Bestselling author Daniel Pink likes to explore big, weighty topics: he’s written books about good timing, what motivates us, and creativity. His latest book, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward , delves into what he believes is the most misunderstood and underappreciated human emotion. Pink studied six decades of research on regret through the lenses of social science, social psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. He also set up a World Regret Survey for people to share their regrets and received more than 20,000 submissions from more than 100 countries. Pink categorized the different types of regret that people reported. For instance, action regrets (“I over-hired during the pandemic”) versus inaction regrets (“I should’ve taken that other job that challenged me more”). He also shares valuable insights about how leaders should deal with their regrets, and how we can all use them to make smart resolutions for the year ahead.

Pink is the final guest for Season 3 of Microsoft’s WorkLab podcast, in which hosts Elise Hu and Tonya Mosley have conversations with economists, technologists, and researchers who explore data and insights into why and how work is changing.

Three big takeaways from this conversation:

  1. Attempting to always be positive and pursue a “no regrets” mindset can be counterproductive. “Negative emotions are helpful,” Pink says. “Fear helps us get out of a burning building. Grief helps us understand who we love and that we are loved. The one that I actually believe is most instructive is regret. By ignoring our regrets—by being relentlessly positive, by always looking forward, never looking backward—we are missing opportunities to learn, to grow, to contribute, and even to love.“

  2. Pink believes that examining our mistakes can be far more instructive than cataloging our successes. In fact, he encourages leaders to draft a failure resume. “Think about five of your big mistakes, screw-ups, and blunders,” he says. “List those in one column, then in the next column, list what lesson you learned. And then the third column, list what you’re going to do about it. It’s painful, but it’s very, very effective.”

  3. As you examine your regrets, Pink recommends you practice self-compassion and be as understanding of your own shortcomings as you would be of someone else’s. “This is not some kind of touchy-feely approach to things. Severe, lacerating self-criticism just doesn’t do anything to improve performance. To me, it’s actually kind of like internal virtue signaling. It’s like, ‘Look how tough I am. I’m beating up on myself.’ That’s nice, but you’re not getting any better. You’re just wasting your time.”

WorkLab is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of the experts we interview are their own and do not reflect Microsoft’s own research or opinions.

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Here’s a transcript of the Episode 8 conversation.

ELISE HU: This is WorkLab , the podcast from Microsoft. I’m your host, Elise Hu. On WorkLab , my co-host Tonya Mosley and I hear from leading thinkers on the future of work—economists, technologists, and researchers share surprising data and explore the trends transforming the way we work.

DANIEL PINK: So I did some research, and what I found is that, around the world, people seem to have the same or consistent regrets. We know what people regret the most. We understand what they value the most. And if we understand what people value the most, we understand at some level the purpose of life.