Regrets? How to Manage Them

By Shlomo Maital

    In Frank Sinatra’s memorable 1969 song My Way,  Sinatra sings,  “regrets..I’ve had a few…but then again, too few to mention”. 

    Ol’ Blue Eyes, as he was known, was a great singer and actor, but he was not one to mope over regrets.  In contrast, many of us are.  I have quite a few, mostly related to becoming an economist, instead of a more meaningful profession.

     This is why I listened avidly to the TED podcast interviewing Daniel Pink.

      “Over the past two years, author Daniel H. Pink has collected a trove of more than 16,000 regrets from people in 105 countries in an effort to better understand this mysterious emotion.”  *   

      Pink has some strong practical advice for how to manage regrets.  

      It all boils down to the same four core regrets, he says, categorizing the 16,000 regrets he collected from people all over the world.

      Foundation regrets:   I did not save enough. I did not plan retirement well enough. I did not take care of my health. I did not work out and stay fit.  These are regrets related to how we acted in the present, to have a better future. 

      Moral regrets:  I stole. I cheated on exams. I lied.  I did things that were wrong, unethical.  Pink recounts how some people told him they bitterly regrated stealing a candy bar from a corner store 60 years earlier.  It gnaws at their consciences.

       Boldness regrets:  I should have gone for it. I should have taken the risk.  I should have started a business, even if would have failed.   People regret NOT taking chances, but rarely regret chances they DID take even when it did not work out.

        Connection regrets:  I should have asked her out but was afraid.  I should have called my aunt.  I should have called my colleague and apologized for hard words.  Pink has strong advice in this realm.  If you are debating, should I make contact or not?  Should I connect or try to?  You have already answered the question. You should.  Very few people regret making a contact, saying I’m sorry, asking how are you?   Many do regret not doing so.  If you are debating – do it.

      And Pink has a method that I use and embrace; in fact, I’ve used it long before hearing Pink.  I call it, the ‘back from the future’ method.

       When considering whether or not to do something – potentially creating a lifelong regret —  imagine that you do it, and then, picture yourself in 10 years, looking back. Back from the future.

      How will you feel about your decision?  Will you have a painful regret? This is what Pink calls self-distancing.  Get yourself up on the balcony, above yourself, your ego.  Look at it from outside yourself, and from the vantage of years in the future.  

       Will you think about it and have regrets?  I should have acted differently?  If so,  act differently.  Act now, so that you do not have regrets in the future.

       Believe me,  regrets are painful.  Look at all the regrets Pink collected, effortlessly.  Very few of us are Sinatra.   Best to forestall them rather than create them.