The Power of Regret with Daniel Pink
Hey everybody, what's up, it's Chase. Welcome to another episode of "The Chase Jarvis Live Show" here on CreativeLive. 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." 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. 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. So if you're interested in hearing about this learning from Dan and channeling the idea of 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 ex...
perience him and his new work here. Again, "The Power of Regret:" Looking Backward how it moves us forward." All right, I'm gonna get outta the way. Welcome Dan. (upbeat music) (audience clapping)
Hey, love you.
Dan Pink, thank you so much for joining us again. Congrats on the new book. We're happy to have you.
Hey, thanks for having me back on the show.
So before we started recording, we were talking about the listenership of the show here, the viewership as well. Some people used 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 gonna 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.
So 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 the books about the rise of why creative and empathic skills are gonna be more important in the workplace than ever before. I've written about signs of motivation. I've written a book about, that takes a new 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.
Well, it's beautiful. I do wanna 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 to our audience, put through the lens of one precious life that puts a ton of pressure on us. And I think that that serves its purpose in some ways, and it can also be very paralyzing in another. So maybe you could start off with sharing a little bit about some of the common threads that you saw, is our particular community who are listening right now, or is this drama around the power of regret? Is this unique to us creators, or is does this match some of the things that you learned about the power of regret in your research?
Well, as much as I don't wanna threaten your audience's feelings as specialness, it is not unique. And in some ways, Chase, that's the point. One of the things that you see in the way I wrote... There're 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, 'cause their brains haven't developed, people with neurodegenerative disorders, 'cause their brains don't work functionally, and sociopaths. Everybody else has regrets. And so it is common. And the other thing about it, which is a little bit of a puzzle is that, I mean, obviously regret is unpleasant. I don't like experiencing regret. So 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. Like 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. On the other hand, it's also possible that we can over index in 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 wanna do is we wanna 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.
Well, that makes me wanna 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 that's obviously the backdrop that you just shared with us, but that the concept of that is so foreign because the word regret is so loaded culturally for us. So tip this on its head for us, 'cause 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 the, 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.
Well, I mean the three sort of 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?" So you invite this negative feeling. You don't bat it away, you actually summon it. (Chase chuckling) The next time around, you're a better negotiator. I mean, all kinds of research like that in terms of decision making, if you've actually consciously reflect, 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," summon the negative emotion, you're more likely to overcome it in the future. Problem solving. Enormous amount of experimental evidence of problem solving, where you give people problems to solve and then induce regret, "Hey, what do you regret about this?" Again, invite the feeling, they do better next time around. So problem solving. There's some stuff on strategy. You're better strategists, if we reflect on our regret rather than you hide them. And also a sense of meaning, Regret, when we reckon with our regrets properly, they deepens our sense of meaning in life. So huge numbers of positive benefits to reckoning with it properly. But properly is the key. It doesn't happen automatically, we have to know how to do it systematically.
Well, that's a logical next step. So 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." So this is a tricky proposition because done without your guidance, we can easily spiral into what if and so this is-
This is why I was fascinated by your choice of this work is because to do it invites a host of problems, to do it well, extracts the value, and (chuckling) it's a tricky proposition. So give us some guidance.
Well, it's actually not as tricky as we think. And it's the kind of thing that if you 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 walking on your jogging path, you're gonna be fine.
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.
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. So what is inward? Inward is you have to change the way, reframe the way you think about the regret and yourself. So 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.
I took the corporate job, that was the safe path, instead of pursued my passion.
Okay, so let's say, 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. What's more effective is something called self-compassion, which is the work... I encourage your listeners to check out the work of Kristen 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 are 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. 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 preponderance of evidence, once again shows that people tend to like us more, they think more highly of us. The other thing that's important about disclosure is that emotions in general, and negative emotions in particular are blobby and amorphous. That's what makes positive emotions feel good? It's kind of magical. You're not defining it, you're not making it concrete, joy or awe, or something like that. That's why it feel so good. It's also why negative emotions feel so shitty, is because they're amorphous they're abstract. And so one of the things you can do to, in some ways defang negative emotions is to convert them from this blobby abstraction into concrete words, which are less fearsome. So write about your regret for 15 minutes a day for three days, or tell somebody about the regret. That begins a sense making process. So we've gone inward, you're treating yourself with kindness rather than contempt 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 wanna do is you wanna do something called self distancing, which is a way to sort of think about yourself as another person. So you could say, you could talk to yourself in the third person. There's some interesting research on that. So 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? 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 kind of 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 wanna do this? Make sense of it, and then finally extract a lesson from it. And lesson could be, you know what, maybe I should start a side hustle for the next six months and see how it goes. And all that does is very calmly normalizes the regret and sort of enlist it as a tool rather than shrink from it as a threat.
