48 pages 1 hour read

Daniel H. Pink

The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2022

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink was published in 2022. It challenges the popular mantra “No regrets” that has dominated Western culture. The book claims that toxic positivity can stymie personal growth and one’s potential to achieve a better life. It is, in essence, an antithesis to popular self-help books that champion blind positivity over conscious consideration of regrets. Pink argues that by embracing the feeling of regret, we are less likely to repeat the same mistakes and are, therefore, more likely to make better decisions going forward. He encourages readers to leverage regrets to cultivate a better, more fulfilling life. The book is organized into three parts— “Regret Reclaimed,” “Regret Revealed,” and “Regret Remade.”

Summary

In Part 1, “Regret Reclaimed,” Daniel H. Pink highlights “the life-thwarting nonsense” of the popular adage “No regrets” and explains why regret makes us human. In fact, the inability to experience regret is a sign of a serious health deficiency. Pink then explains humans’ tendency to engage in counterfactual thinking, that is, creating hypothetical narratives about what could have been had one behaved differently in a certain situation. He differentiates between two types of counterfactual thinking: At Leasts and If Onlys. While If Onlys exacerbate the feeling of regret, At Leasts tend to make people feel better about a given regret. Pink encourages readers to establish a middle ground in grappling with regrets: We should neither avoid regrets nor wallow in them but instead use them to improve future behavior.

In Part 2, “Regret Revealed,” Pink explains his findings from the World Regret Survey that regrets mirror the diversity of human life and span a variety of domains. Although previous studies on regret had found that some categories of regret, such as education-related or romance-related regrets, were most common, the more inclusive and representative study of regret through the World Regret Survey revealed that regrets straddled many domains and that no single regret stood out among the rest. Pink then defines and explains the four core regrets, which he notes unveil a human need. Foundation regrets are regrets about indulging in the present rather than planning for the future. Boldness regrets are regrets about the failure to act, which ultimately yields failure to grow, evolve, and make the most of one’s life. Moral regrets are regrets about the failure to do the right thing. Connection regrets are regrets about the failure to reach out and reconnect with people. Pink points out that the four core regrets (foundation, boldness, moral, and connection regrets) operate as a reflection of a life well-lived. Because regrets mirror what people value, they can guide people on a path to optimizing their lives.

In Part 3, “Regret Remade,” Pink provides practical advice on how to cope with regrets. He suggests undoing regrets to the extent possible by attempting to repair damage. For regrets that cannot be repaired, Pink advises we think about them counterfactually by At Leasting them. Doing so should help people feel better about their regrets. In the chapter on “Disclosure, Compassion, and Distance,” Pink advises that people self-disclose their regrets by talking about them, whether it be to a person, to a tape recorder, or through writing. Likewise, one should utilize self-compassion. Rather than wallowing in self-pity or blinding oneself with self-esteem, one should acknowledge their regret and reframe it by imagining the regret were being voiced by another person. Self-distancing, too, is a strategy for creating distance between regret and oneself, thereby viewing the regret more objectively. Pink also notes that anticipation of regret can help us use regret to our advantage. However, he notes that although anticipation of regret can protect us from future regrets, it also has shortcomings, such as causing people to overestimate regrets—thereby stymieing their ability to make decisions. Anticipating regrets could also eliminate people’s willingness to take risks. Rather than seeking to minimize regrets, Pink suggests that people optimize them. Fixating on avoiding regrets is unlikely to yield a better life than optimizing existing regrets to make life better going forward.

blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
Unlock IconUnlock all 48 pages of this Study Guide
Plus, gain access to 8,000+ more expert-written Study Guides.
Including features:
+ Mobile App
+ Printable PDF
+ Literary AI Tools