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Je ne regrette rien


Regret is a powerful tool.

That is what I've learned from Daniel H. Pink's book "The Power of Regret" and I wanted to share some of that learning with you.

Now, if you're a "I have no regrets" kind of person, like I was before I read this book, then let me disabuse you of the notion that regrets are negative. Just by regretting something, it doesn't mean that you have to dwell on it and wear a hair shirt for the rest of your life. What it actually is is a powerful tool to help you move forward with learning and in a better way.


My Regrets

To help you to read this post with an open mind about having your own regrets, let me share a few of mine:

  • I regret having smoked cigarettes for 14 years
  • I regret not telling my father I loved him more frequently before he died
  • I regret wasting a year at college doing a course that wasn't stretching me
  • I regret not speaking out more vehemently about sexism in the workplace
  • I regret not finding time to help someone out when they needed me

Well, that was cathartic - more about that later. Why not start with a few of your own?

Notice that some of these are "action" regrets (things I did do) and some are "inaction" regrets (things I did not do). What do you regret doing or not doing?

Dealing with regrets

First step

The first step that is recommended in Pink's book is to deal with "action" regrets. Whilst we can't undo an "inaction" regret, we can deal with "action" regrets in one of two ways.

The first way is to undo the action - apologise to that friend in need or repair the damage and make amends.

The second way is to "at least" the action, eg, "I may have wasted that year at college but at least I made some lifelong friends whilst I was there".


The next step is to help yourself feel less negative about what you regret. There are three ways of doing this:

  • Self-disclosure - either tell people about it (like I've just done in this post") or write about it privately if you don't want to confess
  • Self-compassion - this is something we use a lot in coaching ie how would you treat your best friend who confessed this regret to you?
  • Self-distancing - get analytical about the regret, de-personalise it and focus on the learnings that you take from it

How regrets are helpful

In the book, Pink identifies four core types of regret which have the biggest impact on us. These are foundation regrets ("if only I'd done the work"), boldness regrets ("if only I'd taken that risk"), moral regrets ("if only I'd done the right thing") and connection regrets ("if only I'd reached out).

If you're making a decision that could potentially lead to one of these core regret types, then you can use the power of regret to help you out. Project yourself into the future and, from that future perspective, ask yourself which choice will help you to reduce the anticipated core regret in the future.

This is idea is linked to the future self concept which I have written about previously - have a read here.

What now?

I hope that this précis of Pink's book has give you some food for thought. My big takeaway is that "inaction" regrets are more common and longer lasting than "action" regrets. This speaks to me: so get out there, do the work, take the risk, do the right thing and reach out to that person. You won't regret it as much as if you don't do it!

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