What to Do When You Make a Bad Decision

UPDATED: May 28, 2019
PUBLISHED: May 22, 2019
What to Do When You Make a Bad Decision

Oh my god, you think, your stomach turning. Why in the world did I do that? We’ve all made a bad decision before. You know the feeling—in the moment, it seems like you made the right call. But afterward, the impact of your decision sets in, and you realize your judgment was cloudy.

Maybe you left your old job for a new one, and quickly realized you made the wrong choice. Perhaps you broke up with your significant other in a heated moment, only to later register that that was the last thing you wanted to do. Or maybe you made a large purchase, such as a car or a home, and found yourself overwhelmed with buyer’s remorse.

We’re all human, which means we’re not immune from making bad calls every once in a while. Although we can’t go back in time and change our choice, we can lessen the impact it has on us. Below, you’ll find seven actionable tips for surviving a poor decision.

1. Accept your emotions.

Suppressing your emotions will get you nowhere. It’s important to first focus on how you feel.

“The first step is to recognize what happened and how you felt,” says psychologist Dr. Sal Raichbach, Psy.D. “Ignoring or pretending leaves the pain open. If you cut yourself, you wouldn’t pretend that it didn’t happen or that you don’t care. You would deal with it and seek professional help.”

If you think it’s right for you, consider going to therapy, which can help you work through what happened. You can also journal your emotions or speak with a close confidante.

2. Then, focus on the cold, hard facts.

Once you’ve recognized and accepted the emotions you have following a poor decision, Dr. Benjamin Ritter, Ed.D., founder of LFY Consulting, says one of the best things you can do is focus on the facts.

“Take a step out of the emotions and stress to really look at the facts of the situation,” he says. “Ask yourself: What is currently happening? What do you really want? How can you work productively toward that goal given the situation you’re in?”

You might struggle to be objective. If that happens, Ritter recommends writing about the situation or getting outside perspective by talking with a close friend or family member.

3. Don’t let the bad decision consume you.

Tristan Gutner, a life and business coach, says it’s important to mentally separate yourself from the decision. Doing so can help you strip it of its power.

“Once we’ve made what we’d call a bad decision, we give it a lot of meaning it does not inherently have,” Gutner says. “We tell ourselves we’re stupid, we can’t trust ourselves, this is going to ruin our life/business/relationship/etc.”

None of this is true, of course, but Gutner says it can be very difficult to move forward with our lives if we’re stuck in that mindset.

“We need to decide, right when the mistake happens, that we’re going to learn from it and use it as a momentum-builder to move forward,” he says. “If we strip the mistake of the negative meaning we give it, we can use it as helpful data to move forward and make decisions more aligned with the success we desire.”

4. Forgive yourself.

Don’t be too hard on yourself in the wake of a poor decision.

“The most important step is to forgive yourself,” says psychiatrist Dion Metzger, M.D. “We become our own worst enemy with poor decisions. We spend way too much energy wallowing in the guilt rather than using that to go to our next move.”

Use the failure of your bad decision as leverage for future success. “Mistakes are essential for success,” Metzger says. “You will make them, but what determines your future success is how you respond.”

5. Accept your regret.

After making a bad judgment call, your mind will likely be flooded with regret. This regret, it turns out, can actually be a powerful tool, Ritter says.

“Regret can help you remember the things you want to avoid in life and actually help you make better decisions,” he says.

Accept your regret and move forward.

6. If your regret is all-consuming, try practicing gratitude.

“We all have regrets,” Raichbach says. “Things we wish we did differently or didn’t say. But those regrets don’t have to control you. You have to learn to control your thoughts to see the positives instead of the negatives.”

One way to see the positives, he says, is by practicing gratitude. Each morning, make a list of three or five things you’re grateful for. This will help lessen the grip the regret has on you.

7. Create a decision-making process for the future.

The next time you’re confronted with a big decision, you might feel anxious or stressed that you’ll make another mistake. To counteract this anxiety, consider putting a decision-making process into place for all future calls.

Ana Jovanovic, a psychologist and life coach at Parenting Pod, says everyone should have a process in place for complex decisions, which she defines as those that have significant consequences and require the analysis of several different factors before being made.

Jovanovic recommends the commonly used seven-step decision-making process. It works like this:

  1. Identify the decision/problem. Be as clear as possible.
  2. Collect information that will assist in your decision-making.
  3. Consider various solutions.
  4. Weigh the evidence for each potential solution.
  5. Make your decision.
  6. Take action on that decision.
  7. Review the decision once action has been taken.

Armed with this seven-step process, you’ll (hopefully) be able to rest assured knowing that any big calls you make in the future will be well informed and carefully thought out.

Happy decision-making!

Related: 10 Ways Successful People Make Smart Decisions

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.