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Inspiring quotes from 'The Power of Regret' by Dan Pink

We choose our favourite Dan Pink inspirational quotes from his book about regrets


Dan Pink knows all about regrets. He’s got a few, and he’s surveyed around 20,000 people about their own regrets. Yet Dan Pink inspires us with his quotes about regret. While this blog focusses on the top quotes from The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward  you can also read about his Regret Optimisation Framework in a summary of our book club interview with Dan Pink.

We've assembled so many inspiring Dan Pink quotes below, but before we get to the best quotes from The Power of Regret let’s meet its author.

Brief bio of Dan Pink

Daniel H. Pink is the author of New York Times bestsellers Drive, To Sell is Human and When. His books have sold millions of copies, translated into 42 languages, and have won multiple awards. His latest book is The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward. One powerful quote from Dan Pink about his research is this one: “I’ve discovered about myself what I’ve discovered about others. Regret makes me human. Regrets makes me better. Regret gives me hope.”

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Our favourite 3 The Power of Regret quotes

Below you’ll find dozens of top quotes from author Dan Pink, but we chose these three quotes for their positive take on the power of regret.

“When regret smothers, it can weigh us down, but when it pokes, it can lift us up.”

We like this quote because if offers us hope when we have a regret. Dan says when you feel the spear of regret you have three possible responses; ignore or bury it (leading to delusion), wallow in it (leading to despair) or address it (what can it offer for better decision-making?). Key takeaway: Accept your regret and either do something about it or use it as a learning tool for making better future choices.

“The first step in reckoning with all regrets, whether regrets of action or inaction, is self-disclosure.”

This comforting Dan Pink quote talks to the benefits of disclosing our thoughts, feelings, and actions – by telling others or simply by writing about then. Denying our regrets taxes our minds and bodies, he says. “The better approach is to relive and relieve,” he writes on p.170 of The Power of Regret. By divulging the regret, he says, we reduce some of its burden.

“If we know what we truly regret we know what we truly value.”

This quote made the top 3 favourite quotes because it’s so fascinating. Like a photo negative which reverses light and dark when printed, regrets work much the same way. Dan Pink says that if we know what people regret the most we can reverse that image to reveal what they value the most.

Foundation regrets reveal the human need for stability, boldness regrets reveal a need for growth, moral regrets reveal a need for goodness and connection regrets reveal the need for love. Read on for explanations about each type of regret, and quotes specific to those types.

More of our favourite quotes from Dan Pink.

I’ve combed through The Power of Regret (thoroughly enjoying it, I might add) and list below the most inspirational quotes about regrets. Plenty made the cut, so I've sorted them under Dan's book chapter headings. As bestselling author and speaker Brené Brown says on the book’s cover: “I’ve always known that regret deepened my connection to myself and to others, but now, thanks to Dan’s research and storytelling, I understand why.”

Quotes from chapter Why Regret Makes Us Human

“Regret makes us human. Regret makes us better.”

“Regret is not dangerous or abnormal, a deviation from the steady path to happiness.”

“About one of every five people who get tattoos (including presumably those with 'no regrets' tattoos) eventually regret their decision.”

“When we assemble the full line-up of negative emotions – sadness standing next to contempt perched beside guilt – one emerges as both the most pervasive and most powerful. Regret.”

“Nearly all regrets fall into four core categories – foundation regrets, boldness regrets, moral regrets, and connection regrets.”

“Regret is better understood less as a thing and more as a process.”

“We can visit the past and the future in our heads. And, we can tell the story of something that never actually happened.”

“Comparison lives at regret’s core.”

Quotes from chapter At Leasts and If Onlys

"At Leasts deliver comfort and consolation. If Onlys deliver discomfort and distress."

“…By making us feel worse today, regret helps us do better tomorrow.”

Quotes from chapter Why Regret Makes Us Better

“We need the ability to regret our poor decisions – to feel bad about them – precisely so we can improve those decisions in the future.”

“When we handle it properly, regret can make us better.”

