1 Big idea to think about

  • Approaching regrets as failure we can learn from allows us to build a more meaningful life..

2 ways you can apply this

  • Recognize your regrets. Complete The World Regret Survey. Disclosure allows us to relieve the burden of our mistakes and begin to make sense of the experience.
  • Take a lesson from your regrets. Create a Failure Resume. When you do this, you will find the precise data you need to construct a meaningful, rich, and essential life.

3 Questions to ask

  • What are my biggest regrets?
  • What lesson can I learn and apply from these regrets?
  • When struggling with regret, ask, “If my best friend came to me with this problem, what would I tell her to do?”

Key Moments From The Show 

  • The World Regret Survey (4:41)
  • The power of self-disclosure in reckoning with our regrets (6:02)
  • The Regret Circle (8:44)
  • Why a “no regrets” philosophy is a bad idea (9:46)
  • The importance of self-compassion (11:57)
  • Dealing with action regrets (12:32)
  • The four core regrets (14:40)
  • Connection regrets – The unmistakable importance of love and relationships (19:13)
  • What we can learn about happiness from the four core regrets (23:00)
  • The Failure Resume (25:09)
  • The two narratives you can write (29:10)

Links You’ll Love From the Episode

The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Dan Pink

The World Regret Survey

The Self-Compassion Test 

Connect with Dan Pink

Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Website


Greg McKeown, Dan Pink

Greg McKeown  0:03  

Come with me on an exploration of self-discovery. On this podcast, we decipher what really matters as we unravel the chaos of day-to-day work, to learn how to build an essential life. 


Thank you everyone for being here on the What’s Essential Podcast. I’m Greg McKeown, your host, I’ve been thinking about this pandemic and how it’s created this involuntary reflection. One of the things that happens in that reflective period, is whether we want to or not, we find ourselves facing regrets. And we might not like to face it for very long, it can be pretty awkward, quite painful. And so we want to push forward. 


But it seems to me that we have been taught that we shouldn’t have regrets. And so as soon as we feel them, we push forward, and then we get stuck in them, we’re trying to avoid them. And that means that we get stuck in them. 


And so my guest today is the one and only Dan Pink, the number-one New York Times best-selling author of Dr. And when to sell us human, A Whole New Mind, and he inverts this whole view of the matter. In his marvelous new book, The Power of regrets, we’re going to discuss five counterintuitive things that you can do right now to use regrets to your advantage in designing a life that really matters. Dan, welcome to the What’s Essential podcast. 


Dan Pink  1:29  

Greg, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for that really nice introduction. I appreciate it.


Greg McKeown  1:33  

You’ve had this whole career. Now, a quarter of a century, of course, there’s always highs and lows and writing and publishing and books and so on. Not for you, though. I actually was at the Stanford graduation ceremony where Oprah spoke, where she gave out a whole new mind to every single person in attendance, that, to me, at least was symbolic of something important. Suddenly, Oprah said, he has answers. Dan knows stuff. He’s named things that matter to me. I came across a comment from you. It’s where you’re talking about your regrets. Basically, you say you have several regrets yourself. Yeah. And one of them was to do with not being bold enough. But then you write the phrase, stay tuned, I thought that meant that you have bold things you’re thinking about that you’ve been previously holding back from? Isn’t that what you’re saying?


Dan Pink  2:25  

Yeah, I have a few ideas of things that I want to do. And the risks that I took earlier on, were very calculated and deliberate. And I’m not a very risk-prone person, I’m at a point in my life, where I can look backward, and I can look forward. And I have finally a fair bit of mileage on me. But I also have a pretty long road ahead, I hope and I want to spend that time and the road ahead doing things that are important that matter, the tests me that challenge me and that contribute.


Greg McKeown  2:53  

That’s right, this feels something like the universal drive.


Dan Pink  2:57  

I agree with you completely about that. There’s an old journalistic adage, which is always extrapolate from your own experience, you’re not that special. Yeah, I am interested enough in a subject that I want to spend few years writing a book about it. There going to be plenty of people interested in spending a few hours to read it.


Greg McKeown  3:15  

Something you’re saying there is just completely real. When you decide to write a book like this, or any book, you are signing up for years and years of thinking then writing, then speaking and teaching and sharing. I mean, it’s a multi year commitment. 


