Whether we didn’t ask our crush out or had too much to drink at a wedding, we’ve all felt bad about something.
The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink says that’s a good thing. Regret can help us become better people by revealing the things we want most in life, and that can help us become better people. Using regrets from 16,000 people from all over the world, Pink came up with a framework to help him make his point.
We talked to Pink about this emotion that people don’t understand. We didn’t regret it!
“Oh, I wish I had done all these things.” This is the most well-known picture of regret. Why didn’t you talk about this in your book?
In my opinion, the 16,000 people who submitted regrets from age 16 to 90 are more valuable than the end-of-life regrets. I think everyone has regrets at different points in their lives, and I’m not sure that those end-of-life regrets are more valuable than the 16,000 people who submitted them from age 16 to 90. It’s dangerous to think that only people who have regrets are people who see the dark come in and see the end of their lives. I think that’s a mistake. So, I don’t think that’s right. I think regret is a much more common emotion, a much more common thing for people of any age to feel.
In your book, you talk about how self-compassion can help you be more happy. How does this make you feel?
As someone who has never been a fan of self-esteem, I was already familiar with some of the research that had been done. That doesn’t mean that having high self-esteem is all bad. People who have a lot of self-esteem but don’t do very well aren’t all that happy. This is true even for kids.
During my research on the effectiveness of self-criticism, I found that there isn’t a lot of evidence that it’s a good thing. And when I saw this third way, and looked at Kristin Neff’s research, I thought, “Holy smokes,” because this is a powerful idea that also makes sense.
For example, until I read this, I used to lacerate myself if I was going too slow or not far enough when I worked out or ran. I thought that was a good way to get motivated. It isn’t! So now, it’s not going to say, “Dan, you’re still a great person even though you’re running really slow. You’re just so great.” Neither does that. “OK, you’re running right now.” Running is a lot. You might be having a bad day, but you’re not the only person who has had a bad day. Keep your eye on the basics and keep moving.
When Jeff Bezos thinks about himself at age 80, he uses a “Regret Minimization Framework,” in which he thinks about how many things he’ll want to change in the future and how many things he’ll regret. Then, what would you say to Jeff if we set up a chat for you and him?
“You’re on the right track, Jeff! There are some things you can’t change, so just focus on the ones that are most important. And 16,000 people have told us what the most important things to avoid are: There are two things that make me sad: 1) I don’t like how stable 2) regrets about being bold, 3) regrets about morality, and 4) regrets about not being able to connect. There are some things I don’t want people to do because they’ll go crazy. Maximizers tend to be unhappy, which is a basic fact in social psychology.
Is it better to drink a vodka martini cocktail or an Old-Fashioned tonight? In which way will I be sorry? Mac and cheese or a hamburger for dinner? In which way will I be sorry? Green or red? You’ll go crazy! So I don’t want people to forget about all their regrets. Instead, I want them to focus on these four core regrets and make them better.
To have one person say that your book is good, who would it be?
In this case, I’m going to be completely mercenary and go for whoever has the most fans. I’m going to go with the pope.