“Too much regret is dangerous, sometimes devastating. It can lead to rumination, which severely degrades well-being, and to the regurgitation of past mistakes, which can inhibit forward progress.”

“Don’t dodge emotions. Don’t wallow in them either.”

“Framing regret as a judgment of our underlying character – who we are – can be destructive.”

“Framing regret as an opportunity rather than a threat helps us transform it – so that it operates as a sharp stick rather than a leaden blanket.”

“Productive regrets aggravate, then activate.”

“When feeling is for thinking and thinking is for doing, regret is for making us better.”

Quotes from chapter The Four Core Regrets #1: Foundation regrets

“Foundation regrets sound like this: If only I’d done the work.”

“We shirk in school and leave before we should. We overspend and undersave. We adopt unhealthy habits. When such decisions eventually cause the platform of our lives to wobble, and our futures to not live up to our hopes, regret follows.”

“Foundation regrets arise from our failures of foresight and conscientiousness.”

“The slowly building force of all those poor decisions can arrive like a tornado – gradually and then suddenly.”

“Our a double trick on us. They entice us into valuing the now too much and the later too little.”

“Weaknesses in one’s foundation take time to develop and recognise.”

“Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.”

“What distinguishes regret from disappointment is personal responsibility.”

“Think ahead. Do the work. Start now.” 

Quotes from chapter The Four Core Regrets #2: Boldness regrets

“Boldness regrets sound like this: If only I’d taken that risk.”

“Over time we are much more likely to regret the chances we didn’t take than the chances we did.”

“With boldness regrets, we choose to play it safe. That may relieve us at first.”

“In my own American Regret Project survey, inaction regrets outnumbered action regrets by nearly two to one.”

“When we don’t act, - when we don’t step off that metaphorical train – we can only speculate how events would have unfolded.”

“Inactions, by laying eggs under our skin, incubate endless speculation.”

“Boldness regrets endure because the counterfactual possibilities are so vast.”

“At the heart of all boldness regrets is the thwarted possibility of growth.”

“Many of those who did play it safe in their careers look at their choices from the vantage of midlife and wish they hadn’t.”

“I could instead launch an Expedia-for-the-regretful site, which would include special travel packages for the legions of college graduates in the surveys who regretted not studying abroad.”

“Authenticity requires boldness. And when authenticity is thwarted, so is growth.”

“The lesson is plain: Speak up. Ask him out. Take that trip. Start that business. Step off the train.”

Quotes from chapter The Four Core Regrets #3: Moral regrets

“Moral regrets sound like this: If only I’d done the right thing.”

“Most of us want to be good people. Yet we often face choices that tempt us to take the low road.”

“Deceipt. Infidelity. Theft. Betrayal. Sacrilege. Sometimes the moral regrets people submitted to the surveys read like the production notes for a Ten Commandments training video.”

“When we behave poorly, or compromise our own belief in our own goodness, regret can build and then persist.”

“To my mild disappointment, the surveys unearthed not a single modern-day Benedict Arnold or Judas Iscariot.”

“There is something heartening about grown women and men waking up at night despairing over incidents decades earlier in their lives in which they hurt others, acted unfairly, or compromised the values of their community. It suggests that stamped somewhere in our DNA and buried deep in our souls is the desire to be good.”

“The lesson…is this: When in doubt, do the right thing.”

Quotes from chapter The Four Core Regrets #4: Connection regrets

“Connection regrets sound like this: If only I’d reached out.”

With connection regrets, the human need is love.”

“Fractured or unrealised relationships with spouses, partners, parents, children, siblings, friends, classmates, and colleagues constitute the largest deep structure category of regret.”

“People often talk about regrets in terms of doors. Amy has a ‘closed door’ regret…Cheryl has an ‘open door’ regret.”

“Closed door regrets distress us because we can’t do anything about them. Open door regrets bother us because we can, though it requires effort.”

“Closed door regrets vex us because we can’t fix them. It’s over.”

“When our connections to others tatter or disintegrate, we suffer. And when it’s our fault, we suffer even more.”

“What give our lives significance and satisfaction are meaningful relationships.”

Quotes from chapter Opportunity and Obligation

“The four core regrets operate as a photographic negative of the good life. If we know what people regret the most, we can reverse that image to reveal what they value the most.”

“Regrets of ‘coulda’ outnumbered regrets of ‘shoulda’ by about three to one.”

“Failures to become our ideal selves are failures to pursue opportunities. Failures to become our ought selves are failures to fulfill obligations.”

“The result is that opportunity and obligation sit at the center of regret, but opportunity has the more prominent seat.”

“As people grew older, inaction regrets began to dominate. By age 50, inaction regrets were twice as common as action regrets.”

“Among those ages 30 through 65, regrets about career and finances were most prevalent – likely because, at that stage in life, opportunities were still alive in those realms.”

“A life of obligation and no opportunity is crimped. A life of opportunity and no obligation is hollow. A life that fuses opportunity and obligation is true.”

Quotes from chapter Undoing and At Leasting

“For action regrets, your initial goal should be to change the immediate situation for the better.”

“We can undo many such regrets: we can make amends, reverse our choices, or erase the consequences.”

“We are more apt to repair what we did than what we didn’t do.”

“At Leasts can turn regret into relief…they change how we feel about our behaviour, which can be valuable.”


Quotes from chapter Disclosure, Compassion, and Distance

Rather than ignoring the negative emotion of regret – or worse, wallowing in it – we can remember that feeling is for thinking and that thinking is for doing.”

“Writing about a regret or revealing a regret to another person moves the experience from the realm of emotion into the realm of cognition.”

“Self-compassion begins by replacing searing judgment with basic kindness.”

“The people who addressed their regret with self-compassion were more likely to change their behaviour than those who approached their regret with self-esteem.”

You may have noticed that you’re often better at solving other people’s problems than your own.” 


Quotes from chapter Anticipating Regret

“Regret is a retrospective emotion. It springs into being when we look backward. But we can also use it prospectively and proactively – to gaze into the future predict what we will regret, and then reorient our behaviour based on our forecast.”

“Anticipating our regrets slows our thinking. It applies our cerebral brakes, giving us time to gather information and to reflect before we decide what to do.”

“When we envision how awful we might feel in the future if we don’t act appropriately now, that negative emotion – which we simulate rather than experience – can improve our behaviour.”

“Anticipating regret offers a convenient tool for judgement.”

“One problem with using anticipated regrets as a decision-making tool is that we’re pretty bad at predicting the intensity and duration of our emotions.”

“[On predicting regrets] we’re like bumbling meteorologists who keep (mis)predicting rain.”

“Anticipating regret can sometimes steer us away from the best decision and toward the decision that shields us from regret.”

“If we focus too much on what we’ll regret, we can freeze and decide not to decide.”

“Our goal should not be to always minimise regret. Our goal should be to optimise it.”

“If we know what we truly regret we know what we truly value. Regret, that maddening, perplexing, and undeniably real emotion – points the way to a life well lived.”

Quotes from chapter Regret and Redemption

“Open the hood of regret, and you’ll see that the engine powering it is storytelling.”

“Our very ability to experience regret depends on our imagination’s capacity to travel backward in time, rewrite events, and fashion a happier ending than in the original draft.”

“Regret depends on storytelling.”

“If our lives are the stories we tell ourselves, regret reminds us that we have a dual role. We are both the authors and the actors.”

“Regret offers us the ultimate redemption narrative.”

“Regret makes me human. Regret makes me better. Regret gives me hope.”

Further reading

If you like these The Power of Regret quotes from Dan Pink, we have a range of speakers who understand what it takes to become a great leader. Check out what our other favourite leaders have to say about listening skills, women in leadership, diversity, and being a CEO.

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To ensure you don't have regrets, and to master the qualities of successful leaders, make learning a lifelong habit.

“You’d be surprised how small improvements can turn into major gains,” James Clear, author of Atomic Habits told us.

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