Everybody has regrets
No matter how your life plays out, there will be situations that don’t go your way, things you wish you would have done, and words left unspoken. Yet, in a society where “no regrets” is culturally celebrated, we don’t often talk about how we reckon with those feelings.
It’s one of the reasons why author Daniel Pink became interested in the subject. He was actually writing another book at the time. He says, “I started thinking about regret and having some life experiences that made me think about it even more. I started doing the research, I threw that book aside and started with a new topic because it was so it was so compelling.”
Daniel Pink has written seven books, five of which are New York Times bestsellers. He was a host and a co-executive producer of the 2014 National Geographic Channel social science TV series, “Crowd Control,” and from 1995 to 1997, he was the chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore. Today on the podcast, he joins me for a conversation about his most recent book, “The Power of Regret; How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.”
How to process regret
“The saying ‘no regrets’ is not only nonsense, it’s dangerous”, says Dan. Regret provides us with a key piece of insight into the world of ‘what went wrong last time?’ If we take the time to cognitively reflect on that question, without beating ourselves up about it, we place ourselves in a much better position to make a reasonable decision moving forward, and not repeat the same mistakes of the past. So how do we handle this retrospective?
Dan suggests three steps:
- Inward – Use self-compassion. Reframe the way you think about the regret and yourself.
Regrets hurt. It doesn’t help that when we talk to ourselves, we’re brutal. In fact, there’s no evidence that negative self-talk is effective at helping us improve or build self-eestem. Instead treat yourself with kindness instead of contempt. Recognize that your regrets are part of the human condition and it doesn’t fully define you.
- Outward – Disclose your regrets by writing them down or telling someone.
There is a very strong evidence in the benefits of talking or writing about your regrets. When we disclose, it’s an unburdening. Disclosure is also a way to build affinity with others. We think that when we disclose our mistakes, people will like us less. That’s generally wrong. Data shows that people tend to like us more; they think more highly of us. Lastly, and may most importantly, Dan notes that emotions are amorphous. It’s what makes positive emotions feel good. It’s also why negative emotions feels so shitty. They’re abstract. When you talk or write about regrets, you’re helping to make them more concrete and you can start making sense of it.
- Forward – Extract a lesson. What would you tell a friend with the same dilemma?
What can we learn from what we’ve done in the past? Dan points out, we’re terrible at solving our own problems. We’re too close to it. So he suggests using a technique called “self-distancing”. The best technique for this is imagine your friend came to you with this dilemma, what would you tell her to do? Turn your regret into action you can do moving forward.
A bias toward action
Regret can be a driving force for change if we conceptualize it in a positive way. Negative emotions exist for a reason, to be reckoned with. The more we suppress them, the more they eat away at us. But if we confront them, there is always something to be learned. The biggest regrets that people feel come from inaction, rather than trying something that didn’t ultimately work out. As a society we tend to over plan and underact. Dan reminds us that action is a form of learning in itself, and the data proves that taking a chance weighs lighter on the psyche than wondering what if. If there’s a sensible risk to be taken, take it. If you feel like you should reach out, reach out. Studies show the biggest regret of all, is the regret of not acting.
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Listen to the Podcast
Chase Jarvis: Hey, everybody. What's up? It's Chase. Welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on Creative Live. This week, my guest is the one and only legendary Daniel Pink. And today, we're talking about his new book called The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.
Chase Jarvis: Now, Dan is one of the most influential authors of our time from the New York Times Bestseller of When and Drive. I think he's got four or five others. We've got a new book that is so powerful because regret is something that we all feel and it is largely misunderstood. The idea, the very utterance of the word makes so many of us shudder. But it turns out that this powerful emotion, if harnessed, can be a driving force for change in our life. It's universal, it's healthy and it's part of being human.
Chase Jarvis: If you're interested in hearing about this, learning from Dan and channeling the idea, the power of regret to help your life, this episode is for you. Dan is a genius and I can't wait for you to experience him and his new work here. Again, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward, How it Moves Us Forward. All right, I'm going to get out of the way. Welcome, Dan.
Chase Jarvis: Dan Pink, thank you so much for joining us again. Congrats on the new book. We're happy to have you.
Daniel Pink: Hey, thanks for having me back on the show.
Chase Jarvis: Before we started recording, we were talking about the listenership of the show here, the viewership as well; some people choose to watch this and others listen. And of all of the books that you've got out there in the world, of which there are many and numerous, you've covered a lot of topics, we're going to talk a lot today about the topic of regret. And as for a handful of people who aren't familiar with your work, you're very popular so most folks will know it, but for those who are new to your work, can you start off... Before we dig into this incredible topic around regret, can you start off by orienting us to how you describe yourself and the work that you do in the world, specifically around books and your other interests?
