Dan Pink: Why “No Regrets” Is a Bad Idea

Regret exists for a reason, and it can be highly instructive if we understand how to best relate to it. In this video from Motley Fool Live recorded on Jan. 26, best-selling author Daniel Pink shares some helpful techniques for harnessing your regret to improve your life going forward.

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Daniel Pink: At a big picture, we have to do some triangulation with our regret. You can say we have this philosophy out there of no regrets, which is nonsense because you can say, “I have a regret. It doesn’t matter, I always look forward. I never look backward, da da da.” That’s a bad idea, regret exists for a reason, regret is instructive. If you do that you’re never going to learn anything.

On the other hand, some people over index on their regrets and ruminate over them, wallow over in them. In some cases, use the regrets as a way to exonerate themselves from doing something. That’s a bad idea too. What you want to do is you want to use your regret as signals for thinking, and one way to do that is exactly as you say, with self-distancing is take a step back and say, “Okay, what did I learn from this? How can I apply that moving forward?” As you say, Chris, there’s a pile of research showing that we’re better off solving other people’s problems than our own problems.

What we want to do is give ourselves some distance from those and there’s some really clever interesting tactics like that. For you, Chris, if you wanted to deal with your regret, you could say, “Not what should I do, but what should Chris do?” Talking to yourself in the third person amazingly enough seems to have that power. Going forward in time and saying, “Hey, 10 years from now what decision will I have wanted to make.” The replacing yourself that Andy Grove talked about is powerful there too.

One of my favorite techniques; and is something that Stanford University calls a failure resume, which is to put together a resume of your failures. We all have these resumes and LinkedIn profiles that say that we are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that we probably deserved both the Heisman Trophy and an Oscar earlier in our lives. [laughs] These things, they just glisten if you look at people’s resumes, they just shine. That’s part of us, but it’s not all of us. The flip side of that Tina says is to create a failure resume, which is this glorious compilation of your screw ups, and your setbacks, and your failures.

I did this myself, listed them all. It’s not pleasant, but you have to do it systematically as you say. I listed those things and then I said, “What did I learn from this stuff? How I’m I going to apply it forward?” For me, it was regulatory because I found that a lot of my mistakes keep coming back to the same two core blunders that I was making, and I have more or less steered around those in the future.

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