Think about the worst decision you’ve ever made — the one thing you know you should have done differently.
“If only someone could’ve warned me,” you might think. “If I had just known, everything would be different today.”
I’ve thought things similar to that. After things end in ways that make me unhappy, I tend to go back and find the one moment — and there usually is one moment — when I made a decision or took an action that caused what I’m unhappy about.
I’m prone to thinking how different things could be if I had a time machine to go back to that moment. But I wonder whether that’s true.
I found out this evening that a young woman who I casually know has gotten engaged. She hasn’t been dating the guy very long — and everyone who knows her seems to have very negative impressions of the way he treats her.
As she stood there this evening showing me her ring, I knew better than to express my misgivings. She wouldn’t listen — just as I suspect I wouldn’t have listened if someone had warned me before my own major mistakes.
I like to think I make good decisions. Maybe you do, too.
I have a rather arrogant narrative that I tell myself. You see, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past. I’m good at looking at those old mistakes and drawing lessons from them. But I like to think I’ve finally reached the point that I wouldn’t fall for the same sorts of errors that have plagued me in the past.
Of course, I had this same notion about myself when I was 25, then again at 30. And again at 40. At every step along the way, I had the impression that I’d finally reached the point that my decisions would bring me success and happiness thereafter.
That hasn’t always worked out so well.
My newly engaged friend from earlier this evening was just telling me recently about how she had made horrible decisions with her relationships in the past, both friendships and romances. She comes from a very dysfunctional family and knows that she’s desperately looking for approval and validation.
But knowing that hasn’t stopped her from quickly latching onto an abusive man — simply because he knows how to give her the approval and validation she needs. Her past has basically programmed her to make this bad decision.
I suspect she will eventually regret this engagement. Maybe they’ll never marry. Or maybe they’ll marry and then she will regret it. There are dozens of specific ways in which it could play out. But let’s assume for a moment that it blows up at some point and she eventually wishes she had made a different decision.
Would she be ready to make a better decision the next time? Or would she simply find a new way to let her old childhood programming lead her astray?
When I’ve made my major mistakes, it’s always been because I’ve doubted myself and not trusted my instincts. I internalized the voice of my father — telling me that I was going to make a mistake by trusting my instincts, that I should act as he would have acted instead.
And by listening to the fear and self-doubt that came with that voice, I’ve failed to do things which I now think would’ve made me happier and more successful.
In truth, I believe that I should get past self-doubt and trust my gut. If something tells me to ignore conventional wisdom and take a gamble on a particular woman or a new opportunity, I should listen instead of letting doubt stop me.
So my judgment says I should actually listen to what I want — to what my gut says — for the major decisions. I suspect this would lead to better outcomes. I really do.
And when I say that, I think I have it all figured out — until I remember that I’ve felt the same way before. And I wonder whether we ever really learn from our mistakes.
At this point, all I can say is that I’m going to listen to my gut. I’m going to choose the things I really want — and hope that I’m right.
I don’t know if my decisions will be better than those I’ve made in the past, but at least I’ll finally reach the point that I’m no longer lamenting, “If only I’d done what I really wanted to do.”