You Cannot Choose the Wrong Path

by Stephen Mills on September 14, 2009

Fork in the Road

I am suggesting that the under the right conditions you cannot choose the wrong path to take.  I say “under the right conditions”, because I’m not intending this to be a categorical statement.  Like virtually all advice in self-development and human behavior in general, there are exceptions and counter-examples.  So just let me say right up front,  if your child chooses the path of a heroin addict, I’m not going to argue they didn’t choose the wrong path.

However, in a broad range of adult choices under the right conditions, when you come to a point where you make a decision to take one path vs. another, I’m suggesting that there is no wrong choice.  When you are deciding whether or not to change careers, whether to continue a relationship or start a new one, whether to start a business, retire, take up a new hobby, become a world-traveler, or a million other choices; whatever you choose is not wrong, even in hindsight.

This can be the case if you take the right attitude and mindset into these decisions.  You have the power to make these decisions in such a way to ensure you cannot make a bad choice.  When we come to important decisions in our lives we tend to worry we are going to make a mistake.  We start obsessing over all the pros and cons.  Should I or shouldn’t I?  We sweat over all the “what if’s”.  The problem with this type of thinking is that you can’t predict the future anyway and there are so many variables of which you cannot possibly be aware.  So why obsess over it like it is a life a death decision when it is not? Even if it was you aren’t going to know any more than a good guess so why make yourself miserable agonizing over the decision?

Since you can’t have the all the information and since you can’t predict the future, you are putting way too much weight on the validity of your analysis.  Insisting that you must be perfect, that you cannot make a mistake, that the world will come to an end if you choose incorrectly, you set yourself up for making the “wrong” choice in your own mind.  Then once you make the decision, you will continue to second guess it, wondering if you chose correctly.

You can’t possibly know what experiences you would have had if you had chosen differently.  Life is too contingent for that kind of after-the-fact-it-might-have-been obsessing.  Suppose you change jobs and then start wondering if you made the right decision?  If you had stayed at your previous job, you might have been killed in a car wreck on the way to work.  The company may have been bought out and you may have been laid off in a recession.  You may have been assigned to a new supervisor who made your life a living hell.  You might have met someone, got involved, and spent years in a messy relationship.  You might have become the CEO.  You might have met your soul-mate.  Who the hell knows?  You will never know so forget it.

A Better Way

There is a better way.  There are two (or more) different paths you can take and you choose one.  Because you choose the way you do, you will have different experiences than if you had chosen differently.  Not better or worse experiences, just different experiences.

Going into the decisions you need to accept that either way you choose you will gain experiences from which you can grow.  Even if you choose a status quo path, you can change the way you approach it.  If you choose to stay at your current job you can go into it with a whole new attitude and approach.  When you lay out pros for each choice you can look at those as the positive “good choice” benefits of either path.  Whichever way you go, you can make the best of it.  Whatever happens you can deal with it.  Come what may you will be gaining life experiences that will contribute to your growth.  You can demonstrate the resilience and adaptability that allow you to live and experience a rich and rewarding life.

Furthermore these decisions are not the end of the story.  You continue to create your life as you go along.  Once you take a step down a path you continue to choose.  At every step you have another choice to make.  It never ends.  Staying with the job example, if you choose to remain in your current job you always have the option of making a change at any future date.  If you make a change and take a new job, you will be faced with the same situation.  You always have the option of making a change at any point.  Choices are not permanent.

Taking this approach to our choices allows us to avoid being paralyzed by fear.  We can tell ourselves that no matter what choice we make, it is a good choice and that we can dance with our life’s circumstances.  We can stop second guessing about what might have been and that we can never know.  Whatever happens we can deal with it.  There is no situation we can’t handle.  This is an approach to a rich and rewarding life instead of a life filled with worry and regret.

Decide and Then Act

It’s really simple.

  1. Gather the information.
  2. Evaluate the options – don’t overanalyze what you can’t know anyway.
  3. Make sure that your choice lines up with your values and goals.
  4. Give it your best judgment.
  5. Trust your gut because your subconscious mind knows a lot.
  6. Go for it and don’t look back.  No regrets.  Don’t sweat the past – it’s gone.
  7. Adjust as you continue to step forward.
  8. Repeat at the next fork in the road.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

arrow-small

Get Free Updates to The Rat Race Trap by Email here or via a reader in the top left sidebar.  I would love to have you on board.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Mental Models and the Construction of Your Reality
January 20, 2010 at 5:49 am
How to Make Great Decisions
November 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm
tatuaggi
June 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Flash September 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm

This post came at a perfect time. I’ve sent it to my niece, who has just made a major life decision.
.-= Flash´s last blog ..20 years =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 15, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Flash, that’s great! Thanks for letting me know 🙂

Reply

Positively Present September 15, 2009 at 3:47 pm

LOVE this post! It really makes me want to relax and not worry so much about life. It’s important to make decisions, but it’s not healthy to fret over them because, as you noted, choices aren’t permanant. A choice might seem like a bad one (man, have I had my fair share of THOSE!), but it can lead you in a new direction to a place of new and exciting choices.
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..millions of wrongs don’t make a right =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 15, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Dani, does it help is to agonize over these choices before we make them and then after we make them? I think not! Thanks for your comments.

