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October 12, 2023

I Might Regret Writing This Blog 

Melanie Bell

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I'd been traveling and was tired. I was looking at my personal laptop in bed… and I dropped it. My laptop had fallen other times, with no consequences to speak of. But recently it had been having every issue under the sun. The battery overheated and had to be replaced. One of the USB ports stopped working. The charging cord broke.

Guess what? This time the power button broke as soon as it hit the floor. It flashed on and off on sleep mode, and I couldn't power it either on or off. Here I was in Copenhagen, Denmark, spending some of the time I'd planned to sightsee… taking my computer in to the shop.

Categorizing Regrets

In his book "The Power of Regret," Daniel H. Pink writes about the upside of one of our less pleasant emotions, regret. Regrets are common and painful, but they can also be surprisingly motivating.

The Power of Regret cover of book by Daniel H Pink. Title in yellow block capitals on turquoise background, Also shows screwed up sheet of paper.

Pink conducted research on regret and determined from his very sizeable surveys that regrets can be categorized depending on their focus, rather than on their content.

For example, one person might regret not going to university while another regrets not proposing to a girlfriend – but both are essentially regretting a lack of boldness.

Many regrets focus on actions not taken, though some focus on deeds done. In each case, we can take inspiration from our regrets to live, in the future, in ways that more fully reflect our desires.

At Least…

In the case of actions taken, Pink says that we can make efforts to undo their damage if possible. My poor laptop is now sitting in a shop in the U.K., waiting for diagnosis and repair. Whether it gets up and running again, or whether I end up needing to buy a new laptop, I'll be cautious about when I use it and where I put it!

We can also make ourselves better with "at least" statements – acknowledging to ourselves that the outcome could have been worse. At least I had my work laptop with me. At least I hadn't broken it on my previous trip, where it was my one and only computer. And at least I had saved most of my important documents to the cloud so was able to access them there.

I'm a little clumsy. I probably always will be. But I can strive to be more mindful in the future to take care of my technology, rather than thoughtlessly hauling it around.

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To Regret Is Human

In the 1980s cartoon "The Last Unicorn" (based on Peter S. Beagle's novel), a unicorn is transformed into a human, falls in love, and is eventually returned to her original form. She gains an appreciation of human emotions, including the bittersweet ones.

In the end, she says to the magician responsible for the transformation, "No unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret." Then, rather than getting angry at the magician, she thanks him.

Pink writes that regret makes us human. And with its power to impact our future choices, it makes us better.

Listen to Our "Power of Regret" Book Insight

We review the best new business books and the tested classics in our monthly Book Insights, available as text or as 15-minute audio recordings.

So, if you're a Mind Tools Club member or corporate user, listen to the "Power of Regret" Book Insight now!

If you haven't already signed up, join the Mind Tools Club and gain access to our 2,400+ resources, including 390+ Book Insights. For corporate licensing, ask for a demo with one of our team.

Melanie Bell

About the Author

Melanie has worked as a writer, freelance and in-house editor, university writing instructor, and language teacher. She is the author of a short story collection, "Dream Signs," and a nonfiction book, "The Modern Enneagram." Melanie has written for several publications including Huffington Post, Cicada, and Contrary Magazine. And she is a certified teacher of the Enneagram, a personality typology that illuminates people's core motivations.

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