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“It seemed like a good idea at the time”

One day my wife and I were going through our preparedness supplies, checking expiration dates and seeing if any items needed repair or replacement. (It’s amazing how much of our back-stocked clothing didn’t fit any longer. It must have shrunk in storage; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) 

As we got to the bottom of one shelf, we found a package of mil-spec gas masks, complete with brand new filter inserts (that were by then out of date.) 

We sat there looking at those masks, which seemed naively useless despite the amount of money we’d invested in them. We’d purchased them at the start of our preparedness journey, when we were still following other people’s lists instead of focusing on the risks we faced and the potential impacts of those risks. They were patently ridiculous in view of our increased knowledge (and our environment), and today we wouldn’t think of buying such things. But back in the day we did, because we were told we should.

In other words, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Compounding errors

This is how we get to extreme, untenable, or unrealistic places in our lives. We make decisions based on the information we have — good, bad, or otherwise — and then, having made those decisions, use them as the basis for newer ones. We add layers of decisions that each seem logical and correct, even when badly flawed, until we get to an endpoint that might look ridiculous when judged on its own merits.

It’s a little like trying to draw a long line with a short ruler. No matter how carefully the short ruler is aligned with the line, it will never produce a truly straight result. The trouble is that we only see how crooked the line is until we get to the end; in the middle of drawing, it certainly seems straight. But if we’d used a longer ruler at the start, the endpoint wouldn’t have ended up in the wrong place.

Decision making is often the same way: we don’t see how crooked our journey is until we get to an endpoint which surprises us enough to force a look back at our path. Truth be told, most people never look back!

Why worry?

So what’s the problem? Finding yourself in an extreme position or situation as the result of a flawed decision stream may mean that you don’t have the tools, skills, or knowledge you need. It can result in being less resilient; it limits your options, wastes resources, and may even make you a target.

It may also result in cognitive dissonance: the mental state that occurs when we try to hold competing and incompatible beliefs in our minds. It’s not only stressful, but makes future decisions much more difficult and inconsistent.

Remember your destination

The solution is twofold. First, you must be able to realize and accept that you’ve put yourself in a ridiculous situation. You need to be open to the possibility that you made a bad decision — or a string of bad decisions each of which, at the time, seemed entirely correct. You need to be open to self-examination and to questioning your worldview and assumptions. 

Second, you need to develop the ability to look backwards at your path at any time and see where — and most importantly, how — the decision train veered off course. 

This isn’t easy. Most people have difficulty admitting they made a mistake, even to themselves. Few people can look at their actions and attitudes objectively, and fewer still are able to correct their course even when they know they’re sailing in the wrong direction.

Once you can do that, you’ll hopefully be able to stop at a point before things get ridiculous, to look back to see where you veered off course, and correct things — before you end up in a place you neither intended nor wanted.

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On December 27, 2021