Daniel Pink: I'm a writer. I write books. In the last 20 years, I've written seven books. As you say, they're on a whole array of different topics, whatever I happen to be curious about at that moment. There's no grand strategic plan about one following the other following the other; believe me. And so I've written books about the changing nature of work, I've written books about the rise of why creative and empathic skills are going to be more important in the workplace than ever before, I've written about signs of motivation, I've written a book about [inaudible 00:02:54] approach to selling. I wrote a graphic novel career guide. I wrote a book about... Instead of a how-to book, I wrote a when-to book about the science of timing. And the latest book is a book that explores our most misunderstood emotion, which is regret. And believe me, as you can tell by that dog's breakfast of titles, there is not a plan guiding any of this.
Chase Jarvis: Well, it's beautiful. I do want to talk about your creative process a little later in the show, but given that wide range of topics and the process through which you have chosen those, you recently landed on regret. And one of the reasons I was very excited to have you back on the show is what I have learned from listening to our listenership and interacting with this community, the creative community, for my entire life, virtually my entire work life, is the concept of regret is an incredibly powerful motivator, and it can be incredibly destructive when you realize you've missed opportunities, and so it's especially relevant, especially relevant to our audience.
Chase Jarvis: Put through the lens of one precious life, that puts a ton of pressure on us. And I think that serves its purpose in some ways, and it can also be very paralyzing in another. Maybe you could start off with sharing a little bit about some of the common threads that you saw. Is our particular community here listening right now, or is this drama around the power of regret? Is this unique to us creators? Or does this match some of the things that you learned about the power of regret in your research?
Daniel Pink: Well, as much as I don't want to threaten your audience's feelings of specialness, it is not unique. And in some ways, Chase, that's the point. I did a bunch of different legs on which this book stands, one of them is about 50 years of science on the nature of regret in neuroscience and in developmental psychology and in social psychology and in cognitive science and whatnot. And what it says pretty clearly is that regret is ubiquitous. It's one of the most common emotions that people have. It is arguably the most common negative emotion that people express. It is widespread across ages, across genders, across cultures, across income levels. Indeed, the only people who don't have regrets are little kids because their brains haven't developed, people with neurodegenerative disorders because their brains don't work functionally, and sociopaths; everybody else has regrets. And so it is common.
Daniel Pink: And the other thing about it, which is a little bit of a puzzle is that obviously regret is unpleasant. I don't like experiencing regret. Why is this thing that's so unpleasant so ubiquitous? And the answer is pretty straightforward: It's because it's useful if we treat it right. And you did a nice job of articulating some of the poles, P-O-L-E-S, about how to treat it. Sometimes we just ignore our regrets. And there's a reigning philosophy out there that says that you should ignore your regrets, that you should never look back, that you should always be positive. And that's a preposterously bad idea. That leads to delusion.
Daniel Pink: On the other hand, it's also possible that we can over-index on our regrets, that we can ruminate on them, that we can wallow in them, that we can luxuriate in them. That's also a bad idea. What we want to do is we want to understand why regret is part of our cognitive machinery and then use it effectively. And that's the key to understanding the transformative power of this misunderstood emotion.
Chase Jarvis: Well, that makes me want to just jump right to the first page that I dog-eared and scribbled on in my consuming of the book, and that's the three benefits of regret. To pose regret as a benefit, I think that's obviously the backdrop that you just shared with us, but the concept of that is so foreign because the word regret is so loaded culturally for us. Tip this on its head for us, because right now I'm thinking about some things that I regret and I'm running it through this filter and, you're right, it's hard to admit and it's hard to pause long enough on the word regret to look for, I guess the beauty in it or the value in it. But you've clearly found some and so share with us, if you would, these three benefits that are the cornerstones of [inaudible 00:07:52]-
Daniel Pink: The three broad benefits are it helps us become better decision makers. And so let's take negotiation is a good example. Let's say that you're negotiating and you finish the negotiation. If you then think back on that negotiation and say, "What do I regret about this negotiation?" You invite this negative feeling. You don't bat it away, you actually summon it. The next time around, you're a better negotiator; all kinds of research like that in terms of decision making.
Daniel Pink: There's certain kinds of cognitive biases out there: escalation of commitment to a failing course of action, confirmation bias, hindsight bias. If you go back and reflect and regret, "Oh man, I really messed up by succumbing to confirmation bias," some in the negative emotion, you're more likely to overcome it in the future.
Daniel Pink: Problem solving. Enormous amount of experimental evidence of problem solving where you give people problems to solve and induced regret, "Hey, what do you regret about this?" Again, invite the feeling; they do better next time around. Problem solving.
