We Get What We Deserve by the Decisions We Make
We get what we deserve by the decisions we make. Life is all about making decisions. That’s all it is – making decisions all day. Nearly everything you do involves a decision. Our decisions define our lives.
You are where you are today because of the decisions you have made. Where you are is no accident. The strength of your relationships, the size of your waistline, and the size of your bank account are all related the decisions you have made.
Life does not give you what you need or even what you want. It gives what you deserve. You can argue that fact. You can fight that fact. But, in the end it remains the truth. It is simply how life works.
To be sure, some have tougher lives than others and have suffered more misfortune, but life is fair to most of us. We are the product of our decisions. Our decisions have consequences – good and bad – a lesson that needs to be learned early in life.
This originally was one article but has been broken now into 3 parts due to its length. The last section in this article is repeated in parts 2 and 3 which are called “Bad Decisions: We Get What We Deserve by the Decisions We Make” and “Life Changing Decisions: We Get What We Deserve by the Decisions We Make.”
The outcome of our lives is the net result of our decisions, misfortune, and good fortune. Both misfortune and good fortune are undeserved. While we are quick to point out the misfortunes that plague us, we downplay or ignore the role good fortune has played on the outcome of our lives. For many the misfortunes and the good fortunes tend to neutralize each other over the course of a lifetime.
Consequently, for a vast majority of us it is the net of our good and bad decisions that determine our fate – or our quality of life. We are the product of our decisions. It is that simple. Want a good life? Make good decisions. Want a great life? Make great decisions. Sounds easy, but it is not.
Rarely are we taught how to make decisions, and yet we make decisions almost by the minute. Have you ever been taught how to make decisions? Probably not. Yet, is is the single most important skill any of us can have. Think about your typical day and every decision you make from the time you wake-up.
And, the ability to make good decisions does not necessarily have anything to do with intelligence. Good decision making goes beyond pure intelligence and involves logic and wisdom – two qualities even some smart people do not have. Good decision making will determine one’s success more than one’s intelligence.
Many decisions are small and inconsequential. But some are life-changing either for ourselves or someone else. As a physician I am confronted with life and death decisions daily. Practicing medicine is really nothing more than making decisions: gathering information (patient history, examination, diagnostic studies), weighing risks, determining odds, and then making a decision.
Some decisions require significant thought with an ability to look into the future both near and distant to anticipate the outcome of our decisions. Some individuals have difficulty seeing beyond the next day when they make their decisions. They do not consider the long term effects of their decisions.
I doubt anyone sets out to make a bad decision. And, that’s one thing about decisions. It’s only in hindsight that you can label them “good” or “bad”, though based on experience and common sense we may have an inkling in advance how well a decision may turn out. I have done things that as I am doing them I am thinking, “This is probably is not a good idea.” And, they usually are not.
One caveat in making decisions involving people is this. Rarely do people change. If a good outcome is dependent on someone changing, it probably isn’t going to happen – at least if a major change is required.
Some individuals routinely make good decisions, and some routinely make bad decisions. A pattern emerges and repeats itself. A mind set takes root. We all make bad decisions from time to time. The key is to increase the odds of making a good decision.
Or, you can do what Ray Kroc said, “I gather just enough information to make a decision, then I work like hell to make it the right decision.” But, that can be fatiguing, and working harder to prove a decision is “right” frequently leads to you digging a deeper hole for yourself.
One sign of maturity is the ability to admit your mistakes and bad decisions. And, doing so opens the door to learn from our bad decisions. Warren Buffett, the most successful investor of our time, openly admits his investment mistakes in his annual letter to his shareholders.
The ability to admit mistakes or bad decisions is such an important quality that I think it is wise to minimize association with those that do not possess that trait. People need to own up – take responsibility for their decisions and actions. You may be dealt bad cards, but you still have to play your hand to the best of your ability, which is determined by your decisions. Unfortunately, in today’s society we are allowing people to blame others for their poor decisions and actions.
Why We Make Bad Decisions
There are several reasons we make bad decisions.
I know a professor at Ohio State University who actually teaches courses on decision-making based on scientific evidence. His name his Gleb Tsipursky and he has written a handful of books including The Truth Seeker’s Handbook: A Science Based Guide.
In the book he discusses when it is wise to make emotional decisions and when not to, and how to look at probability when making decisions.
Gut feeling decisions are best when we sense physical danger. The gut feeling is part of the fight or flight response. Your body is reacting to external cues. In those cases, it is best to act on your gut. If your gut senses physical danger, move – quickly.
Also, using your gut is fine for minor decisions that are one time events and not worth a lot of time and energy worrying about. But, minor decisions that are recurring should be more analytical. You want to buy the healthy cereal weekly, not the unhealthy one your gut feeling is telling you.
For everything else you want to be more analytical in your decision making approach. I have made what I thought were mostly gut decisions (where to go to college and medical school), but in retrospect they were far more analytical than I thought at the time. The ones that have turned out well were supported with a lot good analytical data behind them. In those cases, where my decisions turned out well, I think the analytics were so strong that it made my gut feel good – so I attributed those decisions to my gut mistakenly.
