Four core regrets in life
From an article by Behavioural Scientist and other sources
Everyone has regrets but why and how is regret triggered, and for whom? How do you get over it? Is there such a thing as good regret? And what role does regret play in how we understand our lives and shape them for the future?
In The Power of Regret, author Daniel Pink investigates these questions and offers readers a glimpse into the psychology of those moments that we often wish we had back. Based on his World Regret Survey, which has catalogued over 23,000 regrets from people around the globe, four core regrets emerge, and how regret, while painful in the moment, can help us move forward. Here are some insights:
First of all, regret is an emotion. It’s a negative emotion in that it’s an emotion that makes us feel worse, not better. And it’s an emotion that’s triggered when we think of something from our past and wish we had done something differently, not done something, taken an action, not taken an action. You travel back to the past, imagine the counter to what really happened, and then see the present day reconfigured because of the decision you made.
In the survey, we asked, “How often do you look back in your life and wish you had done something differently?” We found 83% say they do that, at least occasionally. It verifies how common this emotion is.
A big demographic difference was on age. It showed that when people are young - say, in their 20s - they have roughly equal numbers of regrets of action (what they did) and regrets of inaction (what they didn’t do). But as we age, as quickly as the 30s and certainly 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, the inaction regrets take over. Inaction regrets are, in general, about twice as prevalent as action regrets. As we get older, what really sticks with us are the regrets about what we didn’t do.
We believe that no one else has many regrets, and certainly if they did, they wouldn’t want to mention them. So we think that we should be that way too, even though we actually desperately want to talk about them - because talking about them is a way of relieving the burden. 32% of people in the survey agreed to share their email and opt in to be contacted. They said, “Not only do I want to share my regret with a stranger, but I’m going to give him my email address so he can talk to me more about the regret.” Again, people deeply want to talk about them. Talking about them is a way of making sense of those regrets and this could be a powerful tool for connection but it takes leadership.
I came up with four core regrets; foundation regret, boldness regret, moral regret, and connection regret from the survey.
I got to these after categorising regrets and then realising there was something deeper going on. For example, if you have somebody who regrets not studying abroad in college, that’s an education regret. Somebody who regrets not asking somebody out on a date, that’s a romance regret. Somebody who regrets not starting a business, that’s a career regret. But all those regrets are the same. Those are regrets about not taking the chance. Those are regrets about being at a juncture and choosing to play it safe rather than taking a chance. So if you have people who regret cheating on their spouse, that’s a romance regret. If you have people who regret cheating in school, that’s an education regret. You have people who regret cheating their business partner, that’s a career regret. But they’re all regrets about cheating. They’re all moral regrets.
So here is a summary of the four core regrets:
Foundation regrets. We experience foundation regrets when our health deteriorates, our financial situation makes life hard or our professional life is not as rewarding as we believed it would be. Examples include; 'If only I had a disciplined diet, I wouldn't have so many health problems today.", "If only I'd been more disciplined with my spending, I'd have more to show for my hard work over the years.", "If only I'd worked hard in my 20s, I wouldn't be in this dead end job today.". Foundation regrets arise from the failure to plan ahead, work hard, follow through and build a stable platform for life.
Boldness regrets. We experience boldness regrets when we play it too safe and are left wondering what could have been. Examples include; "If only I'd asked that girl out.", "If only I'd taken that trip before I had children.", "If only I'd started that business.". Boldness regrets arise from the failure to take full advantage of opportunities as a springboard into a potentially more fulfilled life.
Moral regrets. A moral regret stems from a lapse in judgment that haunts us as we age. Examples include; "I wish I hadn't cheated in a competition.", "I wish I'd been faithful to my wife.".
Connection regrets. We experience connection regret when we let great relationships drift and wait too long to reconnect and repair relationships. Common connection regrets include; "If only I'd reached out to my friend before she died of cancer.", "If only I'd been nicer to my mum when I was younger.", "If only I'd apologized to my son and mended our relationship sooner.". Connection regrets are the most common regret because when we get to the end of life, relationships matter most. As the lead researcher in the longest running examination of human flourishing said, "Happiness is love. Full stop.".
The good news is that regrets can spur us on to address them, change behaviour and build a life one is proud of. For example, with foundation regrets, you can change your diet, take up exercise, study. For connection regrets, unless the person has passed away or is unreachable, it’s a regret that’s reversible.
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From an article by Behavioural Scientist and other, 07/03/2023