Daniel Pink: There's some stuff on strategy. You're better strategist if we reflect on our regret rather than [inaudible 00:09:13] them, and also a sense of meaning. When we reckon with our regrets properly, they deepens our sense of meaning in life, so huge numbers of positive benefits to reckoning it with it properly. But properly is the key. It doesn't happen automatically. We have to know how to do it systematically.
Chase Jarvis: Well, that's a logical next step. Systematically managing our feelings of regret seems like a tall order from the outside, and to someone who's walking down a jogging path right now or listening to this on this subway, how do you marshal the proper use of regret? The subhead, just to share with people who aren't looking at the book as I am right now, the book is called The Power of Regret. Sub is How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.
Chase Jarvis: This is a tricky proposition because done without your guidance, we can easily spiral into what if? This is why I was fascinated by your choice of this work is because to do it in invites a host of problems, to do it well extracts the value. And it's a tricky proposition, so give us some guidance.
Daniel Pink: It's actually not as tricky as we think. And it's the thing that if your are... It depends on how long your subway ride is. If it's more than one more stop, we can totally get it done in that time. If you're you're walking on your jogging path, you're going to be fine.
Chase Jarvis: Give us the medium version. We don't want the short version, we're here for long form. This is not TV, so tell us, Dan.
Daniel Pink: Okay, so there are three ways to reckon with our retrospective, our previous regrets. There are three steps in the process. But it is pretty simple, Chase. Seriously. I like to look at it as inward, outward, forward. Inward, outward, forward. What is inward? Inward is you have to change the way... Reframe the way you think about the regret and yourself. Let's say you have a regret. I don't know, what would be one of the regrets that your listeners have? I regret that I didn't start a business.
Chase Jarvis: I took the corporate job that was the safe path instead of pursued my passion.
Daniel Pink: Okay. Reframe the way you think about that. When we talk to ourselves, we're brutal, we're vicious. We talk to ourselves with a degree of almost evil that we would never bring to bear on another human being. That's a bad idea. There's no evidence that that's effective. If it were effective, I might be able to excuse it, but it's not effective nor is boosting your self-esteem effective.
Daniel Pink: What's more effective is something called self-compassion, which is the work... I encourage to check out the work of Kristin Neff at the University of Texas who pioneered this line of research. The best thing you can do to start is how do you think about yourself and your regret? Which is to treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt. Believe me, I've collected regrets from thousands of people all over the world. If you're having a regret about staying in a lackluster job and not following your passion, you are not alone. Believe me, you are not alone. That is a very common regret. Treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt. Recognize that your regret is part of the human condition, and also recognize that this doesn't fully define you. You have other aspects of yourself that... You can't take a single decision or indecision and say, "This 100% encapsulates who I am as a human being."
Daniel Pink: And that relieves you to go to the next step, which is this: Outward. There is a very strong argument for disclosure, very strong argument for talking about and even writing about your regret. When we disclose, it's an unburdening. That seems pretty obvious. What's more, though, is that disclosure is a surprising way to build affinity with others. We think that when we disclose our mistakes and our missteps and our screw ups, people will like us less. That's generally wrong. There's a preponderance of evidence, once again, shows that people tend to like us more; they think more highly of us.
Daniel Pink: The other thing that's important about disclosure is that emotions in general, and negative emotions in particular, are lobby and amorphous. That's what makes positive emotions feel good. It's magical. You're not defining it, you're not making it concrete, joy or awe or something like that. That's why it feels so good. It's also why negative emotions feel so shitty is because they're amorphous, they're abstract.
Daniel Pink: And so one of the things you can do to, in some ways, de-fang negative emotions is to convert them from this blobby abstraction into concrete words, which are less fearsome. Write about your regret for 15 minutes a day for three days, or tell somebody about the regret. That begins a sense making process.
Daniel Pink: We've gone inward, you're treating yourself with kindness rather than... You are disclosing outward, you're making sense of it. The final thing is to extract a lesson from it. And we tend to be pretty bad about extracting lessons for ourselves, solving our own problems. We're too close to it. But we tend to be pretty good at solving other people's problems, so what you want to do is you want to do something called self-distancing, which is a way to think about yourself as another person. You could talk to yourself in the third person. There's some interesting research on that. Instead of saying, "What should I do?" You say, "What should Chase do?" You could think about what does the you of 10 years from now... Zooming out that way. What does the you of 10 years from now want you to do?
Daniel Pink: The best technique is if your best friend came to you with this dilemma, what would you tell her to do? And when you do that, people always know. And so what it might mean on this particular one is this: Hey, treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt. This is a pretty common regret. It doesn't fully define you. Second, talk about it, make sense of it. What is it about starting your own thing, pursuing your passion that is meaningful to you? Why do you want to do this? Make sense of it. And then finally, extract a lesson from it. And the lesson could be, you know what? Maybe I should start a side hustle for the next six months and see how it goes. And that's it. And all that does is very calmly normalizes the regret and uses it and enlists as a tool rather than shrink from it as a threat.