Dan Pink  3:36  

And of course, you know that right? I mean, you know that. So yeah, I agree with you. And I’ll see you in raise you though I think in some cases, it’s a multi decade commitment. So I wrote a book, my first book was a book called free agent nation, about the rise of people working for themselves. I still get calls from reporters asking about that topic.


Greg McKeown  3:52  

What do you get the most calls for? Now?


Dan Pink  3:56  

I get a huge number of inbound on the sales stuff that I’ve written. Yeah.


Greg McKeown  3:59  

Because that’s very specific must have within absolutely every business, it’s not a nice to have. If there are not sales, there is no business. And you can never stop doing it. will not have


Dan Pink  4:13  

Because then you like, I like to flatter myself to think that book that I wrote called to sell as human was a smart, thorough treatment of sales. Many of the books about sales were kind of vacuous.


Greg McKeown  4:22  

I think perhaps because of its absolute necessity, the things that we need the most perhaps we’re most willing to vacillate on the ethics involved, because it’s like look, a sort of do or die type of situation.


Dan Pink  4:36  

Maybe I think there’s a simpler explanation which is, which has to do with information.


Greg McKeown  4:40  

Coming to this book, specifically, one of the five specific things I want to pull out from this that the first is the world regret survey. Let’s just start with that. What did you do exactly?


Dan Pink  4:52  

Well, I set up a website and ask people to contribute their regrets. And to my utter surprise, we now have about 17,000 regrets. Are people in 105 countries, and this incredible collection of regrets the stories of human longing and aspiration and frustration and despair and hope and all of those ended up and shame and guilt and quest for redemption. All of those tails ended up becoming this incredible corpus of material that allowed me to make some insights into the nature of regret in a way that I don’t think has been done before. 


Greg McKeown  5:29  

All the way through the book, there are these, you know, selected statements of regret from people who have shared from all over the world. And it’s hard to look away from them because it is so painful. I mean, just this morning, so we have our little family discussion. Little family council every morning. Real and yeah, our kids, teenagers, they’re willing to do that. To be perfectly honest. The hardest thing about it is getting us to stop White House. Yeah, they’re real talkers. We try and cut it off at half an hour. But this morning, as we were just getting people together before we got to any any of what we really needed to get to officially I just out of the blue said, Okay, what are your regrets from your life?


Dan Pink  6:11  

It’s interesting. Yeah. 


Greg McKeown  6:13  

Yeah, what I got was total silence. Interesting. But then also, as we sort of left it for a little longer. The discussion started being well, well, it’s pretty awkward question, you know, who wants to share? Yeah, and then one of my daughters told a story about when she had gone babysitting once, and was trying to show the parents how good she was, she was young when she was doing this. And then everything she shared, she felt was actually not an evidence of being a good babysitter, even though she was trying to demonstrate that she was okay. And if you could tell the embarrassment, even if she shared it was there, even though she was laughing, telling the story? Anyway, I think is interesting that people don’t really want to talk about it, but it’s an awkward subject. What have you learned, I mean, among others,


Dan Pink  6:57  

Let me go back to your daughter here, because I’m gonna make I’m gonna, I’m gonna make it, I’m going to make a guest here. So I wonder whether telling that story. And you can go back and find this out made your daughter feel worse, about the experience or better about the experience. And I’m going to guess it made her feel better about the experience. I’m going to guess that the actor and the reason I’m getting to guess this is because there’s a lot of science supporting this hypothesis here, that the act of disclosure, and the act of sensemaking, that comes from telling the story is itself a relief to people? Do you think less of her? No, I can’t imagine that. Right. So this is the thing, this is what we’re wrong about. We think that when we disclose negative things about ourselves, that we’re going to feel crappy about it, and other people are going to think less of it. And what a pile of evidence tells us is that self disclosure itself is almost always inherently valuable, that we relieve the burden through disclosure. And the act of putting these encode feelings into words, is sensemaking. That relieves some of the pain. What’s more, and the other big mistake that we make is that when we reveal negative things about ourselves, we think people will think less highly of us. And we’re almost always wrong about that. And so one of the key components in reckoning with our regrets is self disclosure.


Greg McKeown  8:15  

Yeah, one of the suggestions that you have in the book, it was a starter, regret circle. Oh, yeah. What’s the idea of the regret? 


Dan Pink  8:21  

So get a bunch of people together and talk about your regrets and help other people make sense of them and extract lessons from them? It’s sort of like a book club. If you want to read anything. 


Greg McKeown  8:29  

The first actionable tool is this, people can go to www dot world regrets survey.com. And write down what you regret.


Dan Pink  8:39  

And you can also go to a map there that you where you can click on a country or a state or a province and see what people in Utah regret or see what people in Orange, California or Yeah, or in the UK, oh my gosh, we have so many in the UK, we have like about 1000 in the UK, or people in the GLA or, and we have it we have the survey in Spanish. We have the survey and Chinese entries in Japanese, we’ve gotten entries in French, we’ve done entries in Portuguese, 


Greg McKeown  9:03  

I filled out the survey myself. And one of the questions I mean, I want people to even ask it right now is think about a significant regret of one word. And you’ve already covered sort of why people should disclose this, at first, at least to themselves.


Dan Pink  9:17  

We have to think about how we deal with negative emotions. And here when when you analyze the regrets, there’s not a huge amount of national difference in the content of people’s regrets, there’s actually far less national difference than ever would have expected. However, there is a national difference on the notion of regret itself. And so Americans especially love the philosophy of no regrets. And what the research tells us is that is a bad idea that the only people without regrets are little kids whose brains haven’t developed people with neurodegenerative diseases, and sociopaths. Everybody else has regrets. Regret is functional. It makes us human, but you have to deal with it properly. And the way you deal with it is this you can take your regrets and you can say Like, you feel this, that negative emotion, that stab of regret, you can say, You know what? feelings don’t matter, especially negative feelings. I’m ignoring it. Yeah, it doesn’t matter. Okay, that’s one. That’s a bad idea that you become delusional that way. You can also go almost the opposite of that and say, feelings are the only truth there is my feelings tell me everything, my feelings are the one universal truth. And if you can wallow in those regrets, that is even worse, that leads to despair, what you have to do is you have to say, a negative feeling like regret. That’s a bulletin that’s like, it’s telling me something, it’s information in the world, the universe is trying to tell me something, am I going to be open to receiving what it’s trying to tell me, and then use that feeling for thinking and the thinking for acting. And then there’s this process that you can do that begins with self disclosure. And even if you’re still skittish about revealing it to other people, as you mentioned, Greg, there’s a lot of evidence about simply writing about a privately itself therapeutic, then the next step is that so you have to treat yourself with self compassion. And that’s a triangulation between these extremes. And the third one is self distancing. That is, you got to take a step back to draw a lesson from it. And we all know this, we all know that we’re better at solving other people’s problems than we are our own. And there are various techniques you can use to self distance. And so when we disclose when we offer ourselves compassion, and then when we distance from the problem, we can extract a lesson from our regrets and apply that to do better in the future.


Greg McKeown  11:28  

So staying with self compassion for just a second. So I would describe that as maybe a second thing people can immediately do who want to do something. But their regrets is take this self compassion quiz that you talk about. Okay, this is from Kristin Neff. So they can go to HTTPS, colon, self, Dash compassion.org. Take that quiz. That’s a good place to be able to start seeing whether you’re getting that right tension that right triangulation to use that term. So let’s call that number two immediate thing people can do. A third thing that you said which I really liked was with action regrets. Now you’re distinguishing action regrets from inaction, regrets, but then with action regrets, you give a two step process for that. I mean, an action regret is you have done something that has that you regret having done an inaction regret is you regret not having done something exactly. I’m understand that right. And then so with an action regret, the first thing you do is undo it. 


Dan Pink  12:33  

If there’s something you can do, to apologize, make amends, make restitution, anything that you can to undo it,


Greg McKeown  12:38  

Right, do what you can do, and then the one I loved, especially was, at least it tell us what that strategy is.


Dan Pink  12:45  

So what you do there, it’s relatively straightforward, you find a silver lining, and at the heart of regret is what’s called counterfactual thinking. And it’s something that human beings are pretty darn good at, we can imagine a set of facts that are counter to reality, there are two kinds of counterfactuals, there are upward counterfactuals. If only I’d done this things would be better. There also are downward counterfactuals. You imagine how it could be worse. And what the research tells us is that upward counterfactuals, if only make us feel worse, but because they make us feel worse, they make us do better. But downward counterfactuals these at least they make us feel better. 


Greg McKeown  13:23  

And sometimes that’s the right thing to do. The at least it approach is what I ended up doing with my daughter this morning, I said, Look, could it have been worse, at least the children were? And she said, Well, they were all alive and asleep when they came home. I’m like, Yeah, that’s a really big deal in comparison to any regret you might have of how you happen to talk about it.


