What to do when you've made a life-shatteringly bad decision
Let's face it, despite our often high opinions of ourselves, we're all human really. There's not a person on this planet who hasn't made an incredibly stupid decision at some stage that's had life-changing consequences. You'll certainly make such a dumb call yourself some day, as will I and everybody else.
The type of thing I'm talking about can vary, but an example from my own life was my decision to take up smoking when I was 16. I knew it was probably a bad idea at the time, but sometimes bad ideas can have a fascinating seductivity to them that makes them impossible to resist. I struggled with cigarettes for seven years after that before finally giving them away for good.
Other examples of life-shattering decisions include adultery, recreational drug use, crime, debt, and pointless arguments with friends and family. There comes a moment in everybody's life when they do something so stupid that they will be dealing with the consequences for years afterwards. Sometimes, the choice can be made in an instant, sometimes over a few months. But always, it turns out to be damaging and wrong.
What should you do after you've done such a thing in your own life?
The first thing to do, when you come out of the initial shock, is admit that what you've done was stupid and wrong. Many people live in misery and destruction because of their simple inability to admit to themselves that they might have done something wrong. Instead, they try to rationalize it away - "I enjoy taking cocaine", "I was falling out of love with my spouse anyway", "who cares about money?".
Once you've admitted to yourself that you've made a mistake, the next thing is to assess if it's possible to return to the circumstances before the decision was made. In the case of drug addiction, it feasible that you can free yourself from it and end up in much the same state as before. In the case of infidelity, you must accept that your marriage will never be the same again, no matter how hard you try.
If you're able to return to your previous, more pure state of life, then you must immediately start working out a concrete, achievable plan for doing so. Don't be unrealistic, and realize that it's going to be difficult to return to first base, but find a determination to do so. Some of the motivation articles on Paul's Tips can help you do that.
In the case where you are unable to return to your previous state, consider what would be the next best thing. If you've committed infidelity and ruined a marriage you love, is it possible you can rebuild it to some kind of still functional state? If you've been caught committing a serious crime, is it possible you can rebuild some kind of decent life after the jail term has finished?
Once again, the trick is to make some kind of concrete, achievable plan. Write it down if necessary. Acknowledge that it's going to be extremely difficult, but combine that with a determination to see it through.
So there are the two steps: firstly admit your error, then take steps to repair it. The life-shatteringly bad decisions we all make from time to time will have a devastating effect. Learn how to recover from them gracefully.
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