Reply

BunnygotBlog September 15, 2009 at 4:31 pm

This is a wonderful article. I just totally agree with all you have written here. Every experience is knowledge waiting for you to learn from and enrich your mind and life.
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..I Remember 911 =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Bunny, thanks for the thought and support. You are absolutely correct; change promotes growth and learning. Soak in all those new experiences!

Reply

Vin - NaturalBias September 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

This is very much like “wondering” about the future. 🙂 I think the third step you listed is key to making decisions effective decisions that turn out to be good experiences and certainly helps to clear some of the confusion that can result from over analysis. Great article!
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..How to Prevent and Eliminate Knee Pain =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Hi Vin. I totally agree that aligning your values with your actions is key to good decisions. So many people make decisions with the idea that some short-term benefit can be bought while violating their own values. It doesn’t work out that way. Thank you!

Reply

NomadicNeil September 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

So far it seems that I usually don’t regret choices that were 100% mine. It’s only if I feel that I wasn’t being myself completely or went along with the flow rather than take responsibility and control that I feel resentment or regret.
.-= NomadicNeil´s last blog ..How I came to my decision: The rational version =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 15, 2009 at 8:34 pm

NomadicNeil, I understand that perfectly and I’ve experienced it myself. However, even then those decisions are behind you so why not embrace the experience and move on regardless? Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Reply

Robin Easton September 16, 2009 at 12:39 am

I relate to this article because I approach life with the idea that no matter what I choose, not matter what happens it is ALL a learning experience. And if I grab EVERYTHING that happens and look at it and use it to grow there really is no right or wrong. It is all just a wonderful big of’ school of Life. When we embrace life in this way we can be more forgiving with ourselves and other and move through us with less stress and more ease. Because we know it’s a win win situation.
.-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Are We Eradicating Soul? =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 17, 2009 at 7:10 am

Hello Robin! Thanks for your comment. I love your approach to life 🙂

Reply

Mike King September 16, 2009 at 7:55 am

Interesting perspective Stephen and I guess it is all in how you determine right or wrong and that circumstance you describes. I take right and wrong quite literally and so decisions to be right and wrong must have some moral or ethical route to them so if that is the case, then I can’t agree, because in any of those situations there truly is a right or wrong. However, I understand your point that different decisions simply create different experiences and journeys to follow so from that point of view, yes, its just a decision!
.-= Mike King´s last blog ..Review: The Shadow Effect =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 16, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Mike, thanks for your comment as always! I certainly didn’t intend a moral slant on this. I’m assuming that you are choosing within your value system. In fact my #3 step says make sure your choice lines up with your values.

Reply

Diggy - Upgradereality.com September 16, 2009 at 8:21 am

Stephen!!
Cool post sir!

This post brought so many ideas to my mind, like reading about how different paths lead to different people explains why identical twins raised in the same family in the same house can be two totally opposite people, because their experiences shape their personalities.

You have a good point about going with your gut feel, choosing that which may not always be the logical thing, but the thing that feels right. Stand behind your choice with certainty, but don’t stop questioning your decision logically to see if you did not make a mistake.

🙂
Cheers!
.-= Diggy – Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..When Money is Tight… =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 17, 2009 at 6:59 am

Hello Diggy! As I’ve “matured”, I’ve learned to rely more and more on my instinct instead of endless agonizing over conscious pros and cons.

Reply

Dave Witwicki September 16, 2009 at 11:11 am

Well said Stephen! Even when you know that any choice you make will provide life experiences of some sort, it’s still so easy to get caught up in making the “right” choice. I like your approach with simple steps to help us make a decision; especially #4 – “trust your gut”. I’ve made many seemingly silly decisions (from other peoples’ perspectives) that “felt right” to me which have turned into fabulous life experiences. Thanks for the reminder that life is all about the journey, not the destination.
.-= Dave Witwicki´s last blog ..Book Review : Fearless by Max Lucado =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 17, 2009 at 7:05 am

Dave, thanks for stopping by. I’ve learned to trust my gut as well. I used to try to reason everything out logically. My gut brain seems to work better 🙂

Reply

Nea September 16, 2009 at 6:21 pm

I loved this great article. Sometimes we worry so much about making the wrong choices that we make the worst choice of all— nothing. Looking back over my life, I can definitely say that the biggest lessons I’ve learned came from my mistakes. See the value in all life experiences instead of missing out on living.
.-= Nea´s last blog ..The Aging Experience… My Personal Experience With Getting Older =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 17, 2009 at 6:56 am

Nea, thanks for the comment. Yes we often are paralyzed by indecision and are afraid to do anything.

Reply

Ian | Quantum Learning September 17, 2009 at 6:16 am

Stephen, great article.

