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Mistakes, Situations, Decision-making, and (an Epiphany Over) Gin

We're all born with different thinking abilities but we weren’t born with decision-making skills — we learn them only through the situations we encounter.

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Life is filled with experiences: experiences come from situations: situations can be good or bad: the good or bad categorisation depends on our decisions: a decision could be right or wrong: right if it leads you to progress; wrong if it doesn’t: a wrong decision is considered a mistake.

Raising a toast

A few months ago I was going through a life-altering situation. And I decided to discuss it with a close friend, like adults, over gin. The discussion digressed in different directions with every round of gin. However, post seven drinks, the friend realized that some life-motivational talk could do me good with my situation. So he, all of sudden, decided to grab me by arms, shake me up, look me in the eyes, and merrily say the words—good days are coming, my friend, good days are coming. In my head, I wanted to toss over his drink for jolting me and the irrelevancy of his words considering my situation. But I instead chose to raise a toast to it. 

Good days are coming. The words echoed in my head over the next few rounds of gin, and I realized something: what could have happened if I actually tossed his drink versus what happened when I instead chose to acknowledge his words more thoughtfully. While the friend continued to merrily do his usual, I pondered over my thought some more. It struck me how we all were born with different thinking abilities but we weren’t born with decision-making skills—we learn them only through the situations we encounter. 

Life as a cycle of experiences 

I carried the thoughts, from the other night, with me for the next few weeks, and tried to learn more about human behaviour in situations. While I was at it, I came across this beautiful quote by Ray Dalio, “Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop movement down this river and we can’t avoid these encounters. We can only approach them in the best possible way.” 

The quote had my heart, and made me realise that the best way to manage situations was to learn to make the best possible decisions.  No, I am not saying that there is a guaranteed way of not making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable. By learning how to make better decisions, we are only increasing the probability of the possibility of being right. To be able understand good decision-making, I brought myself to look at situations in life as a cycle of experiences—a) Entering a Situation, b) Crossing the Threshold, and c) Starting all Over. With each cycle of experience you either evolve or repeat (the same mistake). 

  1. Entering a Situation

This is self-explanatory. What’s worth pointing out is that any situation—big or small, good or bad, personal or professional is bound to have a cause-and-effect relationship. Depending on the nature of our situations—parallel or consequent or both together, we may experience a myriad of emotions.

  1. Crossing the Threshold

Typically, the state you go through when you enter-a-situation doesn’t last forever. It is our natural tendency to move towards acceptance sooner or later. This could be subjective though, and I am only writing out of my experience. The interesting part here is what we do post the acceptance of our situation, and the new decisions we make in regards to it. Do we spend time diagnosing the problem? Design a plan to overcome the problem? Or do we simply decide to move on with it? 

  1. Starting All Over

This doesn’t necessarily mean being able to successfully resolve your situation and making a big fresh start. It could simply even mean parking it aside and moving on with things. All in all, by ‘starting all over’ I mean to point out all possible ways to move past a situation (and entering a new situation, inevitably). A huge part of starting all over depends on what we learn from our previous experiences with situations. And, the decisions we make based on them.

Learning to make decisions effectively  

First of all, don’t call me out the next time you catch me make a wrong decision. But in the view of larger things, feel free to objectively point out why you think I went wrong. The reason being, I believe to make good decisions one must: a) genuinely consider that one might not know the best possible path, and b) recognise that the ability to deal with ‘not knowing’ is more important than whatever you already know. Hence, knowing a different perspective is never a bad choice.

Second, I am not a professional decision-maker, I like all humans have made several mistakes in life. In fact, I even debated writing this article, and made several edits to ensure I not come across as a I-got-it-all-figured person, for the sole reason: I am not. However, what I did intend to put across is the things I learned from my mistakes, situations, and experiences; moreover, the need to learn to make decisions to increase your probability of being right, and realizing how evolution defines the quality of our lives. The following guidelines are what I curated from my experiences, and what I learnt through some incredible books that speak of decision making.

  • Don’t make decisions in an extremely emotional state of mind, example when you feel euphoric or miserable
  • Realise decision-making is a two-step process: 1) learning and then 2) deciding 
  • Consider not just the primary consequences, but also the secondary and tertiary consequences
  • Know your weaknesses; see the patterns in your bad decisions, and reach out to people who are strong in the areas where you are weak
  • Get to the root problem, but don’t fall into the trap of finding irrelevant details. A by-and-large picture, keeping in mind all the strong factors, is typically enough for good decision making  

With all that being said, I think the best conclusion to the article would be to state yet another quote by Ray Dalio “In order to have the best life possible, you have to: 1) know what the best decisions are and 2) have the courage to make them” (my edit: and while you’re at it, don’t forget to raise a toast to every situation that leaves you with a learning experience). 

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