What regret teaches

I just recently finished reading Daniel Pink’s The Power of Regret, and let me just say, what a good read. For those unfamiliar with the book, the focus is on identifying through extensive research the four core areas that people tend to experience regret and why learning from our regret can help us live more values aligned lives. The core areas are foundation regrets, connection regrets, moral regrets, and boldness regrets. The bottom line Daniel Pink argues, is if we know what we truly regret, we know what we truly value. 

He has this line, feeling is for thinking that he repeats throughout the book and it’s so crucial to see the connection to regret here. There’s so much shame wrapped up in regret, it’s one of the reasons why people find regret difficult to share or explore for themselves. So the key isn’t to ignore the feeling of regret, but to pay attention to what it’s trying to show you. As my wife would say, regret is only a pointer to more conscious living. Pink writes that when we approach our regret with self disclosure (coming clean about it), self compassion (being kind about it), and self-distancing (de-personalizing it), this helps us to have a framework for learning from our regret.

I’ve been thinking about this question of regret, namely how can I anticipate future regret and learn from past regret a lot lately. Perhaps it’s because as I watch my daughters age right before my very eyes, I’m realizing just how precious little time I have to influence their choices. It’s like I blinked and already, they’re growing up!

I’ve also never been one of those “no regrets” type of people. That’s just nonsense. Of course I have regrets. We all do. I’m just tired of being paralyzed by potential regrets, and I don’t want to see my daughters pick up the same bad habit, so I’m looking for a different approach to model. Enter this useful framework that I’ve already started applying to my own decision-making, and one I plan to model and teach the girls.

To use anticipated regrets in my decision making:

Project myself into a specific point in the future, and ask myself will this choice enable me to do one of the following:

☐ Build a solid foundation according to my value

☐ Take a sensible risk aligned to my values

☐ Do the right thing according to my values

☐ Connect with others according to my values

If the decision doesn’t fall into one of these categories, I’m not going to spend too much time over-thinking it. But, if it does, what an opportunity to live into my values and leverage the power of anticipated regret to move forward. As Pink writes, our everyday lives consist of hundreds of decisions, many of them crucial to our well being, many of them inconsequential. Understanding the difference can make all the difference. I’m learning to see that difference.

Incidentally, past regrets don’t seem to bother me nearly as much as potential unrealized future regrets… the research bears that out for others as well. Pink writes about ways to go back and address previous regrets that nag you, learn from them, and move forward. Regret (past or future) simply boils down to a story we’re telling ourselves about our life. Will it be a redemptive one or not? Well, perhaps that’s up to us. I guess we’ll each have to stay tuned to see how our stories unfold.


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