In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Daniel Pink. Daniel is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including his latest, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward, published in February. His other books include the New York Times bestsellers When and A Whole New Mind — as well as the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. Dan’s books have won multiple awards, have been translated into 42 languages, and have sold millions of copies around the world. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family.
Everybody has regrets — it’s human. Understanding how regret works can help us make smarter decisions, perform better at work and school, and bring greater meaning to our lives. In this episode, 5-time NYT best-selling author, Daniel Pink, joins me to talk about the power of regret and how looking backward can actually move us forward in life. Daniel debunks the myth of the “no regrets” philosophy of life through his research in social psychology, neuroscience, and biology.
Questions I ask Daniel Pink:
- [2:37] How does one really conduct research on regret?
- [3:44] Are there were differences between the world product and the American product?
- [4:53] There are posters and tattoos around the world that say no regrets, so how is this a positive thing?
- [6:49] Are you saying that people make mistakes and learn from them?
- [7:42] How did you land on this particular topic?
- [11:44] Could you define what regret is and how it differs from disappointment and guilt?
- [16:51] Could you walk us through the four categories of regret: foundation, boldness, moral, and connection?
- [19:35] Does the demographic data show that older people have different regrets or bigger regrets than younger people?
- [22:41] How does the research you’ve done connect with or have a relationship with mental health?
- [25:49] Where can people learn more about you, your book, and your work?
More About Daniel Pink:
- Get a copy of his latest book — The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward
- Learn more about his work — DanPink.com
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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the duct tape marketing podcast is brought to you by business made simple hosted by Donald Miller and brought to you by the HubSpot podcast network business made simple, takes the mystery out of growing your business. A long time, listeners will know that Donald Miller’s been on this show at least a couple times. There’s a recent episode. I wanna point out how to make money with your current products, man, such an important lesson about leveraging what you’ve already done to get more from it. Listen to business made simple wherever you get your podcasts.
John Jantsch (00:45): Hello and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Daniel Pink. He is the author of five New York times, best sellers, including his latest, the power of regret, how looking backward moves us forward. His other books include the New York times best sellers win and a whole new mind, as well as the number one New York times, best sellers drive and to sell is human. His books have won multiple awards have been translated into 42 languages and have sold millions of copies around the world. He lives in DC with his family. So welcome to the show, Dan, I should say
Daniel Pink (01:23): Welcome back. Yeah, no I don’t. How many times is this now? John? It’s like five
John Jantsch (01:27): Or five. I’m go. I’m gonna, yeah, at least. I mean, like, I didn’t mention Johnny Bunco, but you know, you were
Daniel Pink (01:31):
John Jantsch (01:45): With you. That’s actually let’s I like that idea. Let’s not talk about your book then let’s just talk about politics in DC right now for the whole show.
Daniel Pink (01:52): Uh, I, Hey, go for it. Go for it. It is, you know, if you wanna bring tears to your audience’s eyes, that’s fine with me. It’s your show. Yeah,
John Jantsch (01:59): No, I will forego that, but some people may not know that you spent some time in politics and did some speech writing for at least one president, if not two.
Daniel Pink (02:09): Well, I have, I, I worked in the reason I live in Washington is that my wife and I came here as a very young people. I worked in politics. I sort of fell into becoming a speech writer. My wife was a litigator for the justice department, and then we both left those jobs, but we didn’t leave DC and ended up raising, um, ended up raising three kids here. DC is a lovely place to live. And the truth of the matter is that day to day, it is far less obsessed with politics and most people outside of the beltway think.
John Jantsch (02:37): Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree. So let’s, let’s get into the book regret, the power of regret you for most of your projects, you do a lot of research and you did something called the American regret project. I think you, I think I heard you talk about how does one really conduct research on regret?
