Advertising

Your First Choice Is Rarely the Optimal Choice: 5 Lessons on Being Wrong

Your First Choice Is Rarely the Optimal Choice: 5 Lessons on Being Wrong
Advertising

As a rule, we are incredibly hard on ourselves when it comes to making big decisions in life.

  • If our first five relationships end with a break up, we think we’re destined to be alone forever.
  • If we go to school, get a degree, and spend years training for a job that we end up hating, we feel like a failure for not having it all figured out.
  • If we have a dream of writing a book or starting a non-profit or creating something of value and we stumble on the first try, we say that we’re not cut out for this.

In cases like these, when we are attempting to do something that is complex and multi-faceted, I believe that being wrong is actually a sign that you’re doing something right.

Here’s why.

Advertising

First choice vs. optimal choice

For some reason, we often expect our first choice to be the optimal choice. However, it’s actually quite normal for your first attempt to be incorrect or wrong. This is especially true of the major decisions that we make in life.

For example:

  1. Finding the right person to marry. Think of the first person you dated. Would this person have been the best choice for your life partner? Go even further back and imagine the first person you had a crush on. Finding a great partner is complicated and expecting yourself to get it right on the first try is unreasonable. It’s rare that the first one would be the one.
  2. Choosing your career. What is the likelihood that your 22-year-old self could optimally choose the career that is best for you at 40 years old? Or 30 years old? Or even 25 years old? Consider how much you have learned about yourself since that time. There is a lot of change and growth that happens during life. There is no reason to believe that your life’s work should be easily determined when you graduate.
  3. Starting a business. It is unlikely that your first business idea will be your best one. It probably won’t even be a good one. This is the reality of entrepreneurship. (My first business idea lost $1,400. #winning)

When it comes to complex issues like determining the values you want in a partner or selecting the path of your career, your first attempt will rarely lead to the optimal solution.

Advertising

5 lessons on being wrong

Being wrong isn’t as bad as we make it out to be. I have made many mistakes and I have discovered five major lessons from my experiences.

1. Choices that seem poor in hindsight are an indication of growth, not self-worth or intelligence.

When you look back on your choices from a year ago, you should always hope to find a few decisions that seem stupid now because that means you are growing. If you only live in the safety zone where you know you can’t mess up, then you’ll never unleash your true potential. If you know enough about something to make the optimal decision on the first try, then you’re not challenging yourself.

2. Given that your first choice is likely to be wrong, the best thing you can do is get started.

The faster you learn from being wrong, the sooner you can discover what is right. For complex situations like relationships or entrepreneurship, you literally have to start before you feel ready because it’s not possible for anyone to be truly ready. The best way to learn is to start practicing. (1)

Advertising

3. Break down topics that are too big to master into smaller tasks that can be mastered.

I can’t look at any business and tell you what to do. Entrepreneurship is too big of a topic. But, I can look at any website and tell you how to optimize it for building an email list because that topic is small enough for me to develop some level of expertise. If you want to get better at making accurate first choices, then play in a smaller arena. As Neils Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, famously said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

4. The time to trust your gut is when you have the knowledge or experience to back it up.

You can trust yourself to make sharp decisions in areas where you already have proven expertise. For everything else, the only way to discover what works is to adopt a philosophy of experimentation.

5. The fact that failure will happen is not an excuse for expecting to fail.

There is no reason to be depressed or give up simply because you will make a few wrong choices. Even more crucial, you must try your best every time because it is the effort and the practice that drives the learning process. They are essential, even if you fail. Realize that no single choice is destined to fail, but that occasional failure is the cost you have to pay if you want to be right. Expect to win and play like it from the outset.

Advertising

Your first choice is rarely the optimal choice. Make it now, stop judging yourself, and start growing.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

FOOTNOTES
  1. I believe that this is also one of the reasons why history repeats itself. There are many situations that simply have to be experienced to be understood. Even if you read the opinion of every expert in a field, the only way to make progress in your own life is to experiment. Of course, not all experiments go to plan and, as a result, the same mistakes are made over and over again as each person goes through the process of finding their own way.

Featured photo credit: Daniel Wehner via flickr.com

Advertising

More by this author

James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

How to Stick With Good Habits Even When Your Willpower is Gone How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy How to Stay Focused on Your Goals When You Are Worn Out One Simple Trick That Helps You Reach Your Goals Successfully

Trending in Productivity

1 5 Values of an Effective Leader 2 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 30 Practical Ideas to Create Your Best Morning Routine 5 Is People Management the Right Career Path for You?

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
Advertising

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next