Learning from the Past: How to Use Past Mistakes to Make Better Decisions in Your Future

Throughout our lives we will make mistakes. Some of us will make more than others, and still others will feel like all they make is one mistake after another. We are human. It is our nature to be imperfect, and as such, we cannot be flawless in our decision-making. What we can do, however, is learn from those mistakes so that we make better decisions in the future.

Before being able to learn from the mistakes in your past, you have to be able to honestly and non-defensively look back and examine instances in your past when you made self-sabotaging and self-esteem-lowering life choices because

1.    Your choices weren’t well thought out;

2.    Your emotions clouded your best judgment; or

3.    There was some other decision-making breakdown or flaw.

Once you acknowledge the mistakes you have made, you can move on to learning valuable life lessons from them. In preparation for a future life-choice opportunity, review and think through what went awry the last time you made a self-defeating or self-destructive life-choice!  Take time to decide on what will be a more constructive or beneficial way to handle a similar choice the next time around. Essentially, you will be creating some inner conversations that acknowledge a flawed life choice was made in the past and identify a more effectively thought out strategy for your future.

To illustrate, let’s consider an example. Suppose you had made a past decision to drive under the influence of alcohol, which resulted in you getting a DUI. The inner dialogue for a better future decision might go something like this:

“The last time I was offered too much alcohol at a party/dinner, I continued drinking because I wanted to be social and it seemed harmless at the time. The lapse in judgment resulted in my getting a DUI and I lost my license. It was awful and devastating in many ways.

Next time, after one drink, I will resolutely say, ‘No thanks!’  I don’t want to risk the unthinkable consequences should I lose my license again, and this time, permanently!  Nor do I want to risk the far worse consequence of injuring my children, myself, or someone else should I get into an accident while driving drunk!”

The key to learning from your mistakes is to acknowledge the mistake in the past and develop a revised and significantly more beneficial game plan to implement in the future. The aim of these steps is to secure a far more desirable result the next time a life choice involving a particular stimulus is presented.

Intellect and Emotions: Often at Odds when Decision Making

Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of Oprah’s producers after a presentation I gave on the “Components of Constructive Decision Making.”  He approached me and basically said, “All of the decision-making theories that I’ve heard in the past focus on the intellectual component of decision making. But you deal with the emotions. And, while most of us intellectually know what we should do in a given situation, when strong emotions come into play, we often make terrible decisions. If you can show people how to separate their emotions from their decision-making processes, you will be able to help a great many people and thus make a real contribution!”

His words not only offered some much-appreciated encouragement, they also highlighted the fact that two distinctly different influences can play major roles when you make life choices:

  1. Your intellect, or what you know and think; and
  2. Your emotions, urges, and impulses, as well as what you feel.

These two influences can be at odds with one another when a person is faced with an important life choice, and I discuss these components of decision making throughout my book, Your Killer Emotions. What you will learn and begin to practice is the ability to allow your intellect and your emotions to act in concert. When they do, you are able to attain your most dearly beloved goals and live the life you dream about.

Let . What you will learn and begin to practice is the ability to allow your intellect and your emotions to act in concert. When they do, you are able to attain your most dearly beloved goals and live the life you dream about.

Let me illustrate this point with an example that most of us can relate to. Many of us are faced with the daily challenge of making healthy or unhealthy choices. From the moment we get up, we begin making a series of decisions that can be heavily influenced by our emotions even when our intellect tries to lead us in the better direction.

  • Do I get in some exercise before starting my day or blow it off?
  • At lunch, do I go for the roasted turkey half sandwich or the double cheeseburger?
  • I’m feeling hungry and tired in the late afternoon. Do I grab a cup of coffee and a candy bar or take a quick walk around the office and eat some fruit and mixed nuts?

When making these decisions throughout your day, you will often receive conflicting information from your intellect and your emotions. Your intellect knows that getting daily morning exercise benefits your body, helps you have more energy throughout the day, and improves your mood. However, when the alarm rings early in the morning, your emotions are begging you to skip all of that sweating and sleep in!

Harmonious collaboration of your intellect and emotions is the goal. Your Killer Emotions will teach you how to come to a place where your intellect and your emotions lead you to the same decision through diligent practice and performance of the skill sets presented.