Daniel Pink (02:53): Well, it’s a great question. And so actually there’s sort of three legs on which this book stands. One of them them is I looked at about 50 years of research that scientists did on this emotion of regret. And this is research done by developmental psychologists, uh, by social psychologists, by neuroscientists, by cognitive scientists and others. I also did, as you mentioned, the American regret project, which is just a gigantic public opinion survey, the largest public opinion survey of American attitudes about regret ever conducted to try to get some insights about this profoundly misunderstood emotion and then, but wait, there’s more. I also did a third piece of research, which is called the world regret survey, where I collected lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of regrets from all over the world. And so that, so I wanted, so that’s how I came out there. A lot of work involved trying to crack the code of this deeply misunderstood emotion.
John Jantsch (03:45): I’m curious, and you don’t have to answer this necessarily. I’m curious if there were differences between the world product and the American product. It’s an
Daniel Pink (03:52): Interesting question. And the answer is maybe yeah, and here’s why there, there are two different kinds of surveys. The American regret project was a public opinion survey. And so I can make very safe claims about, you know, are in America, are there demographic differences in regret? What are the sorts of things that people regret, et cetera, et cetera in the world, regret survey, it wasn’t a random sample. I just invited people around the world to submit a regret. Now I ended up with a lot of them. We now have a database of over 21,000 of them and my hunch. And I just wanna emphasize that it’s a hunch I’m willing to make certain claims about the American regret project and demographic differences and other things about American attitudes on regret, my hunch. And it’s just that is that looking at the 109 countries that were represented in the third piece of it, these regrets are pretty universal. Yeah. These regrets are pretty, a lot of ’em are pretty universal. Moral regrets are a little bit more complex because people have different notions about what it means to be moral. But overall there’s a kind of a stunning amount of universality to these regrets.
John Jantsch (04:53): Yeah. The human condition is the human condition. Yeah. Right.
Daniel Pink (04:55): Exactly. Exactly.
John Jantsch (04:57): So let’s get this out of the way. There are posters and tattoos around the world.
Daniel Pink (05:06): Well, I mean, no regrets is no regrets as a philosophy of life is not a particularly good idea for at least two reasons. I mean, truly one is that you you’re leaving a lot of capacity on the table and two you’re kidding yourself. Otherwise is a great idea. Cause because, because here’s what we know. Here’s what we know again, going to that first leg of this stool. Here’s what we know about regret from 50 years of of research. Everybody has regrets. It’s a universal emotion that, that everybody has regrets. Uh, truly the only people who don’t have regrets are people with some kind of problem, uh, sociopaths or people with brain damage or gen degenerative diseases or brain lesions that is like not having regrets is a sign of a disorder. Or it’s also a sign of that. You could be five years old too, cuz your brain hasn’t developed.
Daniel Pink (05:47): But the point is that not having regrets is a sign of a brain that isn’t fully mature and isn’t working properly. So that’s kind of weird, right? Cause I don’t, you know, you were joking around about, Hey, let’s have this fun conversation about regret and here’s the thing I don’t like regret. It doesn’t feel good. Yeah. I don’t like it. But here’s the thing. This unpleasant emotion is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. It’s one of the most common emotions that human beings have. And so the question then becomes if something that’s so widespread, why you have this unpleasant thing, that’s widespread why and the answer is cause it’s useful if we treat it right and we haven’t been treating it. Right. And when we treat it right, not ignoring our regrets, like those ridiculous, no regrets posters and not wallowing in our regrets, but confronting ’em there’s evidence that confronting your regrets properly can help you become a better negotiator, a better strategist, uh, think more clearly avoid cognitive biases, find greater meaning in life, solve problems, faster, solve problems, more elegantly. There’s a whole array of benefits if we treat it right.
John Jantsch (06:49): Well, so in some ways you’re saying it’s like mistakes, did we learn from it? Right. I mean, is that kind of what
Daniel Pink (06:56): We’re saying? Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, so, but did, but let’s push that a little bit further. Okay. So what we want, you know, everybody makes mistakes, errors has failures. The question then becomes what do you do with them? And the idea that in the face of bad choices, in the face of stupid decisions and indecisions, you should simply never look backward. Ah, it’s in the past, it doesn’t matter or say, I don’t wanna deal with that. Cuz that makes me feel bad. And I only wanna be positive. That’s a bad idea. What we know is that if we treat a regret systematically, we can learn and grow. And so what’s perverse yeah. About this no regrets philosophy. And you mentioned people with tattoos that say no regrets, no one, but you might as well get a tattoo. This is no learning.
John Jantsch (07:42): Yeah. So I want to veer here for a minute. I’m curious how you, I mean you’ve written a pretty eclectic set of books. I’m kind of curious how you find a topic that you say I’m gonna write a book about this and then how you landed on this particular topic.
Daniel Pink (07:57): Well, in general, I have to be really interested in the topic that was really, you know, this, you know, this John writing a book is a giant pain in the ass. You know, this it’s hard, it’s hard. Okay. It’s really hard. So you gotta pick something that you really are interested in and really care about deeply. And that is truly not most things. I mean, truly it’s like it’s most things I do writing a book about. It would be like a form of punishment for a white collar crime, you know,
Daniel Pink (08:42): You know, I’d always thought of myself as this like young guy. And all of a sudden I realized I’ve been doing this for TW this book writing thing for 20 years, I had kids graduating from college, like what the hell’s going on. And so I had room to look back and, and as I look back, as many people do, I said, ah, if only I had done that or if only I hadn’t done that and I realized I’d made some screws and mistakes and things and I wanted to make sense of it. And the curious thing though, was when I came back and started, when I very sheep started talking to people about these, my regrets, instead of people recoiling in the way that I kind of expected people leaned in, they wanted to talk about it and that’s, and that was, it was very intriguing.
Daniel Pink (09:21): And so what I ended up doing to your question about books, I was actually working on a totally different book at the time when I started think, when I started encountering this, I was working on, I had a contract for an entirely different book, a book that had nothing to do with this. And I put it aside for nearly two months and I started doing some basic research on regret and ended up writing a brand new, maybe 30 page book proposal for an entirely new book and went to my editor and publisher and said, Hey, I know I’ve contractually obligated to write a book about X, but I think this book about Y that is regret is way better. And let me try to make the case to you that this is a better book. This is a book that I’m, that I like, I feel in some ways compelled to write
John Jantsch (10:07): And, and you of course said, can I keep the advance on the other book for a while too?
Daniel Pink (10:11): Yeah, what
John Jantsch (10:12): We did, we just swapped
Daniel Pink (10:13): It out, swapped it out, you know? Yeah, yeah. We just swapped it out. We just said, okay, so don’t do book, don’t do that original book, do this book. And you know, as long as you give us words in English that we can put on pages, we’ll be reasonably happy.
John Jantsch (10:27): It’ll all come out in the wash.
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John Jantsch (11:44): I bet you, some people struggle with like, what is regret. Exactly. Yeah. And I know I’ve had the advantage of hearing you talk about this book at, at a conference I attended and it was, I thought, thought it was interesting that you talked about disappointment and guilt and that’s not regret. And so I wonder if we could kind of sum that up for us.
Daniel Pink (12:00): Yeah. But that’s an important, that’s important. It’s important to understand what this emotion is. So let’s talk about, let’s talk about difference between regret and disappointment. What make triggers regret, what makes an emotion regret and not something else is typically, well, there’s a few things, but at the core of it is agency. That is regret is your fault. Regret is your fault. I’ll give you an example. All right. I li as you mentioned, I live here in Washington, DC. And as we speak here on a very overcast and steamy July day here in the nation’s capital are base. I’m a sports fan and I’m a Washington sports fan. The Washington nationals baseball team have the worst record in the major leagues. The Washington BA Washington nationals have won 32% of their games this season. I mean, in baseball. That’s unbelievable. All right. Okay. So can I, so, and I’m a fan, do I re I’m disappointed about that?
Daniel Pink (12:54): Right? Because I care. Okay. For whatever weird reason I care, whether the nationals win or lose, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. The nationals aren’t gonna care, but if nationals lose, I feel bad. Right. But I can’t feel regret about that, cuz I’m not playing. I’m not managing the team. I don’t own the team. All right. So it’s not my fault. And so regret is our fault. Now let’s talk about guilt. Cause I think that’s another really good one. And let’s even talk about shame while we’re at it. Okay. So guilt to me is a subset of regret. Guilt is a guilt is your fault. I did something wrong and I have people in my database. I bullied somebody. I cheated on my spouse. I swindled a business partner and I feel guilty about that. All right. So guilt is a form of regret.
Daniel Pink (13:35): It’s a subset of regret. It’s essentially a moral regret typically from an action. But shame is very different. Shame is guilt is I did a bad thing. Shame is I’m a bad person. And shame is pretty debilitating, right? If you know, if you make a, if you do something and this is a big problem, why people shy away from regret? It’s like when we make a mistake, we say, oh, I screwed up that decision over there. Therefore I’m an complete idiot. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m the worst person in the world. We make these universe. We make these sort of broad lifetime attribution based on a single action. So, so shame is very debilitating. Guilt is a form of regret and disappointment is simply feeling bad about something. That’s not your fault. I mean, again, I’ll give you an even simpler example. Okay.
Daniel Pink (14:17): So it looks like, so I was, um, so I was thinking about my exercise plan for the rest of the day. And it turns out here in Washington, DC, it at about five o’clock there’s a 100% chance of thunderstorms. Okay. So here’s the thing I could be. I can’t regret that it’s going to rain. Right? If it’s five o’clock and I wanna go outside and exercise, I can’t say, oh, I regret that it’s raining. All right. I can be disappointed in that. But if I have to go to the walk to the grocery store and I don’t bring an, and I forget to bring an umbrella, I can regret that. Cuz that’s my fault.
John Jantsch (14:45):
Daniel Pink (14:51): Yeah. You know what? I can’t run that early in the morning.
John Jantsch (14:54): So it’s interesting is I heard you talk about the debilitating aspect of shame. I can see people regretting that they made a poor business decision and that shaming them to the point where they won’t ever go out on a limb and make a decision again.
Daniel Pink (15:09): They’re exactly right. You’re absolutely right. And this is the, then this is, and that’s because people don’t know how to contend with that regret. Right? So, so they go the opposite direction of the no regrets, the no regrets brigade, they wallow in it. They ruminate over it. What you have to do is you have to the initial step here when you make a mistake or screw up is that you there’s a whole process that you can go through. But it really begins with something called self compassion, which is treating yourself with kindness rather than contempt. The person you’re describing there will often say to him or herself, their self talk will be brutal. You know, swearing it themselves, lacerating themselves. Don’t do, they would never talk to anybody else that way. So don’t talk to yourself that way. You don’t have to treat yourself better than anybody else, but you don’t need to treat yourself worse than anybody else. There’s no evidence that let lacerating self-criticism is in a, is a performance enhancer. Seriously, none. Zero zilch. Yeah. What you wanna do is treat yourself with kindness rather than contempt recognize that mistakes are part of the human condition. And as we were talking about earlier, that it’s a moment in your life, not the full measure of your life. And when we do that, we can open the way to making sense of our regrets and drawing lessons from them.
John Jantsch (16:17): So, so for all those people that have the poster or the tattoo we could, we can still be no regrets, just no regrets. I’m wallowing in. How’s that?
Daniel Pink (16:25): Okay. That’s fair. That’s fair. Yeah. That’s fair. I mean that’s, that’s actually a good, that’s a good way to, that’s a good way to do it again. What we have here is what we have here is this kind of performative courage of no regrets. We think that, I mean, people do it in this very assertive, bold way, right? They say no regrets. They announce it. They proclaim it. They enshrined it on their bodies as a show of courage. But that’s not what courage is John. I mean, courage is looking your regrets in the eye and doing something about that. Yeah.
John Jantsch (16:52): Yeah. Turns out there are categories of regret and you can talk about the types foundation, boldness moral and connection. But I have a favorite can I have, is it okay to have a favorite kind? So, and you can unpack what each of those are if you wish. But my favorite is boldness. I mean, I think,
Daniel Pink (17:07): Well, no surprise. Yeah.
John Jantsch (17:09): You know, so, so maybe, maybe give us a really quick definition of those four types and then we can get into yeah.
Daniel Pink (17:14): Yeah. So
John Jantsch (17:15): We talked diving into boldness.
Daniel Pink (17:17): We talked about moral regret are if only had done the right thing, right? So you’re at a juncture. You can do the right thing. You can do the wrong thing. You do the wrong thing. Most of us regret it because most of us are good and want to be good connection. Regrets have only had reached out. These are regrets about relationships that come apart. People want to do something, but they don’t. And it drifts apart. Even more foundation regrets are small decisions early in life that accumulate to nasty consequences. Later in life, I spent too much in save too little. I didn’t take care of my health. I didn’t work hard enough in school. And then finally boldness regrets, which are you’re at, at a juncture. You can play it safe. You can take the chance. And when people don’t take the chance, not always, but a lot of the time they regret it and it doesn’t matter the domain of life, but it could be asking somebody out on a date, it could be traveling. It could be speaking up or, and why I’m not surprised this comes into your world. Is it not starting a business?
John Jantsch (18:09): Yeah, yeah. Or not, you know, not taking a bold move. I mean, I look at my business and I can clearly think about maybe this is in comparison. You know, some other people that maybe started when I did or do a similar thing that, that I look at and go, wow, if I’d have like gone for it in a certain way, I’d be there too. But I have where I will say I have no regrets. I love where I am
Daniel Pink (18:35): I think we all do. And I think that’s healthy. Yeah. Yeah. That’s the thing. So the question is John, what do you do with that? Okay. This is perfect example. I feel exactly the same way. Yeah. All right. So I, there were so many times in my life when I could have been Boulder. So here’s what I can do. I can go back there and say, you know what? There were times in my life when I couldn’t have been Boulder and thinking about that right now makes me a little uncomfortable. So I’m gonna plug my ears and never con consider it again. Bad idea. Or I can say, as we were talking about earlier, oh my God. There were times when I could have been Boulder. I’m such an idiot. I’m a moron. I just don’t know what I’m doing. That’s a bad idea too. What I should do is say, huh? What’s that telling me? That’s telling me, well, it’s telling me a few things. Number one. It’s or let’s say you and I similarly situated what it’s telling us, John is this one we value boldness. Yeah. Right? Yeah. Not everybody has to value boldness, but you it’s clarifying what we value and it’s instructing us and it’s instructing us to say, Hey, you know what, next time around, go
John Jantsch (19:34): For it. Take a bigger shot.
Daniel Pink (19:46): This is a B. Okay. So, so in the quantitative survey, the American the public opinion survey, I had a very large sample in order to try to make determinations like this. Do men have different regrets than women do?
John Jantsch (19:57): Right?
Daniel Pink (19:58): People with lots of formal education have different regrets from people with less formal etcetera, et cetera. There were not that many demographic differences except on this dimension, which is age. And it’s a huge difference. And it’s this, when we are young, we tend to have equal numbers of regrets, of action and inaction, equal numbers of regrets about what we did and what we didn’t do. But as we age and not even age that much mm-hmm
John Jantsch (21:03): Yeah. I think it’s EE comings line. I sort of remembering is we regret the sins of omission rather than the sins of commission, you know, as we get older,
Daniel Pink (21:14): Yeah. But the thing about that is that’s not only, you know, that’s like, that might make intuitive sense for people, but we have a, but I have data from my own survey showing this very clearly. It’s basically the only demographic difference that I’m willing to like go to the ramp arts to defend because the finding was so strong, but it’s also very consistent with what 50 years, the 50 years of existing research are shown us. But
John Jantsch (21:35): I think it probably comes down to, we start thinking and I’m running out of time.
Daniel Pink (21:44): That could be, I think that’s part of it. I think the other thing is that action regrets. We can resolve over time in some way. So we can say, so if I bullied somebody or if I hurt somebody or, you know, cheated somebody, I can go and like apologize or make amends or make restitution. There are times where you can take some of the psychological sting out of a regret by finding the silver lining in it. So it’s so if I said, I mean, this is, you know, I said, you know, one point in my life, I thought about moving to California. I don’t regret not doing that. But suppose that I did, I, I said, if only I moved to California, right. And I can say, well, I lived in Washington. Well, at least I was able to send my kids to a great school. You know, I can find a silver lining in, I can find a silver lining in that, but in action regrets, you can’t undo. You can’t find a silver lining. That’s why they nod us. Whereas one poet says they lay eggs under our skin, which I think is a lovely and somewhat creepy way to put it. Yeah.
John Jantsch (22:41): Yeah.
Daniel Pink (23:01): It’s an interesting question. Okay. So I think there’s some new, I think there’s some nuance to it. Yeah. Okay. So I think that the, I think mental health is a pretty significant issue. However, this is my view. Okay. And I just wanna emphasize I’m not a physician, right? I think that it is a little bit less of a medical issue than we make it out to be. And what I mean by that is that what I think the big issue here is that we haven’t taught people how to deal with negative emotions. Yeah. What we’ve sold them, a bill of goods we’ve said you should always be positive. And we don’t, and our lives are not uniformly positive and negative emotions have a place. We just haven’t taught people to deal with them. And so I think that we have a mental health crisis, perhaps even a me, you know, medical problem when people get so consumed by their regrets and their negative emotions that they, it ends up metastasizing to anxiety, depression, or something that is actually a medical ailment.
Daniel Pink (24:03): But, you know, but I don’t think that that every negative emotion is not a mental health crisis. It can become a mental health crisis. If we don’t tell people the truth, that negative emotions are part of life. That negative emotions are instructive. That negative emotions are in fact, in some ways more instructive than positive emotions and that we can deal with them in a systematic way. And when we deal with them in a systematic way, we can live better and work smarter. And so I, I think that among the young people, among younger people that this mental health problems we’re seeing in younger people are because they’ve somehow gotten the message from us that they need to be positive all the time. Yeah. And then, because they’re human beings, they sometimes don’t feel positive. They feel sad. They feel regret. They feel fear. They feel these negative emotions and they look around and say, oh my God, everybody else is so perfect. There must be something wrong with me. And I don’t know what to do with this feeling. And I think that’s the problem. We need to equip people to deal with negative emotions, harness them as a force for progress.
John Jantsch (25:04): So I regret that I didn’t lean in a lot harder to my baseball career, but it sounds to me like, uh, maybe I could still get a tryout with the NATS.
Daniel Pink (25:11): Well, yeah. This year you could, and you know, this year, this year you could, but that’s an interesting, that’s an interesting thing that, you know, it’s like the question then becomes like, what do you do with that kind of regret? Cuz that’s not an uncommon regret. Yeah. Yeah. I have a lot of sports related regrets, actually, John. And so, so the things like, okay, are you going to get an MLB contract? Probably not. Okay. But the question is like, what is it about that that you regret not leaning into? So you felt like, okay, I didn’t push myself to the hardest I could push myself. You know, I didn’t take a, I didn’t take a big shot and there are plenty of time and plenty of other realms in which you can push yourself hard and you can take a, you can take a big shot.
John Jantsch (25:47): Awesome. Always great catching up with you. Dan tell people where they can connect with you and the ways that you want to. And obviously the books are available everywhere you
Daniel Pink (25:55): Buy books. Yeah. The best other starting point is my website, which is Dan pink.com, D a N P I nnk.com. And there’s a newsletter. There are a lot of free resources, all the books, all, you know, unicorns, rainbows, cotton candy for everyone, all kinds of good stuff
John Jantsch (26:10): And no regrets posters.
Daniel Pink (26:20): All right, John. Thanks for having me back. Look forward to my bagel next time. Hey,
John Jantsch (26:24): And one final thing before you go, you know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the marketing strategy assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment.co not.com.co check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketingassessment.co I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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