Dan Pink  13:42  

I’ll give you a very easy thing for there. You say to your daughter, if your best friend came to you with this problem, what would you tell her to do? And what you can do in that case with your daughter is say, okay, what are the lessons that you learned from that? And so the lesson is, before you have this encounter with these parents, like okay, what are the three big points I want to make? What’s the most important thing that they need to know? Rather than just do what a lot of us do, even as adults, which is just open our mouths start talking and see where it goes? 


Greg McKeown  14:08  

What do you mean by the four core regrets?


Dan Pink  14:11  

So the four core regrets are something that comes out of that world regret survey and what I found again, as I was exploring this topic is that when scholars have looked at regret they’ve looked at it by the domains of our life so this is a family regret this is a education regret. This is a career regret. This is a romance regret, this is a health regret. And when I was looking at that research and actually tried to do some of it my own with a quantitative survey of the US population, it you see results all over the place, and it wasn’t very clarifying. And what I realized is that was not the important thing that was going on that beneath that was a kind of a hidden architecture of regret that around the world, people ended up with the same four regrets and it didn’t matter the domain of life. Let me give you an example. Boldness is one of the four core rules regrets. Bonus regrets. If only I taken the chance. You’re at a juncture in your life. You can play it safe. You can take the risk people play it safe, overwhelmingly regret it. People who take the chance. Sometimes they regret it, but much more often, they don’t regret it. Even if it doesn’t turn out. Well. You find that around the world. People’s regrets keep coming back to the same four things. Tell me what the four things. Foundation regrets, which are regrets about basically not doing the work. I didn’t study hard in school, and now I’m paying the price for it. I’m in a dead end job sort of investment regrets. You didn’t invest? Investing in the broad sense of invoicing, right? Yeah, investing in a sort of a stable platform for your life. Then we have boldness, regrets, if only I’d taken the chance. Another category, very interesting category, small but fascinating. Moral regrets, you’re at a juncture, you can do the right thing, or you can do the wrong thing. People do the wrong thing. They regret it. The two biggest regrets in the moral category. We’re bullying kids in school and marital infidelity. Those are the two massive regret. But there are other kinds of moral regrets, too. It’s basically if only I’d done the right thing.


Greg McKeown  16:05  

You say that sometimes the moral Gretz people submitted in the surveys read like the production notes for a 10 commandments, video.


Dan Pink  16:15  

Sorry for laughing at my own language. 


Greg McKeown  16:19  

And I loved how that was like as if you were hearing it for the first time. I like it, though. But I understand I’m not the first person to read to this to you, you read this to yourself your books, because it’s in the process of listening to the spoken word that you decide whether something is compelling and interesting, and so on. I think it’s a great tactic for writing, that seems to me to be a kind of message in all sorts of media and in all sorts of ways to suggest that there’s no consequence whatsoever to a whole series of action. And yet what you found is data to support. What I have found in my life and coaching people and counseling people and listening to people deeply is that they do have regrets around actions. They felt themselves were immoral. Yeah. And so it’s not helpful to have society say, oh, there’s no big deal. Yeah, but what do you do with this personal guilt?


Dan Pink  17:14  

I find these more regrets kind of heartening, because what it suggests is that our nature is that we want to be good. I don’t think that’s true for everybody. I think there’s some people who do something morally reprehensible and don’t care, but I actually I really do believe they’re in the minority and indistinct minority and that most of us want to be good. And so these moral regrets, I think are affirming in a way they say that most of us actually want to lead decent lives we want to do the right thing and when we don’t we’re haunted by them.


Greg McKeown  17:43  

I remember reading in the book, a whole list of people who that part of their own beliefs include no regrets. You’ve got Angelina Jolie, I don’t believe in regrets Bob Dylan, I don’t believe in regrets John Travolta I don’t believe in regrets fire core walking motivational Maestro Tony Robbins. I don’t believe in regrets head banging Guns and Roses guitars slash I don’t believe in regrets. Why is it so important to advocate that they have no regrets?


Dan Pink  18:11  

I think it’s a mix of things. Number one is that they don’t want to reckon with their mistakes themselves. Number two, they don’t want to reveal it to other people, because they think other people will think less of them. People who have no regrets. That is usually a sign of a grave problem. That’s a sign that you might have brain lesions, it’s a sign that you might have Parkinson’s disease, it’s a sign that you might have Huntington’s disease, it’s a sign that you might be a sociopath. Truly, the only people without regrets are people whose brains haven’t developed or whose brains have been damaged. All of us have regrets. It’s part of being human.


Greg McKeown  18:42  

That makes so much sense to me. The fourth core regret was connection regrets, and I want to spend a bit of time on that you referenced a few different things here. But the grant study came up again. Tell us about that.


Dan Pink  18:54  

Yeah, that’s a famous study that began in the early part of the 20th century, the long Longitudinal Study of men who happen to be all men, all white men, actually, who were at Harvard, and they follow them through their lives, and in a really comprehensive way. So looking at physiological measures, looking at psychometric measures, looking at intellectual measures, to see who thrived and who didn’t. And then they expanded it to include people of men again, of different socio economic classes, and they’ve expanded it again to have a wider group of people. But the TLDR as the kids say, is that the only thing that matters is love and relationships if you want to know who’s going to be happy and thriving, look to see Do they have people who they love and who love them?


Greg McKeown  19:39  

You quote the Harvard Gazette from 2017 about this longitudinal study its findings are just quote that back here that close relationships more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents help to delay mental and physical decline. Yeah. better predictors of long and happy lives than social class IQ or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner city participants that were added later into the study, this was the largest category from this core regrets that you found. am I quoting that correctly? Yes, there was a story that you shared of one of these people that filled out your survey and that you worked with talk to her and coached her through a process. Tell us about that? 


Dan Pink  20:31  

Well, there are there are a few people I mean, what you see with connection regrets is that people have a relationship or perhaps should have had a relationship that was intact, and it suddenly starts drifting apart. Very few of the relationships that came apart came apart in dramatic ways that most of them can’t part in slow, almost invisible ways. And don’t in one case, there was a there’s a woman who had a very, very close friend in college, and they graduated from college, and they were still pretty friendly. And over time, they began to drift apart. And this went on for years, nobody wanted to reach out, they felt that reaching out would feel awkward, and the other side wouldn’t care. And one of the things that we know from the experience of all these people who have submitted connection regrets and tried to do something about them, not to mention, what we know from a pile of research, is that we’re wrong about that. We were worried that it’s going to feel awkward when we reach out, but it feels less awkward than we expect. And we worry that other people aren’t going to appreciate our overtures, when in fact, they almost always do.


Greg McKeown  21:31  

You quote five words from one of the leaders of the grant, George Furlan, tell us what he said. He said, happiness is love full stop, he worked as the leader of that longitudinal study for 30 years. I mean, that’s pretty amazing, right? 30 years, you’re leading this one project, and you’re not the only leader of it. I mean, that tells you about the importance of this project as a whole.


Dan Pink  21:54  

It’s a pretty amazing project. I mean, the amount of research that they did, and the kinds of things that they found from people and looked at things like IQ, they looked at things even like physical well being, and that those things ended up mattering a lot less than anybody expected. When we think about our lives, what gives it wholeness or other people, and when those relationships come apart, it feels bad. And when we believe that we’re responsible for those things coming apart, our instinct is not to reach out, because we think it’s going to be uncomfortable. And our instinct instead should be to reach out because what these regrets are doing, and this is why I think it’s so powerful is that these four core regrets, as I say, in the book, operate as a photographic negative of the good life. If we know what people regret the most. We can reverse that and know what they value the most. And what do we value we’ve been talking about some amount of stability, the chance to do something to learn and grow. And we want to have connection and love. That’s what it’s about. And I would imagine, Greg in your coaching, no matter who you’re coaching, ultimately, the coaching comes down to these kinds of things.


Greg McKeown  22:58  

This reminds me of a story from Thomas S. Monson, the former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and he was really known the world over for service for human connection. While he was a young man is in a church meeting and gets this feeling this prompting you to leave and go see someone who’s in hospital and he rushes out even before the meeting is over. Because he just keeps on feeling this and he drives rushes to the hospital. He runs down the hall, and a nurse meets him there. And he says, Oh, are you Tom Monson? Yes. He said, Oh, I’m so sorry. The patient died. He was calling for you. Before he did. When he sat down and just wept. That’s a connection, regret in inaction. And in that moment makes a decision, I will never not follow a prompting like that, no matter what, for the rest of my life.


