them but try to learn from them so that you can make more productive choices in the future.  I will leave you with the review that I left on my Goodreads account.  While I found this to be an interesting book, I don’t know that I would recommend it.  However, I don’t regret the time I took to read it.

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