In the course of writing eight books, Dan Pink has offered tons of easy, actionable tips to help readers become happier, more successful human beings. That's probably why many of them are bestsellers. But his latest covers a topic that's inherently a lot more gloomy than previous titles on intrinsic motivation and the power of crafty scheduling.
His latest, The Power of Regret, is just what the title suggests. In it, Pink delves into the universal human emotion of regret, arguing that while it's not at all a pleasant feeling, it is both an inescapable and a useful one.
My colleague Christine Lagorio-Chafkin interviewed Pink for a full rundown of the book's lessons for business owners for Inc.'s What I Know podcast. For a quick example of how to leverage regret to improve your life, I point you to the latest newsletter of Pink's fellow author Steven Johnson.
The no-fun exercise that will radically improve your life.
In it, Johnson asks Pink to elaborate on ways we can all harness the power of regret, and Pink responds with a doozy: the failure resume. Is it as pleasant as much of his previous advice? Not at all. In fact, it sounds downright miserable. But Pink insists the exercise is worth the pain, as it helps us come to terms with our biggest missteps and uncover repeated decision-making mistakes that lead us astray.
The idea was inspired by Stanford professor Tina Seelig and involves basically writing down in a systematic way all the biggest screw-ups in your life. (See why I didn't promise good times?)
Here's how Pink explains it: "Many of us labor endlessly on our resumes, scrubbing and buffing them until they shine. That's cool. The marketing department has a job to do. But the research and development department is feeling a little left out. So, when you're done Turtle-Waxing your LinkedIn Profile, try Tina's technique. Compile of all your failures, screw-ups, missteps, and blunders. List them in a single column on a spreadsheet or document. Then next to each flub, write -- in a single sentence -- the lesson you learned from it."
What will this painful exercise accomplish? Two main things, according to Pink. First, sometimes your mistakes will have led to no clear lessons learned. You made the best decision you could with the information available at the time. Sometimes we roll the dice and lose. Such is life among us fallen mortals.
That's a harsh reality, but facing it squarely may be "a relief -- a way to move forward, unburdened by the setback and better informed about the vicissitudes of life," Pink writes. Acknowledging that there's nothing you would have done differently can help you forgive yourself your failures.
And what about those failures and regrets for which you can identify a solid lesson learned? Often, Pink notes, you'll see patterns of thinking emerge that account for multiple mistakes on your list. Once you see what you keep doing wrong again and again, you'll be better armed to quit doing it again in the future.
"Compiling the failure resume, I discovered that at the core of many of the screw-ups were the same two decision-making mistakes. The failure resume surfaced the two mega-errors Past Dan had been making, which helped Future Dan avoid them," Pink reports of his own experience with this exercise.
The spoils go to the bold.
I am willing to bet quite a lot of money that making a mammoth list of all your biggest failures isn't at the top of your list of fun ways to spend an afternoon. But as is often the case in life, it's the toughest actions that bear the biggest rewards.
Pink makes a persuasive case that unpleasant as it might sound, a failure resume is one of the best tools out there to forgive yourself your failures and learn from your past mistakes. Both of which are likely to make for a far happier and more successful future.