Mistakes and Bad Decisions — Understanding the Difference

All of us make mistakes; all of us also make bad decisions.  Do we understand the difference?

If I take a wrong turn when driving or miss an exit, it’s a mistake.  When I decide to stay up late watching multi episodes of a Netflix show and then have difficulty getting up in time for my exercise class, it’s a bad decision.  I made a choice and there were consequences.

Most of us understand the difference between mistakes and bad decisions.

Do Politicians and Governments Understand the Difference?

How often do we hear politicians and leaders classify their bad decisions as mistakes?  When someone cheats on a spouse or misrepresents the truth or engages in fraudulent behaviour, it’s a bad decision because there is a choice and there are consequences.  It’s not the mistake that is usually portrayed along with an apology.

Mistakes or Bad Decisions -- photo courtesy of Taras Chernus on Unsplash -- photo courtesy of TTaras Chernus on Unsplash
Mistakes or Bad Decisions — photo courtesy of Taras Chernus on Unsplash

The usual apology line frames cheating or lying as a mistake.

All readers will remember examples of politicians who have had affairs or found themselves involved in a scandal and then labelled their actions as mistakes.  Did the person not evaluate the potential consequences of their actions? Did he/she not make a choice?

Classifying a poor choice or a bad decision as a mistake minimizes ownership. Yet, seldom do we hear the guilty party frame it as a bad decision.

Governments act similarly.  They often label bad decisions as mistakes especially when negative feedback piles up. When campaigning for election, promises are made without evaluation of consequences when such promises are enacted into legislation. Sometimes the inherent tradeoffs are unknown until it’s too late.

Mistakes and Bad Decisions in our personal lives

All of us screw up.  We make mistakes in our personal lives. Words get spoken in anger. Fear influences actions. Decisions happen impulsively.

A regret from my career years relates to how I spent my time.  There were many over-scheduled days filled with career activities and travel that left little time for my husband and family. Another regret was buying too much stuff, especially clothing.  How many pairs of shoes, jackets, black skirts or pants does one need? Were these mistakes or bad decisions?

I remember a bad decision when buying a car shortly after finishing grad school and landing my first decent paying job.  I went to a dealership ready to buy a compact 4 cylinder new car but came home with an 8 cylinder used sports car.  It was beautiful but most impractical especially since I couldn’t drive a standard shift!  Thank goodness, I was able to trade it after a short while without losing too much money. The biggest cost was pride.

I won’t go into some of the poor investment choices made over the years. Sometimes these bad decisions were impulsive ‘buys’ or speculative.  I learned valuable — and costly — lessons about my behaviour in terms of investing!

Understanding the Difference

Ageing helps us look back and evaluate our lives in terms of mistakes or bad decisions.  We’ve learned from our screw-ups.

Mistakes are accepted as accidental and unavoidable. Sometimes we can laugh about silly mistakes as they keep life interesting and unpredictable!

Avoiding bad decisions with intentional choices is easier because ageing brings the wisdom to understand our beliefs and values.  We know when to admit failure. We accept responsibility for bad decisions and poor choices as they teach powerful life lessons. If a bad decision affects others, apologies are made and forgiveness is sought. When faced with difficult decisions, we look for information, seek help from others, and map out a clear action plan.

When we realize that bad choices and stupid mistakes happen to everyone, it becomes easier to take ownership.  By exercising the good judgement that comes from growing older, we understand that making mistakes and bad decisions are by-products of living. If we are to learn from decisions made or actions taken, it’s important to understand when we’ve made a mistake (accidental occurrence) and when we’ve made a bad decision (poor choice with consequences).  Differentiating requires cognitive effort but is worthwhile.

Thanks for reading my post.  Please share your comments and thoughts about how you understand mistakes and bad decisions. If you like this blog, please subscribe to receive an email when I publish a new post.






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