What do you do when you realize you’ve made a bad decision? I hate saying “it depends,” but correcting bad decisions really does depend on the significance of the decision and the reality of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. It isn’t always easy, quick or possible to correct a previous bad choice.
Some decisions are mundane and easy to change. If I make a wrong turn driving to a destination, I simply find a way to turn around and head in the right direction. No harm, no foul. On a more significant level, if I’m in school and realize I’m in the wrong degree program, I switch majors to head down a better path, understanding that there may be consequences such as more time spent in school and more cost because of my decisions. If I accept a new job offer and then find myself working with colleagues or a company far from what I envisioned, I have to decide whether to try to make the best of it and improve that situation, or start the process of changing jobs once again. If you’re an employer and realize you’ve hired the wrong person, what kind of sticky situation have you just created for yourself? Do you follow the adage, “Hire slow, fire fast”? If I realize I’m in a bad relationship, it’s one thing to change if you’ve only been dating someone for a short while versus being married where working on the relationship is more vital.
A few big-picture thoughts come to mind when I consider how to respond to situations born from bad decisions:
It is best to reverse a bad decision quickly. Allowing the negative consequences of bad decisions to linger, fester and continue to negatively impact the current situation may seem kindhearted and hopeful where other people are concerned, but it’s probably doomed. Make the right call given the new understanding and move on. Swallow any and all pride that may be keeping you from admitting the previous decision was wrong. It’s OK to change your mind.
Get advice from others before major decisions. Seek the wisdom of those who have traveled a similar path before. Don’t rely just on what your best friends say because they may be biased in your favor to an unhelpful degree. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” – Proverbs 19:20. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” – Proverbs 12:15. This won’t help you with bad decisions in the past, but it can help you avoid future blunders.
Some situations may not be reversible. I have for decades appreciated and reminded myself of the saying, “You have control over your actions, but you have no control over the consequences of your actions.” There is a lot of humbling truth in that. I can’t control consequences, but I can control subsequent actions on my part. Perhaps those subsequent actions will result in better consequences.
Learn from your mistakes. If we’re honest, we can probably think of multiple occasions in our past when we’ve made the same type of mistake repeatedly. We have friends who make the same kind of bad relationship choices over and over. Some people follow the same pattern in job hopping from one place to the next for short tenures, always finding a way to blame others for their circumstances. It is all too easy to allow hope and emotion to cloud better judgment, even though past experience should warn us that we’ve been down this failed path before. Proverbs 19:20 quoted above presumes that as we listen to advice, accept instruction and follow it, we eventually gain wisdom from that cycle and from our experience that makes future decision making easier and more likely to be wise.
I’ve written a number of posts over the last couple of years related to decision making that you’ll find listed here. I’ve written about it a lot because it is a process that never ends. We make decisions daily. We face the consequences of past decisions daily. When all goes well and we’re basking in the glow of a good decision, life is good. But when we come to the harsh realization that we’ve made a bad call – perhaps a very bad call with significant negative consequences – then it’s time to admit it and do something about it.
Does that ring true with any circumstance in your life right now?