The gut decisions I’ve made that turned out bad, in retrospect, did not have much data to support them.
In fact, in some cases I ignored what should have been red flags because I wanted something to happen real badly. That’s a trap – wanting something so badly you overlook the obvious and allow your judgment to be clouded. And, the outcome of those decisions have been disastrous. One was an early career move back to my hometown area which ended being the worst year of my life. The desire to get closer to home led me to overlook significant character flaws in the physician with whom I would work.
So you may want to look back at some of your own decisions and determine to what degree they have been gut, and to what degree they were more analytical. You may see that your are more of gut person than you thought, or vice versa.
It’s challenging to be analytical when it comes to matters of the heart – such as choosing a life-partner. But, that decision probably requires a more analytical approach than it typically gets given the failure rate of marriages.
Your have to check your bias when making decisions. We tend to seek out only evidence that supports our pre-decision bias on a matter. It is healthier to take the approach of proving yourself wrong on a matter. This is done in scientific studies all the time. It is called the null hypothesis. If you want to do study because you think smoking causes lung cancer, you would design a study from the premise that “smoking does not cause lung cancer.”
Instead, of looking at only the reasons why you should take a job or marry a person, carefully assess the reasons you should not. While a job or person may have 10 great qualities, you may find it/they have one or two bad qualities that could be extremely problematic. Then you have to weigh the significance or importance of each good and bad quality and ultimately make a decision.
Anticipate the future
Decisions should be made with both the short-term and long-term in mind. This is really hard for teenagers as they can barely think five minutes into the future. Too many decisions are made only with the present moment in mind. Ask yourself questions like, “Can I really see being with this person 40 years from now?” Or, “Do I really want to be doing this physical labor for the next 30 years?” Or, “Is this career path right for me, and am I choosing if for the right reasons?” Or, “What if this investment goes bust? Can I survive?”
Ask yourself, “Is this a decision I will happy with tomorrow, next month, next year, and so on?”
In the future will you look back at any decision and you will have one of two conclusions, “I wish I had not.” Or, “I am glad I did.” Keep that in mind.
Best and Worse
“What’s the worse thing that can happen if I make this decision, and if it were to occur, can I live with it?” If the answer is “no” you may want to make another decision. Conversely, you may find that some decisions have little upside even if they turn out well.
At times we make bad decisions because we had inadequate information. This lack of information usually is related to our own poor due diligence. The bigger the decision the more you need to gather as much information. The New England Patriots contacted a high school athletic trainer I know to get additional information on a football player projected to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft. This player was known to have some character issues. Maybe that depth of due diligence is a major reason for New England’s success.
Misfortune versus Bad Decisions
A distinction should be made between misfortune and bad decisions. We frequently confuse the two. We frequently misinterpret our bad decisions as misfortune – to unfortunate fate. We are completely responsible for bad decisions. We all make them and we all need to own them. Misfortune is undeserved.
The real killer is complicating misfortune with bad decisions. I will share below one case where I compounded misfortune with bad decision making.
Before we go further in talking about bad decisions, let’s address misfortune which strikes us all at one time or another.
There are what I call universal misfortunes. These are misfortunes that strike all of us. We are not leaving this planet until we experience them. None of us are immune to it. There universal misfortunes only differ in when they strike us and in the severity in which they strike us.
Here are misfortunes that strike us all.
- We are all going to die.
- We all will have a loved one that dies.
- All of us will go through a period where we are lost, confused, or uncertain.
- All of us will have a relationship problem. It may be with a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, a co-worker, a boss, or a significant other.
- All of us including the über wealthy will experience a financial crisis. Only the amounts will differ.
- All of us will have, or will watch one of our loved one have an illness or an injury that affects quality of life, employment, or alters career plans.
Misfortune can hold us all back if we allow it. We can all use it as an excuse, but clearly some still do real well in life despite the misfortune that afflicts them. So how do we explain that some thrive despite their misfortune? Better decisions is the answer. And, better attitude. And, better effort.
Everyone can be a great guy or great gal when things are going well, but the real test of a person is how they conduct themselves when misfortune hits them. Associate with those who handle misfortune gracefully. That’s a definite quality you want in a mate – especially during tough times.
Financial struggles can be the result of bad decisions, as well as misfortune. I know a handful of individuals who due to medical expenses have filed for bankruptcy (misfortune).
I have moved interstate seven times. And, when you relocate you buy and sell real estate at whatever the market is doing. You have no control of the market. We once bought high (2006) and sold low (misfortune) losing $240,000 in the process plus spent another $120,000 on that house while we were renting it for five years waiting for the market to recover.
Compounding Misfortune with Bad Decisions
Bad decision making on my part contributed to the amount we lost by my unwillingness to cut our losses early in the process. It was a painful learning experience. In the end, I wired a check for $75,000 at the closing to get the house off our hands. That is the effect of compounding misfortune with bad decision making. Though I felt an enormous load off my shoulders when I went back to the office (after I wired the money) to see my afternoon patients, I was never so happy and mad at the same time to write that size of check.
I debated sharing the amount we lost, because it’s rather embarrassing, but it makes a great teaching point – the impact of a bad decision. I probably could have limited our loss out of the gate if I were willing to accept a $100,000 loss which I think would be hard for anyone to do at the get go. So I don’t fault myself for that. But, there was no indication in subsequent years that the economy and real estate market were improving. Not cutting our loses after 1-2 years was where the real mistake was made.
I look back at my bad decision and say to myself, “I am such an idiot, why did I do that?” That’s another thing. When you are involved in tough circumstances many times your are too close to the situation that it clouds your decision making and you miss the bigger picture. You need to step back and look at it more objectively and even have trusted others weigh in on the situation. But, my mindset was to get out of the house what we put into it, and that just wasn’t going to happen.
In hindsight, it is so easy to see what should have been done, but the heat of the moment can blind you. The reality was despite any wishful thinking on my part we were going to lose money on that house. It was simply a matter of how much.
The Impact of Bad Decisions
Much savings, savings that took 20 plus years to accumulate, went down the tubes because of that bad decision of mine. And, that is the thing about decisions. One bad decision can wipe out years of good decisions. It only takes a couple minutes to destroy a reputation that took years to build. But, I deserved the financial loss. It was my fault. I should have cut our losses earlier though we did get some questionable advice from our realtor – but it was my decision to listen to him.
Now, I have been able to recoup much what we lost by working more than I would have for the last handful of years – at times at the tune of working an additional 12 hours a week on average. One bad decision wiped out years of savings and took years of extra work to offset it. That is the impact of a bad decisions which are not limited to financial decisions. The outcome of bad decisions do not go away overnight.
If you find you are unable to routinely make good decisions, at least avoid making the really bad ones. Some bad decisions will be with you a lifetime.
Minimize Misfortune, Maximize Good Fortune
Bill Walsh, the Hall of Fame coach for the San Francisco 49ers once said that in football there is and ebb and flow to the game. There are stretches in the game where everything is going your way including the referee calls and the bounce of the balls and when that happens you need to maximize the result. Get touchdowns and not settle for field goals. Turn turnovers to your advantage, and so on.
But, there are also stretches where everything is going in favor of your opponent. When that happens, minimize your losses. Let them have what they have earned but don’t compound your opponents good performance with your own stupid penalties, misassignments and more. Essentially he was asking his players to manage game-risks and not compound bad luck with bad decisions.
You have to minimize any misfortune and maximize any good fortune that comes your way – by the decisions you make.
Life’s Hardest Decision
These may be the hardest decisions in life. Knowing when to cut your financial losses, abandon a bad personal relationship, or move on from a souring professional relationship. Any decision involving people is particularly challenging because it is hard to give up on people.
A patient once told me, “You can always get rid of your spouse, but your kids are your kids. There’s a part of you in them.” She had a 40 year-old adult son living back home with her. She is an enabler and her son is taking advantage of her. But, she can’t walk away from him, can she? Should she?
Another patient in her mid 70s is furious with her husband who is depleting their retirement account giving their 42 year-old son $3,000 a month to help him meet his monthly expenses. He is a struggling musician unable to financially provide for his family. His wife divorced him. My patient said, “I know he is my son, and I do love him, but he has made his own bed, and now he needs to sleep in it. He is an adult. He needs to figure it out.”
What’s the right answer? Enabling love? Or, tough love? What decision would you make? If you have adult children you may want to give this some thought, because a lot of adult children are moving back in with mom and dad these days.
I have a number of patients who have been in unsatisfying marriages for 20, 30, and 40 years. This year I had two couples in their mid-60s divorce after 40 plus years of marriage. All four individuals involved wish they would have parted ways much sooner. But, it’s hard to decide when to move on from people. But, much life is “wasted” by delaying tough decisions waiting for something to improve, something to change, or someone to change.
For bad situations to change, something has to change. And, if the situation involves people, then people have to change. But, rarely – rarely do people change. They may improve for a short period, but eventually they go back to their old ways.
People will sometimes change but only when they hit rock bottom. And, then the desire to change has to come from deep within that person. The question is “where is rock bottom for them?”
Southwest Airlines has as their hiring motto, “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” They want employees who have good attitudes. They can teach them whatever job they need them to do, but they have discovered they cannot change their attitudes. And, attitude is the embodiment of a person. It is much easier to find and hire people with good attitudes than it is to develop a good attitude in them.
People rarely change. Don’t count on it happening if that is what is necessary to change a bad situation.
The Bad, The Good, The Great
We will be discussing bad and good decisions in the next two parts of this article. But, here is preview.
If you want to live a tough life, complicate misfortune with bad decisions.
If you want to live a good life, consistently make conservative or minimally risky decisions.
If you want to live a great life, make consistently good decisions and be willing to make some well calculated risky decisions. Improve your odds for a great life. Go for it!
We get what we deserve by the decisions we make.
We will stop there for this first part and pick up the second part of We Get What We Deserve by the Decisions We Make when we will focus on areas where we make bad decisions.