How To Overcome Regret | Daniel H. Pink on Modern Wisdom Podcast with Chris Williamson

Key Takeaways

  • Regret is the most common negative emotion and the second most common emotion overall (second only to love)
    • Modern society does not know how to deal with negative emotions; we dismiss them
  • “Regret is an important and integral part of how our brains work.”Daniel Pink
    • Dismissing regret and negative emotions is ultimately unhelpful and dangerous
  • “More than any other emotion in our life, regret clarifies what we care about and instructs us how to do better, but only if we treat it right.”Daniel Pink
  • There are two kinds of regret: regrets of action (what you did) and regrets of inaction (what you didn’t do)
    • With action regrets, we have more options; we can undo certain action regrets
  • We need to have a bias for action
    • It extinguishes the what-if questions which can linger and become a cognitive tax (attention, willpower)
  • In The Power of Regret, Daniel recognizes four core regrets that most people have:
    • Foundation regrets, boldness regrets, moral regrets, and connection regrets
  • Some people tend to over-regret because they haven’t been taught how to deal with negative emotions
    • Ignoring negative emotions leads to delusion
    • Wallowing and ruminating over them is also a bad idea because it leads to despair
  • The key is to confront our negative emotions by “…thinking about them, and applying a systematic way to enlist these negative emotions to help us live better in the future.”Daniel Pink
    • Looking Inwards, Outwards, and Forwards: practice self-compassion, disclosure, and extract a lesson
  • Writing is a form of sense-making, you can make greater sense of it by writing about it
    • “Writing itself is a form of figuring out what you think, a sense-making process. It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.”Daniel Pink

Key Books Mentioned

Intro

  • “My life is a narrative, am I the author of that narrative or am I a character in that narrative?”Daniel Pink
  • Regret is the most common negative emotion and the second most common emotion overall (second only to love). And yet our relationship with regret is somewhat superficial; modern society does not know how to deal with negative emotions. We can make our lives infinitely better if we choose to confront and understand our regrets instead of dismissing them
  • Host: Chris Williamson (@ChrisWillx)

Modern Society’s Problem With Regret

  • Regret is the most common negative emotion and the second most common emotion overall (second only to love)
    • Unless you are a sociopath or have a neurodegenerative disease you will experience regret
  • Regret is something that can change our lives for better or worse
    • We dismiss regret instead of embracing it
    • Modern society does not know how to deal with negative emotions
  • Negative emotions do not make us weak and they are not dangerous; they are a basic part of life
    • By choosing to confront and understand them (instead of ignoring them), negative emotions can help us become stronger, better

Why Is Regret So Common?

  • Regret is everywhere, why is it hard to bear and hard to avoid?
    • Why is something so unpleasant so present?
    • The answer is simple: Regret helps us, it’s useful!
  • 50 years of science informs us that our cognitive machinery is pre-programmed for regret
    • “Regret is an important and integral part of how our brains work.”Daniel Pink
    • Dismissing regret and negative emotions is ultimately unhelpful and dangerous

How Is the Brain Programmed for Regret?

  • The big issue of negative emotions
    • Negative emotions are teaching us something
    • Without fear, we wouldn’t survive
    • The reason we experience grief is that we experience love
  • “More than any other emotion in our life, regret clarifies what we care about and instructs us how to do better, but only if we treat it right.”Daniel Pink
    • It has been enhanced via evolution because of its usefulness
    • Regret makes us look backward, and feel the “stab of negativity” about our actions or inactions
    • “It’s about time travel, fabulism, and it is incredibly cognitively sophisticated.” Daniel Pink
    • The “stab of negativity” elucidates our values and tells us what we should do next

Action VS Inaction – What’s the Difference?

  • There are two kinds of regret: regrets of action (what you did) and regrets of inaction (what you didn’t do)
  • With action regrets, we have more options; we can undo certain action regrets
    • E.g. if you hurt somebody, you can apologize
    • You can also alleviate some of the pain by, what Daniel calls “enlisting”
  • Counterfactual thinking – we can summon a world that operates counter to the facts
    • Upward counterfactual – “if only” statements, e.g. If only I studied law
    • Imagine how things could have been better
    • Downward counterfactual – “at least” statements, e.g. At least I finished college and got a job
  • Counterfactual thinking doesn’t necessarily help us do better, but it makes us feel better

Why Is Inaction More Prevalent Than Action?

