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Regret Is Painful. Here’s How to Harness It

You might even find regret leads to some new insights

and actions as you read a guest post courtesy of

NY Times

By Jancee Dunn
Published Aug. 25, 2023
Updated Aug. 28, 2023

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Years ago, when I was a music reporter, I visited
Stevie Nicks at her home in Los Angeles. It was a
dream assignment: We spent hours in her closet,
trying on outfits. We paged through her diary
together. As dusk approached, she offered to have
me stay in her guest room.

I said no, but do you know why? Because she was a
“night bird” who slept until lunchtime, and I
was worried that I’d wake up, as usual, at dawn.
What would I do for six hours?

Every once in a while, I still think: I should have
spent the night at Stevie Nicks’s house.

Regret, a negative emotion that pops up when you
wish you had done something differently, can range
from somewhat inconsequential (like never learning
an instrument or turning down a rock star) to
significant (not making amends before someone

Daniel Pink, author of “The Power of Regret: How
Looking Backward Moves Us Forward,” surveyed over
4,000 Americans about their relationship with the
emotion. He found that regrets fall into four main
themes: We regret failing to reach out to others;
lapses in moral judgment; incremental choices that
result in big consequences — like smoking or
working too much; and holding back when we should
have been bolder.

The emotion is common and often painful, Pink
explained, but it can also be a source of insight
and growth. “We want to use our regrets as
data,” he said, adding that thinking about them
“can clarify what we value most in life.”

Mulling over our regrets can also “provide a
template for our future actions,” said Robin
Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson
University who studies the subject.

To help us reckon with our regrets, I asked Pink
and Dr. Kowalski for a few tips.

Look inward, outward and forward.
When we make mistakes, “we treat ourselves much
more cruelly than we treat anybody else,” Pink
said. Instead, try to look inward and talk to
yourself the way you would a loved one. If your
friend regretted a terrible boyfriend, for example,
you’d probably extend compassion, Pink said.

Then, look outward. Pink suggests confiding in
someone you trust, or forming a “regret
circle,” in which you trade experiences with
other people. Sharing your regrets can take away
the sting, he said, and helps you realize that
“everyone has them, and you feel less terrible
and less singular.”

There’s some evidence that writing about a
negative experience, like regret, for 15 minutes a
day for three consecutive days can help to
“defang it,” Pink said.

Then try looking forward, Pink said. This involves
asking yourself (and, if you’d like, writing
down): What lessons can I draw from this regret?
How can I apply them to my life going forward?

Figure out if you can still do something about it.
When Dr. Kowalski asked people in two studies what
they would tell their younger selves, she found
that some regrets could still be corrected
(“cherish your family” or “put money in a
saving account”). Can you change course, or make

In some cases, a redo isn’t possible. But if
you’re consumed with regret and collateral
emotions like anger, disappointment and despair,
and it’s getting in the way of your daily life,
consider talking to a counselor, Dr. Kowalski said.

Reframe a regret by ‘at least-ing’ it.
When you’re overcome with regret about an action
you did or did not take, Pink said to switch your
thinking from “if only” to “at least.” In
the case of Stevie Nicks, I’ve switched from
“if only I’d stayed over at her house” to
“at least I tried on one of her velvet capes and
twirled in her closet.” That’s a pretty cool
“at least.”


Will you find the lessons in your regrets?

Can you orchestrate a do-over or make amends with

yourself or others?

See how this may help build happy, sexy love that lasts?

Hadley Finch

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