Dan Pink  23:53  

He is learning from his regret. I have a story in the book of somebody who has a very similar Monson moment who had a friend who was seriously ill. And she wanted to call her friend, and she put off calling her friend. And when she heard her friend to take an even worse turn, she put it off a little longer. And she called and like Mr. Monson, the friend had passed. And she actually applied that lesson to two other friends. This is why regret, wow, it’s negative, it is instructive. It clarifies.


Greg McKeown  24:29  

There is no shame in admitting a mistake. Or after all, we’re surely only admitting we’re now wiser than we once were.


Dan Pink  24:37  

Well, let’s hope so. That’s arguably what it is. I’ll give you another takeaway that I really like which is your five concrete things to do? Yes. Is the failure resume that is literally number five on my list. It was exactly what I was about to do. So the failure resume is great. It’s an idea from Tina Seelig, who is a professor of practice at Stanford University, not at GSB where you’re from but engineering school. She says you should make Failure resume, which is a list of all of your screw ups and setback and mistakes. In doing that, I looked at over saying, Okay, what’s the lesson that I learned from each of these things, and I realized I’d been making the same mistake over and over that act was clarifying to me, it’s like, oh, my gosh, not learning anything from my mistakes, I keep making them over and over and over again. But what you need is you needed this very simple process of sensemaking, and less than extraction. And once I did that, it was transformative.


Greg McKeown  25:27  

I love the phrase sense-making that to me is different than even just drawing a lesson from it sense-making its meaning-making, what does this mean now and changing that meaning by thinking and pondering it, and so on? Now, let’s just go back to this failure resume. So when you say you made a failure resume, like exactly what did you do?


Dan Pink  25:48  

I took, okay, I took a Word document. Okay. All right. And in Word, there is a function called tables. Okay. And I made a table, and it was two columns. And in the left column, I wrote the thing that I’d screwed up, took this job, like this job was a total waste than the other one is like, Okay, what did I learn from it? And there were some cases where it’s like, okay, I don’t know what I learned from it. It’s like, maybe I just had bad luck. Maybe that wasn’t so much a failure, as it just was circumstance or something like that. But one of the areas that I flopped was sort of taking things on and not being fully committed, and not being fully committed to me was almost a guarantee of failure. Like, you might as well just not even do it if you’re not going to be fully committed to it. 


Greg McKeown  26:33  

What’s an example of that something that you took on without being fully committed?


Dan Pink  26:37  

There was a business venture that I tried as a spin-off to one of my books, and I didn’t really want to run a business, but I had a partner was a lovely guy. And it didn’t go anywhere. It was a total flop, I think a big part of it was is that I didn’t want to run this business. I didn’t had I had no interest in we had no interest in that. Yeah, I wasn’t committed to it, I was sort of paying attention in a half assed way, that became a very useful lesson, you got to go to the core and figure out what matters what’s essential, and what’s not. 


Greg McKeown  27:04  

You say that your regrets are a photographic negative. And I’m going to now say my words following that through a photographic negative to design a life that really matters. Yeah. That’s why to create a regrets resume, yes, it’s painful, but it’s data. It’s really rich data. Exactly. And if you use it, right, it becomes precise data for you to construct a life that is significant, that’s meaningful, that’s rich, that’s essential. That’s the whole idea. To me. That’s the mindset shift that you are trying to bring about. In the power of regrets.


Dan Pink  27:43  

Yeah, well said. I mean, I do think that this negative emotion gives us the pathway to a life well lived. And it’s not super complicated. And it’s not super complicated. What 16,000 People have told me is that there’s a relatively small set of things that really deeply matter to them.


Greg McKeown  28:05  

I think there is something so profound in the idea of not just admitting regret, but as you say, here, to write it down to list it, to think about it not to dwell and consumed with it. But to face it. 


Dan Pink  28:19  

The idea here is that looking backward, can help us move forward. But if you’re at the end of your life, there’s not much road left. Now, that said, just to be clear here, that when people get to sort of later in their life, what seems to happen is that even if they can’t do anything about their particularly regret, what they can do is transmit the lesson from that regret to other people. 


Greg McKeown  28:41  

But I wanted to end here on this do you have in the book, and it was based in a researcher, you’ll remember who the two narratives that one guy McAdams of Northwestern University.


Dan Pink  28:48  

And as luck would have it, you’re I’m wearing a sweatshirt from Northwestern right now.


Greg McKeown  28:54  

Perfect moment, tell us about what he found in that country.