  • We can actually do something with action regrets as opposed to inaction regrets
    • E.g. if you tattoo “no regrets” on your forehead, you can do something about it/remove it later
  • We need to have a bias for action
    • It extinguishes the what-if questions which can linger and become a cognitive tax (attention, willpower)
    • Action helps us learn – this is underestimated
    • Doing stuff helps us learn what to do and how to do it
    • Especially for big life decisions; you can plan all you want, but the way you discover what you want to do is by doing things

The Power Of Regret

  • In The Power of Regret, Daniel collected regrets from more than 16,000 people in 105 countries
  • He recognizes four core regrets that most people have:
    • Foundation regrets, boldness regrets, moral regrets, and connection regrets
    • They are like a “photographic negative” of the good life

Boldness Regrets: “If Only I’d Taken the Chance”

  • Some of the most common boldness regrets:
    • Education regret: not studying abroad
    • Romance regret: missing the chance to approach someone you like
    • Career regret: staying at a bad job and not starting your own business
  • One of the main factors behind boldness regrets is the concept of psychological richness; not only do we want a pleasant life, but we want a psychologically rich life
    • Mortality is a common theme in boldness type of regrets
    • When we are in our 20s, we tend to have a roughly equal number of action regrets and inaction regrets
    • As we age, the inaction regrets take over because we are more aware of mortality salience
    • We are aware that death is inevitable, and as we get older we realize we won’t have the time to do everything that we want to do (new experiences, new relationships, different life, etc.)
  • “You never regret the things that you do, only the things that you didn’t do.”Everybody on the Internet
    • The quote is posted a lot on the Internet, often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain
    • It most likely originated with H. Jackson Brown’s 1990 book, P.S. I Love You

Foundation Regrets: “If Only I’d Done the Work”

  • Foundation regrets are about not saving enough money, not taking care of your health, not studying enough, etc.
    • Early small decisions that accumulate and have big consequences later in life
    • They reveal our need for stability

Moral Regrets: “If Only I’d Done the Right Thing”

  • Moral regrets are about not doing the right thing
    • The two biggest areas of moral regrets are bullying and marital infidelity
  • People get to a juncture in their life and have a choice between the good and the wrong, and they choose the wrong thing
    • They are basically things that violate either the person’s individual moral code or a broader moral code
  • “Most of us want to be good and we feel pretty bad when we don’t act well.” Daniel Pink
    • Regret is an honest signal to ourselves; there is no performance as opposed to performing courage by expressing that we have no regrets

Connection Regrets: “If Only I’d Reached Out”

  • Regrets about all relationships (parents, relatives, siblings, children, etc.)
    • They reflect our need for connection and love
  • Drifting relationships – one side wants to reach out but they think the other side doesn’t care
    • Reaching out is rarely awkward in these situations, and the other side almost always cares
  • This ties with the concept of pluralistic ignorance, where we think that no one shares our belief
    • We tend to think we are much more special than we are; sometimes what we think and feel is indeed unique, but sometimes it’s extraordinarily common

Reflection VS Rumination

  • Some people tend to over-regret because they haven’t been taught how to deal with negative emotions
    • Ignoring negative emotions leads to delusion
    • Wallowing and ruminating over them is also a bad idea because it leads to despair
  • The key is to confront our negative emotions by “…thinking about them, and applying a systematic way to enlist these negative emotions to help us live better in the future.”Daniel Pink
  • People ruminate because they do not know what to do when they confront a negative emotion
    • We are over-indexed in positivity
    • We think there is something wrong with us when we do not mirror the positivity of people surrounding us

How to Seize the Advance Towards Rumination?

  • Looking Inwards, Outwards, and Forwards
    • Inward looking
      • Practice self-compassion; the way we talk to ourselves when we make mistakes is sometimes brutal
      • There is no evidence that that kind of severe self-criticism improves performance
      • Performance is improved when you treat yourself with kindness instead of contempt
      • Recognize that your mistakes are part of the human condition; you are not alone
      • These regrets don’t fully define your life, they are just a part of your life
    • Outward looking
      • Practice disclosure; it’s unburdening
      • “Disclosure is an integral part of the sense-making process.”Daniel Pink
      • You concretize and make sense of your regrets
      • Negative emotions especially are scary because they are abstract, formless
      • When we convert emotions into a language (talking or writing about them), they become more tangible and less scary
      • Shaping negative emotions into language allows us to begin making sense of them
      • “There’s 30 years of research saying that when we disclose our mistakes and our screw-ups and our vulnerabilities people actually think more highly of us not less highly of us.”Daniel Pink
      • David advises us to write about our regrets for 15 minutes a day for three days to make sense of them
    • Forward-looking
      • Extract a lesson from it
      • Distancing helps; we are better at solving other people’s problems than our own
      • Talk to yourself in the third person
      • Time travel skills: phone a future version of yourself
      • Ask yourself what would you tell your best friend to do – this technique is good for all kinds of decisions

“Enlist” Your Emotions by Writing About Them

  • We can “enlist” them to improve ourselves and make it so we are less likely to repeat them in the future
    • By doing this, negative emotions will still hurt us, but there is less chance for them to destroy us
  • Writing and publishing an essay about your regrets is even more potent than just speaking about it
    • Writing is a form of sense-making, you can make greater sense of it by writing about it
    • The disclosure gives you both the unburdening, building affinity and help for other people in a similar situation
  • “Writing itself is a form of figuring out what you think, a sense-making process. It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.”Daniel Pink
Modern Wisdom : , , , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks