Regret. We’ve all experienced it. It’s not what you’d call a pleasant emotion. It also tends to promote rumination and going over and over what we wished we had done differently. This is a similar process of counterfactual thinking that is common with other emotions such as guilt and shame.
For people who work in conflict resolution and coaching, we tend to promote future-focused thinking and planning. We know that rehashing the past and dwelling on things we can no longer change isn’t usually helpful.
However, as Pink argues, there’s a difference between rumination and reflection. Pink argues that a life with no regrets is a life without reflection. In this book, Pink explains how we can do regret properly. How we can experience the pain that comes with it but turn that into a lesson for the future.
Instead of the mantra of “no regrets”, Pink’s revised version might be “no regrets without reflection” (which is, admittedly, a few extra words to tattoo on your forearm)!
There are some striking parallels between Pink’s approach to regret and reflective learning and what I discovered in my work on conflict stories. In my book Conflict Coaching Fundamentals: Working with Conflict Stories, I suggest that one of the reasons tragedy is a helpful genre for conflict stories because the purpose of tragedy is “learning through suffering”. In the same way, Pink suggests that we can learn through the pain of regret, to build a better future.
This book is another important contribution to recent work recognising that negative emotions are not something we want to avoid altogether. It demonstrates the positive power of negative emotions, when worked with in a constructive way.