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Literature Review | The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink

By SRAI News posted 09-08-2022 11:56 AM


Literature Review | The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink

This series of articles explores literary works that interest with our professional interests in research, research administration, and university life. 

"Regret (verb) - feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity)" from Oxford Languages Dictionary. 

I recently completed The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink. According to Pink, regrets fall into four categories: Foundation Regrets, Boldness Regrets, Moral Regrets and Connection Regrets. In Chapter 4, Pink states that there is a benefit on reflecting on regrets and that this practice has a benefit that can positively impact future circumstances. Here, the author cites a Kellogg School of Management study authored by Dashun Wang and Benjamin F Jones where they found that scientists who failed early are in the long run more successful. From a 15-year database, the researchers compared were early career scientists who narrowly missed grant research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) versus early career scientists who narrowly succeeded in getting the grants. The scientists who did not win the grants, five years following, were 21% more likely to have “more successful papers than those that received them” (the grants). I located a short write up of this study from The Daily Northwestern, where study author Jones said: “Those who persevere, who fell short but kept going, are the ones who outperform those who actually got the grant in the first place,” … “They take something from the failure experience that gives them greater wisdom or makes them try harder going forward.”

In the book, Daniel Pink provides many suggestions for how to manage troubling regrets. For example: start a regret circle like a book club where regrets are shared and discussed, make a “failure resume” where regrets are noted on paper, practice self-compassion (here he references a book by Dr Kristin Neff and for a self-compassion assessment), instead of New Year’s resolutions pick three regrets from prior year and work on those as resolutions, and advises to anticipate regret. 

Summarized from the book, here are three questions about regrets that can be asked when practicing self-compassion:

  1. If a friend or relative came to you with the same regrets as yours, would you treat that person with kindness or contempt?
  2. Is this type of regret something that other people might have endured or are you the only person who has experienced it?
  3. Does this regret represent an unpleasant moment in your life, or does it define your life? 

We all have experienced regrets and will likely continue to encounter regrets. Holding onto regrets takes up energy and is stressful. During a recent visit with my mother, I practiced the regret circle with her. She shared a regret she had been carrying for 50+ years and I shared a regret I had been carrying for 30+ years. Neither of us had previously shared the regrets with anyone. Through the experience, we both felt lighter, were able to say that the “regrets” did not define who we are today and did not take away from the love and respect we have for each other. It was a special experience with my mom that I’ll never forget. Daniel Pink included a quote in the book by Leonard Cohen that I really like: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” 

Authored by Amy Sikalis, Director Research & Science, Radiology & Imaging Sciences
University of Utah