Chase Jarvis: These ideas are obviously exceptionally useful for what I would consider regret with a small R. Career choices, friend choices, how we behaved in a particular moment. But I know from some of my own research and writing and have, it has been powerful for me, this ultimate regret with a capital R at the end of our lives. How do we look back? According to some research when I wrote my last book was the chief regret was, in many senses, living a life that other people had prescribed for us rather than our own. And do you believe this same formula, the same inward, outward, forward, the leveraging of regret, how does that all reconcile at the end with the regret of capital R? Are there big things? And do you advocate, therefore, that we can potentially eliminate this capital R regret at the end of our days if we're essentially doing the lightweight work along the way? Is one a cure for the other?
Daniel Pink: I think so. I'm not sure I buy the premise of a capital R regret. What I've found is that people tend to regret the same things over and over again. Well, there are a number of different things in response to that. Number one is that I have a certain skepticism about deathbed regrets because I'm not sure how accurately they're recorded. And I also think it's late to be dealing with regrets when you're drawing your last breath; doesn't seem that useful to me. I'd rather have people reckon with it a little earlier than that.
Daniel Pink: And so one of the things that I've seen in my own research is that people tend to have the same four regrets over and over again. And they have regrets about not doing the work. I didn't save enough money. I didn't get enough education. I didn't treat my health well enough. They have regrets, a lot of them about boldness. I didn't speak up. I didn't ask that person out on a date. I didn't start that business. They have regrets about morality. I bullied somebody. I cheated on my spouse. They have regrets about connection. I didn't reach out to that person. I didn't maintain that relationship. And that's pretty much what happens over and over again.
Daniel Pink: And what you want to try to do, to your point, is that you want to do the lightweight work early to avoid those kinds of regrets. Again, we look backward and say, "What do we learn from what we've done in the past?" We can look forward and say, "How can I make decisions now that will avert some of my regrets in the future?" However, we have to do that properly. We cannot avoid every regret. We shouldn't try to avoid every regret. I don't want people agonizing saying, "Oh my God, what will I regret more? Buying a blue car or buying a gray car? What will I regret more? Going on a one week vacation to place A or place B?"
Daniel Pink: I don't want people agonizing over that because it's pretty clear to me that the person they are in 10 years or 20 years... And I'm hoping that they're not on the deathbed there. It's almost irrelevant whether they are, but let's just hope that in 10 years you're not on your deathbed. I think it's a pretty safe bet what the you of 10 years from now is going to care about. You're not going to care one Whit about whether you bought a blue car or gray car, but you are going to care about whether you reached out to a friend or whether you let an important relationship dissolve. You are going to care about doing the wrong thing. You are going to care about not taking a sensible risk. You are going to care about not establishing a sturdy foundation. And that's it. And so when we look forward, we should try to anticipate those four core regrets and pretty much chill out about everything else.
Chase Jarvis: I was drawn to the Viktor Frankl quote at the anticipating regret chapter, which is "Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now."
Daniel Pink: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's especially true for certain kinds of moral regrets and certain kinds of regrets of action. And it even works with even tiny regrets, like, okay, should I just lose my shit and yell at somebody right now? And chances are you shouldn't even though you might want to, so I think that's generally pretty good guidance. But when it comes to the enduring regrets, it's pretty clear for most people what they're going to regret in 10 years or 20 years, or, God forbid, on their deathbed. And it's not going to be these small things, it's going to be these bigger things, and so act now to try to overt those.
Chase Jarvis: Is it true in your experience that we most often regret not doing something rather than doing something? Did you find that in your research?
Daniel Pink: Yeah, that's a huge finding in all of the research. I also did a very large public opinion survey of the US population. We sampled 4,489 Americans. Weighted sample, so it reflected the glorious demographics of the United States of America. Asked people a bunch of questions. And that came out loud and clear. It's come out in the previous research, too. And there's an age effect here. When we're young, we tend to have equal numbers of regrets of action and inaction, equal numbers of regrets about what we did and regrets about what we didn't do. But as we age, oh my, the inaction regrets take over. 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, it's two to one regrets about inaction rather than action.
Chase Jarvis: Wow. Wow. Let's just pull on that thread just a little bit more now. Maybe this is secondarily in the research. How then do people feel about actions taken that did not pan out relative to inaction?
Daniel Pink: Good question.
Chase Jarvis: [inaudible 00:22:05].
