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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

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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

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James Clear

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

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Last Updated on May 7, 2021

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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Relocate your alarm clock.

Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

Scrap the snooze.

The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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Change up your buzzer

If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

Make a puzzle

If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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Get into a routine

Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

Have a reason

Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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