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How to Recover From a Bad Decision

This excerpt from 'The Decision Makeover' shows how to make a 'reset' in midlife


Have you  ever made a decision so terrible and at such a crucial time in your life that it seems almost impossible to recover? Author Mike Whitaker suggests that people spend years making poor choices without consciously understanding why (or when) they made them. His book,The Decision Makeover: An Intentional Approach to Living the Life You Want, which will be released by Greenleaf Book Group Press in September, helps readers dissect the decision-making process and take on a “reset” for those suffering the consequences of a bad decision.

The following is an excerpt from the book, The Decision Makeover: An Intentional Approach to Living the Life You Want by Mike Whitaker. This portion comes from Chapter 4 and draws from a section about “Decision Zones and the MidLife Adult:”

For decisions, how or why we make mistakes is less important than when we make mistakes. In other words, bad decisions made at a vulnerable time create maximum damage. In life, Decision Zones are meaningful to our personal success. I have seen friends as well as my children navigate these zones blindly, unaware that they have crossed from one zone to the other. The key is to be aware of these zones and the incredible power they have in our total life.

Imagine you are a jet fighter pilot and your aircraft is parked on the tarmac. You approach it on a mission. Your first order of business has been to prepare your abilities, taking years to accomplish, as well as to prepare for this particular flight. You inspect the aircraft, running your hand along its sleek body. Is it ready for action? Are you armed for the mission? You are leaving the Prep Zone.

You begin your takeoff and your adrenaline flows. The test of all your preparation begins as you go “wheels up.” You’ve entered the Critical Zone. You burn a lot of fuel to get airborne. You reach a cruising altitude and let out a deep breath. You are a young pilot, and this is the career you wanted. You are in formation with other pilots, working together, at cruising speed.

Suddenly, your radar begins beeping, and unknown aircraft approach. You dive low to remain unseen, the trees coming so close you can count them. Other pilots are yelling on the intercom as you must maintain your cool and decide what to do, which bogey to follow. Do you engage? Do you ignore? Are you under threat? Watch out for the ground below. So many decisions now. Sweat beads form on your face as you are suddenly overloaded with information and your body begs for extra time to process it all. Aircraft swirl, and the airspace is suddenly crowded and deadly serious. You are missing the training days of preparation because it is all suddenly so real.

What you do now is critical. One wrong move can lead to a demotion and loss of your wings or even death for you and your peers. Finally, based upon your training, judgment and instinct, you act. The act cannot be undone. You’ve entered the Consequences Zone. Only the consequences of your act can happen now. The effects smoothly land you back to earth intact with your squad mates and a smile on your face (“mission accomplished”) or, alter- natively, you crash and burn, creating permanent damage in your life to you, your future, and/or others you care about. The mission (as you intended it) has failed. These are real consequences and they remain forever. Let’s look at the zones closely.

What Is the Prep Zone?

“Prep” is all the work you and your parents attempt up until the age where you have the steering wheel to your life and it’s up to you to “make it.” The age range is generally 10 to 16 years where study habits are formed and carried out, work ethic is formed and a sense of who we want to be is crafted. Preparation can extend into adulthood, of course. Yet we all grow up urgently wanting to finally make decisions for ourselves. If we only knew how safe the Prep Zone was compared to the Critical Zone!

What Is the Critical Zone?

The 12 Biggie decision categories get the most activity between the ages of 16 and 40. These Biggies are Critical because the results tend to be big and impact you forever. This is the core time span of self-directed life, love, experiences, adventures, strategy and deal making. That’s a 24-year window of time in which the average person sets up his or her entire life to achieve a personal definition of success. In hindsight, these years go by too fast, and I wish I had read this book at 16. You don’t have to be perfect in this zone, but you’ve got to be careful. You will lose lifetime momentum and opportunity if you choose poorly.

What Is the Consequences Zone?

Just as the name suggests, these are the 50+ years (the majority of your life) where you get to enjoy the fruits of decisions made in the Critical Zone. Alternatively, some people must carry the burden instead (the “consequences”). “Happily married,” adequate income, retirement savings, travel, grandchildren, etc. are good examples of positive consequences.

Decision Zones and The Midlife Adult (The Big Reset)

If you’re like my brilliant brother and have only made great decisions so far in life, you can move beyond this section — but there is still a lot of time left and you never know what will happen tomorrow. As I look around at my peers, it is clear, frankly, that many of us screw up in the first half of our life. It’s common. Perhaps you have one or more of the following situations:

  • Divorce/split family
  • Failed business
  • Too reliant upon someone else (held hostage)
  • Failure to meet the right person
  • Not enough education or skills to qualify for better paying work
  • Didn’t take care of my health and now it is affecting everything I do
  • Little/no savings
  • Jail, bankruptcy, drug use
  • Derailed by the actions of someone else

So what do we do about it now? Regardless of what happened in the past, we still have dreams and goals we want to accomplish — but how do we recover? How do we make our prior years’ hard lessons work constructively for us going forward?

The answer is: We must do The Big Reset. It may be scary to admit that The Big Reset is necessary in your life. This step can be taken at any time, and it requires honesty, clarity, and a belief that you can do better going forward. You simply decide to reset. It will sometimes feel unsteady and it should feel challenging — because you want to make an important change in the middle of your life: transforming from victim of your past to director of your future. During this Big Reset, you must be brave and committed. Involve your closest friends in your efforts. Their support will be reassuring.

The Big Reset is a fresh approach to the rest of our life, and the sooner we do it, the sooner we benefit. A reset midlife changes the Decision Zone picture. Experiences are shuffled and time is compressed, starting now. In The Big Reset, all our pre-reset years are thrown into the Prep Zone, and the next 10 years are the Critical Zone, regardless of our age. We have to stop kicking ourselves over anything concerning our new expanded Prep Zone and simply use those years as support for what’s next — and how we want to remake ourselves and our future. We use that wisdom as past “prep,” and we go forward with a revised definition of success for our lives. Starting on the day of the reset, we use the next 10 years to make great decisions. This compresses the zones, but it is a positive way to deal with the past (finito!) and start fresh. One huge point to understand is that our starting point is where we are today, with all assets and blemishes, and progress will begin here, not from somewhere in our past.

A BIG RESET TIMELINE:
You learn, you make the big decisions, you relearn, repair and restart and then you enjoy the fruits of the reset decisions the rest of your life.

Big Reset Insurance

If we don’t want to be forced to do The Big Reset in our future, then we must master the decisions made in the Critical Zone the first time we encounter them. Doing well with the concepts in this book will prevent the need to ever do The Big Reset. From interviews of my middle-aged peers, most “resetters” believe it was only a couple big decisions made in their Critical Zone that they wish they could take back. They value decision-making discipline now because they hurt themselves — but they didn’t respect it earlier in their lives. This is exactly the mindset I am trying to change. That is what I am telling my children today.

Editor’s Note: The Decision Makeover will be available for purchase beginning in September 2017. 

By Shayla Stern
Shayla leads the editorial team and content strategy as the Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. She has spent a career in digital media journalism and digital strategy at organizations including washingtonpost.comEdmunds.comCars.com and Fast Horse, and worked as a consultant for several years. She also was a media professor at the University of Minnesota and DePaul University and  has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication. She can be reached at [email protected].@shayla_stern

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