This 3-Step Method Will Help You Deal With Regrets In A Healthy Way
According to New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink, a "no regrets" philosophy is a nonsensical, and frankly unhealthy, way to live. "What I'm trying to do is get rid of the idea that we should be relentlessly positive all the time, that we should ignore anything that's negative, and that we should relentlessly look forward," he says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Rather, regrets can be pretty valuable if you treat them properly: As Pink discusses in his most recent book, titled The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, learning from your mistakes can help you clarify what you value, make better decisions, and solve problems faster in the future.
So how do you deal with regrets in a healthy way, you ask? Pink has a go-to method: "I refined it into three steps," he says. "We can think of it as inward, outward, forward."
The first step, Pink says, is to reframe how you talk to yourself whenever you're faced with a regret. "The way we talk to ourselves is brutal," he says. "Most of us would never talk to another human being the way we talk to ourselves." When you make a mistake, it's so easy to tear yourself down, but Pink suggests implementing some self-compassion. It sounds cliché, but truly everyone makes mistakes—yet we tend to give others way more grace than we give ourselves.
"Reframe inward and treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt," Pink says. "Recognize that your missteps are part of the human condition, and that normalizes them."
Next, reach outward by vocalizing your regrets. "Disclosing our regrets unburdens them," he says. You might think that people will think less of you if you disclose your vulnerabilities, but it's important to get the words out of your head and into the atmosphere (or on paper, if you're partial to journaling or letter-writing).
See, when you disclose your regrets, you simultaneously make sense of them. "Emotions, by their very nature, are amorphous. When we write about them or talk about them, we convert that amorphousness into words, which are concrete and less menacing," Pink explains. In other words: Those looming, negative thoughts won't have as much power over you once you clearly define them.
Once you make sense of a regret, you're finally ready to draw lessons from it. "And the way we draw lessons from it is by getting some remove from it," notes Pink. In fact, research shows that "self-distancing" techniques can help you move forward faster. "The research shows very clearly that we're pretty bad at solving our own problems. We're better at solving other people's problems," says Pink. "So on some level, treat yourself like somebody else." For example, talk to yourself in the third person and create a narrative around what you have learned and how you'll grow from the experience.
"One of the [techniques] I really like is to place a phone call to the you of 10 years from now," he adds. "Because the you of 10 years from now knows what to do…I don't think you're going to care about what color bicycle you bought or what color car you bought. I think you are going to care about, 'Did I do the right thing? Did I take the risk that I could have taken?'" And those questions can help inform you about how to proceed.
By implementing Pink's three-step technique, you'll be able to normalize your regrets and deal with them in a healthy way—rather than wallowing in those negative emotions or ignoring them entirely. If wallowing and ignoring are on two ends of the spectrum, Pink says to stay closer to the middle: "Let's have a small tool kit to deal with negative emotions."
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.