Learning to Deal with Missteps in Life
From time to time, I come across an article that addresses issues of concern to me as an ethics expert. The Problem With ‘No Regrets’ is one such piece.
In 2020, the author Daniel Pink launched the World Regret Survey, which asked more than 15,000 people in 105 countries, “How often do you look back on your life and wish you had done things differently?” Eighty-two percent said regret is at least an occasional part of their life; roughly 21 percent said they feel regret “all the time.” Only one percent said they never feel regret. Pink talks about his findings and provides useful information on dealing with regret in his new book.
Arthur C. Brooks, the author of an article in The Atlantic, suggests that if you’re of the “No regrets” school of life, you might think that having regrets is a pathway to unhappiness. As I address in my book on happiness and meaning, unhappiness is more a function of not leading an ethical life, meaning not treating others the way you wish to be treated (The Golden Rule) and not seeking true meaning in life.
This doesn’t mean you should never feel regret for something you have done. We all feel this way from time to time. The point is not to let it overwhelm you otherwise it will have a negative effect on your well-being. There are many situations that I have dealt with where I feel regret for something I said or did. The key for me is to apologize to anyone who may have been hurt by my words and actions and commit to not act the same way in the future.
Brooks maintains that regret doesn’t have to be left unmanaged. The trick is not to banish the bad feeling; it’s to acknowledge it and use it for learning and improvement. He also provides three signs that you are focusing on regrets. Simply stated, they are being haunted by past missteps, failing to forgive yourself for past regrets and moving on from them, and “collecting your diploma,” which means to dealing with regret, learning from it, and not repeating the same dumb behaviors that have negatively affected your quality of life.
Pink writes that there are different forms of regret and provides as an example, wishing you’d been kinder to your partner. He calls this a connection regret in which you lament behavior that harmed an important relationship, such as spoiling a romance.
I like how Pink introduces the idea of moral regrets, in which you violate your own values. For example, you may be unkind to a stranger or be oblivious to someone’s needs especially when it’s a loved one.
The key to effectively dealing with situations in which you feel regret is to not let it define you and not obsessing on past missteps. You need to move forward in your life, learn from your mistakes, and think before you act so you can avoid missteps before they happen.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on March 3, 2022. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.