I think we sometimes make far too big a deal of making decisions. Some decisions are really obvious and I know what the best course is – I may procrastinate over jumping in but that’s another problem.

Other decisions are more 50:50 and the way I look at those is that it doesn’t matter which one I take there’s going to be advantages and disadvantages either way. Then if I toss a coin. and I don’t like the way the coin lands – that’s quite a clue as to where my preference lies.
.-= Ian | Quantum Learning´s last blog ..Talking behind your back =-.

Reply

Stephen Mills September 17, 2009 at 6:52 am

Ian, thanks for the comments. I love your coin flipping idea. That’s great!

Reply

S cat October 22, 2009 at 5:32 am

Hi I made a bad decision and ignored my gut feelings about a man who had a beard. I dislike beards as I tend to think people hide behind them. I should have listened to my gut. The person did immense emotional harm to me and I have only just after 3 years come out the other side whole again, I will always go with my gut reactions in future,

Reply

Fiona M October 30, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Hi Stephen

Great post. I agree that you can never really make a ‘wrong choice’, because every choice gives you an opportunity to learn something – even if the lesson isn’t obvious until years later!

I’ve also found that the biggest decisions in life come in a split second. It’s the small stuff that we agonise over!

Reply

Marj | TheWayofMoney.com November 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Ahh I really really enjoyed this post, Stephen! Funny cos I was thinking of exactly the same insight the other day, when I remembered how some guy said in a video interview that we make “mistakes” because we are supposed to make “mistakes”. And that’s when it hit me like one of those funny epiphanies or a-ha moments when you realize something so profound yet so simple it’s almost silly how you hadn’t thought of it before.
Someone said before that “You do better when you know better.” There are no mistakes, only experiences – isn’t that such a wonderfully liberating thought? 😀 Wooohhooo!!!
.-= Marj | TheWayofMoney.com´s last blog ..Easisell Client appears on ABC TV Show =-.

Reply

Learn To Read DVD May 24, 2010 at 5:04 am

Definitely concur with what you stated. Your explanation was certainly the simplest to understand. I inform you, I generally get irked when folks discuss issues which they plainly do not know about. You managed to strike the nail correct on the head and explained out everything without having complication. Maybe, people can take a signal. Will most likely be back to get a lot more. Thanks

Reply

Stephen Mills May 24, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Hello Learn To Read DVD! Nice to have you here on the Rat Race Trap. Thank you very much for your wonderful comment 🙂

Reply

Mikkel Hansen September 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

This really helped me see things from another point of view i was also over thinking my past and whether or not it was a good or bad idia to drope out of electrician school to join the army but thats all i can remember dreaming about from when i was a kid.

Reply

Laur September 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm

This is just the best blog post I have ever read. I have live my life paralyzed by the fear that I would make the wrong choice…and thus have not made many choices. It makes me feel sad that I have lost out on years of living because I was afraid to look stupid, be judged, or just be lost. It’s time to move upward and onward…stupid or not, there is a lesson to be learned in every choice – and that lesson is a reward in and of itself.
Thanks for the awesome post filled with wisdom and gentle reminders to love…right now!

Reply

Darrel Haggerty October 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Wow, superb blog format! How long have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy. The total look of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!

Reply

MY December 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

Just found this site today, no coincedence..did I spell that right? Great article, I think I know the answer in my gut. Thanks! 😉
MY´s last blog post ..Uncertainty, Luck, and Talent

Reply

Dinesh Saini March 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm

NIce stuf..
yupp things must go on..!!
Keep it up..!!
Dinesh Saini´s last blog post ..New Year Resolutions 2012

Reply

Amelia July 7, 2012 at 8:25 am

Thanks for the straight forward approach to making choices in life. I too am often stunted when it comes to making choices. When i ignore my gut all there is is pros and cons and guess work. When I go with my gut, be honest and move ahead, there is nothing to regret! I dont think any of us really look back on choices made with love and think, gosh, that old job made more money, or gee, that really was a ‘good’ relationship. We feel proud that we followed our heart, and lived life with honour and passion. And when we didnt, we learn!

Reply

Crystal October 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Stephen, thank-you for the article. I have been agonizing over a recent decision to leave a job. I hate the fact that I have been looking back but realizing I cannot go back. The new job is really not going to work for me, just a couple of months in and I have been very sad. This has been very painful. Funny, I told a friend that I feel like I’m right back at the beginning. She said ” that’s probably where the universe wants you to be.” I’m a little struck with fear and having trouble moving on. I have taken steps, applied for new positions etc. but having trouble finding peace through this ordeal. We talk about letting it go! Can you comment on how to get through the difficult times trying to find your way. C’

Reply

Trish April 10, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Thanks for the post. Although I have tried to take in the information and look at life in a positive light, it seems that no matter how hard I try I always make the WRONG decisions. This has made me not trust myself. I have a failed marriage, a failed career and I’m failing as a parent. If I think left, the best way is actually right. I give up.

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge