We’re doing the best we can with the tools we have at the time

Yesterday I was doing some self-reflective development work, focused on identifying and managing traits that don’t serve me well (I know, a bit masochistic for a Monday afternoon…)

The structure of the exercise went something like this…

  • Identify the habit, personality trait or ‘fault’
  • Describe an occasion in which this trait had a negative impact on my life
  • Write about what I could have done differently at the time
  • Create a plan for improving this habit or trait (or minimising its impact) in the future

Reflecting on one past situation, I experienced a fun little moment of self-flagellation and guilt that I hadn’t made slightly better choices at the time.

And then I paused.

And thought about it.

And then I wrote: “The first thing I need to do is not feel guilty about the choices I made back then. I was doing the best I could with the tools I had at the time”

Later on, I considered the significance of these sentences. And thought about how easy it is, with the benefit of hindsight, to be overly critical for not acting differently. For not making the ‘right’ choice, or for deliberating too long over a decision.

Yet most of us don’t make intentionally poor choices. For the most part, we are doing the best we can with the knowledge, tools or capacity we have at the time.

But that guilty hangover can and does prevent us from learning from situations or shifting behaviour in a more self-serving direction.

The original incident wasn’t particularly significant, but it still felt like a big (and unusual) step to give past me forgiveness for not being better equipped to see the future.

Most importantly, it gave me permission to properly explore the factors that contributed to the situation, and build strategies for avoiding a repeat outcome next time.

This exercise has left me a little bit curious…

😖 Do you tend to get hung up judging past decisions or actions?

🧭 What strategies do you have for learning from mistakes or poor decisions in a positive and proactive way?

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