Daniel Pink: That's a really, really good question. I didn't ask that question explicitly, but I got some of it anyway, in this because I also collected 19,000 regrets from people in 109 countries, and I got some of that, to my surprise.
Daniel Pink: Okay, so there are people who let's say started a business. Let's use that one. there are people who started a business and it failed. And some people regret that. I shouldn't have started a business. I didn't know what I was doing. I had a shady business partner, et cetera, et cetera, and I really regret doing that. But there weren't that many. And there were even some who said, "I started that business, it went south, but I tried. Sort of a bummer, but I tried."
Daniel Pink: People were less outcomeist than I expected them to be. And I think what bugs people about these boldness regrets is not this fantasy that everything in their life is going to be perfect if they had chosen better, it's that they don't know. They had a moment in their life when they could do something, when they could step up, when they could try, when they could show some courage and they didn't do it. And that's what bugs them.
Chase Jarvis: That is about as close as I've ever heard you, Dan Pink, give advice. You always take this research approach and, "The data says, and my interview said," but can you state that as... Is this you giving advice? Or is this me putting a veneer on it that's not an actual?
Daniel Pink: No, I'm happy to offer advice. And I will answer your question directly, but let me offer a lengthy and irrelevant preamble. I think that when anybody makes a claim of any kind, we should all be generously skeptical and listen to it, but also say to that person, "How do you know?" Where I can, I always like to show my work and say, "Okay, here's how I know," because I think it confers greater credibility to the claims that I'm making. And I want people to evaluate the sources, I want people to evaluate the basis on which I'm offering these claims.
Daniel Pink: The same thing is true when it comes to advice. I'm, I'm totally happy offering advice, I just want people to know that the advice is based on my intuition and not my tiny, little slice of experience as one human being among eight billion on the planet, but based on something more comprehensive.
Daniel Pink: Now I'll answer your question. I do think there's a lesson there, and I think the lesson is that we should have, in general, a slight bias for action, a slight bias for doing things rather than standing by. I really do. And it's especially true in our professional lives, in our personal lives, in our romantic lives. It's not going to work out every time, but I think as a default, take the chance, go to the party, ask that person out, give it a try. I think, as a general life philosophy, I think it's the way to go. And there are a couple of reasons for that. One of them goes to exactly what you were saying, which is that we have more inaction regrets than action regrets, so it's a way to extinguish those.
Daniel Pink: The second thing, which I think is more intriguing, it's something I discovered myself is this, is that we... I feel like we're over indexed on planning and under indexed on acting, in general, in terms of how we figure out our life. And so you might say, "Oh, I want to start a business, therefore I need to write a lengthy business plan and I need to make sure that I have two years of savings and I need to talk to 100 people who've done this before." And those are not inherently bad ideas, but I think that we can over plan and underact because acting is a form of planning. When we act, we figure stuff out, and so the idea that for doing anything, you have to figure it all out and then execute, I think is wrong. I think it's wrong as a matter of how the world works. It's wrong because acting is a form of figuring stuff out. And so I do think that the lesson of these regrets is that we should have, in general, a bias for action.
Chase Jarvis: That is, I think, the soundbite of our conversation. And I like to extract those conceptually here on the fly because you have already said you talked to 19,400 people, you had 88,074 regrets noted from 109 countries, or whatever the data that you gave, and yet what we are chasing is your synthesis of these ideas. Go ahead. Were you going to say something there? I thought.
Daniel Pink: No, no. I think that the synthesis is that... The synthesis is relatively straightforward. Everybody has regrets; it makes you human. Treat it right; it makes you better. Don't wallow in them, don't ignore them, confront them.
Daniel Pink: And then when you think about what people regret, it's the same things over and over again around the world, which reveal the four things that people, I think, need the most. And so when you start making decisions, focus on those things and don't worry about much else.
Daniel Pink: Okay, so we have these four categories of regrets. We got foundation regrets, boldness regrets, moral regrets, and connection regrets. The two biggest categories are connection regrets and moral regrets. If only I'd reached out, if only I'd taken the chance. I think that suggests a bias for action. Reach out. If you're at a juncture and you're contemplating whether you should reach out, reach out. If there's a sensible risk to be taken, probably a good idea to take it because we tend to catastrophize the possibilities and not really reckon with the extended duller pain we have from not acting.
Chase Jarvis: What role did regret play in your life that made you want to write this book?
Daniel Pink: Well, I think part of it is that I was reckoning with a lot of my own regrets, and that's what got me doing it. I also think there is a time of life effect here in that I would not have written this book... I haven't written a book for 20 years, to my astonishment. I don't think I would've written this book in my 30s. I don't think I'd enough mileage on me. But in my 50s, it felt somewhat inevitable because I had room to look back and I also had room to look forward. And it's helped me reckon with some of my own regrets and changed some of my behavior, particularly on connection regrets. That's the one where it's changed my behavior the most because I heard so many stories of people who had friendships or relationships or whatever, not romantic relationships, just general relationships that came apart usually in undramatic ways; they drifted apart. Somebody wants to reach out, they don't. They think it's going to be awkward. They think the other side's not going to care. It drifts apart even more, and sometimes it's too late. And that really, really, really bumps people out.