So 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 it has been powerful for me, this ultimate regret with capital R, as at the end of our lives. How do we look back? And the chief regret, according to some research, that 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 that the 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?
I don't think so. I'm not sure I believe in like the... 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, the 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 kind of late to be dealing with your regrets, when you're growing your last breath, doesn't seem that useful to me. I'd rather have people reckon with it a little earlier than that. And so one of the things that you see 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. So, I didn't save enough money. I didn't get enough education. I didn't treat myself, my health well enough. They have regrets, a lot of 'em 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. And what you wanna try to do, to your point, is that you wanna do the lightweight work early to avoid those kinds of regrets. And so it's possible for us... 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. So 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? 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 you of 10 years from now is gonna care about, you're not gonna care one whit about whether you bought a blue car or gray car, but you are gonna care about whether you reached out to a friend or whether you let an important relationship dissolve. You are gonna care about doing the wrong thing. You are gonna care about not taking a sensible risk. You are gonna 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.
(chuckling) Is that the essential idea with... I was drawn to the Victor 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."
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 gonna regret in 10 years or 20 years, or God forbid on their deathbed, and it's not gonna be these small things, it's gonna be these bigger things. And so act now to try to avert those.
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?
Yeah, that's a huge finding in all of the research. So 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 wide, 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. Thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, it's two to one regrets about in action rather than inaction.
Wow. So 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?
Good question, that's a really, really good question. And I didn't ask that question explicitly, but I got some of it anyway in this, 'cause I also collected 19,000 regrets from people in 109 countries, and it got some of that, to my surprise. Okay, so there are people who started, 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. "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, There was less of that... 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 gonna 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.
That is about as close as I've ever heard you, Dan pink, give advice. You always take this research approach, and like the data says, and that 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 actual?
No, I mean, I'm happy to give... (both chuckling) I'm happy to offer advice. I just think that... And I will answer your question directly, but let me offer a lengthy and irrelevant preamble. (both chuckling) 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? And so I always like to where I can, I always like to show my work, and say, "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. The same thing is true when it comes to advice. I'm totally happy offering advice, I just want people to know that the advice is based on, not my intuition and not my tiny little slice of experience as one human being among 8 billion on the planet, but based on something more comprehensive. And so I do think... 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. Absolutely, I think that it is generally... It's not gonna 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. The second thing, which I think is more intriguing, something I discovered myself is this, is that, 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 wanna 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 a hundred 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 kind of a bias for action.
That is I think the soundbite of our conversation. (Daniel laughing) 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 gonna say something there?
No, I think that the synthesis is that... I mean, 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. 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. But I do think that it comes down to, since we have this overwhelming amount of... since most of the regrets. So we have these four categories of regrets. We've 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 non-acting.
What role did regret play in your life to make you wanna write this book?
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 any books for 20 years to my astonishment. I don't think I would've written this book in my thirties. I don't think I'd enough mileage on me. But in my fifties 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 like general relationships that came apart, usually in undramatic ways, they drifted apart. Somebody wants to reach out, they don't, they think it's gonna be awkward. They think the other, side's not gonna care. It drifts apart even more. And sometimes it's too late and that really, really, really bumps people out. 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 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.
Very, very interesting. I think there's an echo in your... And 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 10X my action on that thing, because I think it's natural for us to all want to be successful. But in your work, you've talked about these major human paradigms, and I'm wondering, was regret your primary exploration or was this some subset of your looking at... You were looking at grief or trauma, or did you start out and end with grief? You're like, this is the thing... Oh, sorry, start and end with regret? Or was this the second side of a coin that you started down a different path?