Dan Pink  28:57  

It’s very interesting. Dan McAdams is a personality psychologist at Northwestern and he examines how narrative helps us form identity. And he says there are two reigning narratives in our lives. One of them is what he calls a contamination narrative. And one of those what he calls a redemption narrative. Contamination narrative is things go from good to bad, the redemption narrative is bad to good. That is that they are redeemed. And I think that regret is the ultimate redemption narrative that we can take this negativity and use it to charge forward and really at the heart of regret is narrative. We’re traveling in time and telling stories about the past. We’re looking to the future and telling stories about the future. And if we see our lives as a redemption narrative, that is if we see our lives saying you know what, things were bad, but I learned something from it, I redeemed it. And now I’m using that to go forward then I think we have healthy well adjusted lives. And what macadam says is very interesting as a as an immigrant to this country. Meg Adams has this notion that America is really built around redemption narratives that America story about itself is full of rich adaptive narratives.


Greg McKeown  30:01  

First of all, I love the contamination versus redemption. In the end, there is something deep in the culture of redemption. I think this ability to make mistakes, talk about it move forward, believing the good will eventually prevailed, I think is profound.


Dan Pink  30:18  

I think that America is best as a redemption narrative, we’re trying to become more perfect. And the way you become more perfect is by reckoning with your imperfections of the past. And I think that’s really important at a individual level. But I also think is important at a national level. And if we have a movement in this country that says, You know what, we’ve been great all the time, everything. What are you talking? We don’t need to reckon with any armor steaks, or any of the things that we did was wrong. What are you talking about? That’s anti American, that is dangerous,


Greg McKeown  30:51  

It seems to me there’s two extremes that we have to avoid, we have to avoid a sort of contamination story where we say no, because there is bad, Everything’s bad. And everything’s correct. Because every possible way, exact narrative, I think, is very dangerous. As a country. It’s dangerous as an idea. But so is the other extreme, exactly. Well described by you. Everything’s always been great. It’s like, yeah, what does that even mean? It’s the same problem, no regrets. There’s no regrets. Nothing’s bad. The Redemption stories in the middle, where you say, Yeah, this, this problems, but there’s hope.


Dan Pink  31:25  

Here’s the thing about redemption narratives, it’s healthy. The other approaches are not healthy. We can always go from imperfect to more perfect. That is health. Okay. That is Yes, oh, nations are healthy. That’s how individuals are healthy. 


Greg McKeown  31:44  

No, it’s absolutely true. And at any point, in the whole human system, that we have things that we just can’t talk about. Yeah, like, as soon as you have some families of origin have subjects that are so taboo, you can’t, it’s not you can’t talk about them, you can’t even talk about not being able to talk about them. And as soon as you have that you’re damning progress, you have to be able to talk about these things. And we that’s what the psychotherapy, literature and experience has taught us over the last 50 years. That’s the premise of almost all of the successful interventions are around the idea that if you create enough space and safety, to be able to talk about the complex thing, the uncomfortable emotion in enough space, you can start to unravel it within yourself. And then you can start to take better action as a result of it. And it seems to me that we’re now riffing on that, of course, at a societal level, but that’s really what you’re going for with the power of regret is creating of safety in your own world to take these actions. We’ve just talked about these little specific tools to make a beginning, so that you can unravel the regret and sort of, let’s say, knit it, weave it into something more meaningful into something that that makes something beautiful you have the raw materials to regret is a raw material. It’s not something to be pretended away. It’s not something to be devalued. It’s highly valuable, raw material that can be utilized into it literally into a life that really matters. I’ll give you the final word.


Dan Pink  33:22  

My final word is to be your Hallelujah chorus on that. Amen.


Greg McKeown  33:26  

Dan Pink. Thank you. And thank you really for being on the what’s essential podcast and thank you for every listener, thank you for being here. Really. Thank you for listening for being here again, for being a part of the what’s essential experience. One thing I’m going to offer for the first 10 people who, if you like this particular episode, go write a review of it, send your review with your address to info at Greg mcewen.com. And I will send you a copy of the power of regret from Dan Pink. That’s a simple way of saying thank you for being here in a small way to support this important book, which I’m sure will be again, a tremendous bestseller and a phenomenon for you, Dan.


Dan Pink  34:17  

Thank you, Greg. I appreciate that. The lovely gesture and appreciate this fascinating conversation


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


Greg McKeown


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