Daniel Pink: And so, again, on that one, I do have a bias for action now, that if I'm contemplating should I reach out or should I not reach out? I reach out. That even arriving at that juncture is the answer to the question. The fact that I've arrived at that juncture has delivered to me the answer; reach out.
Chase Jarvis: Very, very interesting. Again, I think there's an echo from what I'm seeing in some previous work, but this overall action. I got a 90/10 rule. If I'm doing too much planning on a thing I need to 10 X my action on that thing because I think it's natural for us to all want to be successful.
Chase Jarvis: But in your work, you've talked about these major human paradigms, and I'm wondering if... Was regret your primary exploration? Or was this some subset of you were looking at grief or trauma or... Did you start out and end with grief? You're like, "This is the thing." Or, sorry, start and end with regret, or was this the second side of a coin that you started down a different path?
Daniel Pink: No, it was almost exclusively regret. It's not quite [inaudible 00:30:40], but I was actually working on a couple years ago an entirely different book about none of the above, not about negative emotions, not about emotions, about something completely different. And then as I started thinking about regret and having some life experiences that made me think about it even more, and then I started doing the research, I threw aside that book, stopped working on it and started with a new topic because it was so it was so compelling.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah, now we're in the creative process, which is one of my favorite parts of every conversation that I like to bring to bear here. You've talked about the number of books you've written. You just shared having an idea that, presumably... Again, I've done a couple books, but it's a lot of work to get into a book.
Daniel Pink: Oh, hell yeah.
Chase Jarvis: And there are-
Daniel Pink: It's horrible.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah. It's a lift beyond what most people can comprehend. But to chuck aside something that you'd been working on for some time and to now double down on regret, what was so seductive about regret that you were willing to stop working completely on something that you'd been working on? Was it the universality of it? Was it your personal experience? Some of the above? All of the above? More? Tell me more.
Daniel Pink: All of the above. Part of it was that I couldn't get out of my head. That was one part. I kept thinking about it and I realized how little I understood about it. And then when I looked at some of the research, I realized that there was a broader misunderstanding of it, there was a broader misunderstanding of regret as inherently harmful, as... When I say broader, I mean popular understanding. The science said something else. And that intrigued me.
Daniel Pink: What's more is I'm a big believer when... We can talk more about the creative process and whatnot. I'm a big believer in sharing ideas and socializing ideas and testing ideas in public. I'm not too rigged out about people, quote, unquote, "stealing my ideas" because I think that very rarely happens. And I think it's actually really hard to steal ideas in some cases. Not in all cases, but in many cases. And what I find is that when I share ideas, when I socialize them, they get stronger and they give me clues. And when I started talking very... Before be before even writing the book, when I just said, "Hey I've been thinking about regret and my regrets," and da, da, da, I got a very robust reaction from people, very robust. People opened up; they engaged in ways that were pretty remarkable. And that's happened even since the book has come out.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah, it's incredibly powerful. It was a seductive title. And again, having played listener to thousands or maybe millions of students at Creative Live and just in my work also socializing ideas around creativity, this idea of regret is, I would say, people's experiences with their creative process is wildly different, but the regret from not taking action around this one precious life was by far the most dominant experience that I get if I'm trying to understand a miss. There's lots of positives. People are elated when they do pursue these things and when they do the thing they're supposed to do in the world and it feels like life is happening for them rather than to... There's all kinds of that. But the universal negative emotion was regret. Why are there so few books on it? Why is it, as our mutual friend, Brene brown, says, "The world needs this book," that you wrote? Why is there so little on it?
Daniel Pink: Because we've been fed a bill of goods. We've been sold a bill of goods. We've been sold this bill of goods that we should be positive all the time, that we should never look back, that we should always be optimistic, that we should never let negative, dark thoughts into our head. And that's just wrong.
Daniel Pink: And again, we have to be reasonable about it. I'm all for positive emotions. I love positive emotions. We should have more positive emotions than negative emotions, but the idea that we should have only positive emotions is complete nonsense. It's a terrible recipe for living. The negative emotions exist for a reason, and we have to reckon with them.
Daniel Pink: And so think about fear; fear helps keep us alive. It's a negative emotion, but I don't want to extinguish all my feelings of fear. It's like, oh, let me go cross this road against oncoming traffic. Oh, I'm not scared. Then I'm dead.