No, it was almost little exclusively regret. I actually just, I mean, it's not quite in response, but I was actually working on a couple years ago, entirely different book, like 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 kind of experiences that made me think about it even more, and then I started doing the research, I threw aside that that book, stopped working on it, and started a new with a new topic. Because, it was so compelling.
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. And to decide... 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.
Oh, hell yeah.
And there are-
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.
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. When I say broader, I mean, sort of popular understanding, the science said something else. And that intrigued me. 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. Like I'm not too rigged out about people "stealing" my ideas, because I think that very rarely happens. And I think it's actually really hard to steal ideas in some case, 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 gimme clues. And when I started talking before even writing the book, when it just says kind of, "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.
Yeah, it's incredibly powerful. It was a seductive title. And again, having played listener to thousands or maybe millions of students at CreativeLive 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. So, 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?
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. And again, I mean, 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. I mean, it's a terrible recipe for living. The negative emotions exist for a reason, and we have to reckon with them. Think about fear. Fear helps keep us alive. It's a negative emotion, but I don't wanna 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. Or you, even things like, you you mentioned grief earlier. Grief is a terrible emotion. Do I wanna 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? I mean, that's a horrible world. 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 is delusional and thwarts growth, your choice.
I feel like you wanted to say more about creativity when I broached that topic a little earlier. Can you-
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 your lens of your own writing.
I haven't thought that much about it. I mean, 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, that I think that we often overstate our prospective feelings of awkwardness and fears of rejection. I mean, 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. So I think that the regret of not following our creative impulse 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.
Say that one more time. They under...
Yeah, sorry about that. What they do is that they think that if they try stuff and it fails, they're gonna regret it. And that's probably not the case. Because what they don't realize, if they don't try stuff, they're definitely gonna regret it.
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. 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, is more common to be brutal than to not be brutal. Why are we so brutal? You go deeper in the book, but here in our conversation today, is like, "Yeah, be kind to yourself." Give me a little bit more, 'cause 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-
Yeah, I think it's a couple of reasons. The first is that sometimes we compare ourselves to some imagined, perfect state. And so that's a game you're gonna 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. Like 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? 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, let'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. And what does do a lot for you, in terms of our performance, even in terms of our physical and mental health is self-compassion. So if I have a choice between A and B, and A is ineffective and B is effective, I'm gonna go with B most times.
Feeling bad and ineffective, or feeling better and effective. I mean, this is exactly where I wanted to get with this thread. It's like-
Well said, yeah.
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? And yet... This is why I'm obsessed with this aspect of your work is 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-
It could be a case where intuitions are off, where we think that harshness is more effective than kindness. That's certainly true in some cases, but in this particular case, it's not. 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, 'cause no one ever teaches us how to do this kind of 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 gonna happen magically and organically and without any kind of effort and intention.
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 these concept of grief and vulnerability, "and 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. One more little pull on this thread of self-compassion. There's a bit in the book about normalizing and neutralizing. And I wanna keep pulling on this, because to say, have compassion for one's self 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.
Well, what we wanna do... 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? Are you the only person who's had this regret? Do you know anybody else who might have this regret? And even those kind of 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. So anyway, this tactic, 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. And that's a way to normal... 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.
So 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 a superlative, the most, the biggest, the this, I hate that. So I'm not gonna do that to you. But I wanna 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?
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 kind of 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 kind of blew me away. 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.
Hard to find a better place to end a conversation (chuckling) 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.
Thank you chase for having me back on the show. I really enjoyed it.
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 look forward to-
I'm not. (Daniel laughing)
You got past that, no regrets, I might add. (laughing)
No, Yeah, exactly. No, I'm not working on anything new right now. I'm basically trying to make it through each day.
Recover from putting this new workout in the world. Anything you'd like to steer us besides... Again, 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.
You can go to my website, which is danpink.com, D-A-N-P-I-N-K.com.
Thanks for being a guest. We're always in your corner. Thanks a lot, Dan. I hope you have a good one.
Thank you, chase.
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. (mid tempo music)