Daniel Pink: Or even things like you mentioned grief earlier. Grief is a terrible emotion. Do I want to extinguish grief from our emotional repertoire? No, because the reason we feel grief is because we feel love, so it teaches us something. Imagine a world where we didn't grief. Oh, my father just died. I don't give a shit. Oh look, my dog just died. Who cares? That's a horrible world.
Daniel Pink: And the same thing is true with regret. What regret does, even though it hurts, it causes discomfort, it clarifies what we value, and it instructs us on how to do better. And while we might want the instruction and we might want the clarification, we can't get it without a little of that discomfort. The discomfort is what allows the clarification and the instruction. And so you can either have a life of mild discomfort that provides clarity and instruction, or you can have a life of no discomfort that delusional and thwarts growth. Your choice.
Chase Jarvis: I feel like you wanted to say more about creativity when I broached that topic a little earlier. Can you-
Daniel Pink: Which one?
Chase Jarvis: No, just the creative process. You've written about it, and I'm wondering what role you think regret plays in the creative process, maybe through the lens of your own writing or-
Daniel Pink: I haven't thought that much about it. I do think that people do have a lot of regrets about not acting on their creative impulses. That's huge, actually. And I think that people anticipate too much fear, too much regret, too much awkwardness about trying stuff, about having stuff not be well received. I think that we often overstate our prospective feelings of awkwardness and fears of rejection. Nobody likes rejection, but I think that people who have been rejected find that it is far less painful than what they imagine it to be, even though it's still painful.
Daniel Pink: I think the regret of not following our creative impulses, not answering that creative call is significant. I really do. And that, in some ways, people over anticipate the regrets of... They under anticipate their inaction regrets and over anticipate their action regrets of being creative, trying creative stuff.
Chase Jarvis: Say that one more time. They under-
Daniel Pink: Yeah, sorry about that.
Chase Jarvis: No, you're fast [inaudible 00:38:21]-
Daniel Pink: What they do is they think that if they try stuff and it fails, they're going to regret it, and that's probably not the case because what they don't realize, if they don't try stuff, they're definitely going to regret it.
Chase Jarvis: Let's go back to early on in our conversation, now you talked about this internal journey that we go on. And specifically, I'm intrigued by the ideas of our self-talk and how brutal we can be. And I try and live by the mantra the most important words in the world are the ones we say to ourselves, and try and reconcile this importance of our self-talk with how otherwise brutal we are and everyone... This is not a isolated pattern. It is more common to be brutal than to not be brutal. Why? Why are we so brutal? You go deeper in the book, but here in our conversation today, it's like, yeah, be kind to yourself. Give me a little bit more, because that sounds... I want more of that, but it sounds... Or I guess my experience is that it's harder than the hand waving panacea that we're-
Daniel Pink: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think it's a couple of reasons. The first is that we sometimes compare ourselves to some imagined perfect state, and so that's a game you're going to lose before the game even starts. I think that's part of it. The second thing is that I think we've been seduced into believing that severe self-criticism is motivating and enhancing. And the evidence is not there. In some ways, severe self-criticism is a form of... I actually think it's a form of internal virtue signaling. We're saying to ourselves, "Look how tough I'm being. Look at this. I'm a big time. Look at, I'm lacerating myself." And we're not focused on what is the effect of that?
Daniel Pink: And the thing about self-compassion versus severe self-criticism is that, yes, self-compassion is nicer, it's also more effective. That's the thing. It's like, et's forget about nice or not nice, let's just do what's effective. And so if you were to tell me that lacerating yourself internally is the best way to improve performance, I would say, "I got that down. Let's go." But that's not what the evidence says. The evidence says that that kind of self-criticism doesn't do much for you. What does do a lot for you in terms of our performance, even in terms of our physical and mental health, is self-compassion. If I have a choice between A and B, and A is ineffective and B is effective, I'm going to go with B most times.
Chase Jarvis: Feeling bad and ineffective, or feeling better and effective. This is exactly where I wanted get with this thread. It's like-
Daniel Pink: Right. Right. Well said. Yeah.
Chase Jarvis: If those are the two choices, you can beat yourself up and be less successful and less happy or you can acknowledge, learn from, be kinder to yourself, self-compassion, and it's actually better. What would you choose? This is why I'm obsessed with this aspect of your work, it's like, the research says it's true, it's true in our own experiences empirically, yet why is it so hard? Is it a cultural narrative? Is it-
Daniel Pink: Could be. It could be a case where our intuitions are off, where we think that that harshness is more effective than kindness. That's certainly true in some cases, but in this particular case, it's not.
Daniel Pink: I think the other thing is that no one's ever taught us. No one's ever taught us how to do the other thing. And so when I say that people don't know how to deal with their regrets, that some people ignore them and some people wallow in them, I don't put the onus on the individuals because no one ever teaches us how to do this stuff. And if we teach people, if we equip people with ways to process their regrets, reckon with their regrets, enlist their regrets as a positive force, we'll make people's lives better. But it's not going to happen magically and organically and without any effort and intention.
Chase Jarvis: That is very well said. And I think that's one of the reasons that this... Go back to why regret was powerful. And when you start to dig deep, and what I did in the case of reading via PDF, I've already stated once, which is very difficult, is in reading the work, it's like, God, this makes so much sense. These are tools that we should be given. Why is there so little material on this? Why does this concept of grief and vulnerability... why doesn't it include this overarching umbrella of regret? Especially, again, going back to my empirical experience, is that this is a thing that is universal. It's fascinating to me.
Chase Jarvis: One more little pull on this thread of self-compassion. There's a bit in the book about normalizing and neutralizing. I want to keep pulling on this because to, say, have compassion for one's self is still, it's nebulous for most. We need actual tools and we need to practice these tools in order to get good at them. Just like anything, those are muscles that we develop over time and it is not natural. Maybe it's our biological wiring for a negativity bias. Or I don't know what it is. We don't have to surmise, but this idea of normalizing and neutralizing. Give me 10% more on that.
Daniel Pink: Those two things work hand-in-hand because when something is normalized, it becomes less threatening, and so therefore it's neutralized. And so tactically, one thing you can do, if you're feeling your regret, is ask yourself do you think you're the only person who's ever had this regret? Are you the first person to have this regret or are you the only person who's had this regret? Do you know anybody else who might have this regret?
Daniel Pink: And even those small techniques are really useful because I can guarantee, except for something really, really bizarre and freaky, almost every regret you have is something that literally tens of thousands, if not millions of other people have. Anyway, just tactically, that's a way to do it. Are you the first person to have this regret? Probably not. Are you the only person to have this regret? Probably not. Do you know anybody else who might have this regret? Almost certainly. It's part of the human experience. It's part of the human condition. And the act of normalizing it, as you say, neutralizes it.
Chase Jarvis: You, in doing this work, came up with a lot of... there were a lot of discoveries, I'm assuming, and these are the things that you've put in the book. If the tables are turned, I hate being asked questions like what was the most... Anything that's the superlative: the most, the biggest, the this. I hate that, so I'm not going to do that to you, but I want to know were there a handful of things that were surprising in doing this work, specifically around regret that you would have assumed differently if you were just following your intuition or just writing from your own experience? Were there any paradigms that you considered surprising?
Daniel Pink: I was surprised at how universal the regrets were, the kinds of things that people regretted were. I constructed this quantitative survey that I mentioned, this giant poll with very large samples of demographic subgroups in order to make good claims about those groups. And there weren't many demographic differences. I did this world survey in part to see what national differences there were. There weren't that many; very, very few. I think the biggest conceptual surprise for me was the universality of what people regret all over the planet; that blew me away.
Daniel Pink: The other thing that surprised me was how relatively easy it is to confront our regrets, that it doesn't require a seven week course, it doesn't require a year of therapy, it requires three pretty simple common sense steps. And the more we do that, the more we get better at it, the more it becomes a habit.
Chase Jarvis: Hard to find a better place to end a conversation than the prescription. Congrats on the new book. Again, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward. Love your work, Dan. Thank you so much.
Daniel Pink: Thank you, Chase, for having me back on the show. I really enjoyed it.
Chase Jarvis: We're super fans here in our community. And the work that you do is so directly applicable to those of us that have chosen different paths. Thanks again for doing the work that you are doing. And I'm guessing that you may have picked that other book topic that you cast aside, maybe you're working on that now. We'll look forward to your-
Daniel Pink: I'm not.
Chase Jarvis: You got past that. No regrets, I might add.
Daniel Pink: No. Yeah, exactly. No, I'm not working on anything new right now. I'm basically trying to make it through each day.
Chase Jarvis: Recover from putting this new work out into the world. Again, we're we're good buyers of books. I think books are incredible way to create leverage in our lives and learn from all of those surveys that you talked about and studies, and of course your synthesis. Anywhere you'd steer people, like your website [inaudible 00:48:57]-
Daniel Pink: You can go to my website, which is danpink.com, D-A-N-P-I-N-K.com.
Chase Jarvis: Thanks for being a guest. We're always in your corner. Thanks a lot, Dan. I hope you have a good one.
Daniel Pink: All right, thank you, Chase.
Chase Jarvis: All right, signing us to everybody out there in the internet world and in your ears and eyes or however you're consuming this information, until next time, Dan and I bid you adieu.
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