What I learned (or re-learned) during 2010

WisdomThe past year has been an extremely challenging one for me personally, and — as frequently is the case when working to overcome challenges — filled with valuable learning experiences. Here are four key lessons I learned (or learned again) during 2010.

1. You make your own luck:
At the base of everything, the universe isn’t under your control (or anyone else’s control for that matter).1 What happens in life is — to a very large degree — determined by probability and random luck. What is under your control is what you do with what the universe has provided. If you closely examine a “lucky” individual (someone for whom everything always seems to turn out right), you’ll usually find that a lot of proactive actions and decisions lie behind each and every thing that turned out right. 

2. Ultimately only you are responsible for what you do with your life:
This flows directly from the previous lesson and is one of those valuable lessons that I learn over and over again. If you don’t take action to change or improve your life, you can’t place the blame on someone else. Choosing not to act is rarely the best choice, because inaction essentially means giving up your opportunity to influence or impact your situation.

3. Trust your gut instinct:
For a long, long time, I tended to overthink and overanalyze every single thing in my life. The human mind is an amazing thing, and far more often than not it will reach the correct decision without lots of conscious analysis, pondering or hand-wringing. Conversely, spending an excessive amount of time analyzing your options can actually lead you away from the best decision. A great example of this is the Monty Hall Problem, which illustrates how consciously thinking about which door to pick in a classic game show situation can actually prevent you from making the correct choice.

In addition, the longer you think about a possible choice or possible action, the more objections your conscious mind will find against making that choice or taking that action. So what your gut initially thought was a good idea gets nixed by the (often minor or irrelevant) risks our conscious mind finds when given too much time to ponder and worry.

4. Don’t live in the past:
Simply put, the past is over. You can’t change it. All you can do is move forward and learn from the experience. So constantly stressing or becoming indecisive because of some previous bad decision doesn’t change that past decision or make it go away ... in fact, it might actually make things worse (because you now lack the ability to move forward and make any other decisions, either good or bad). Acknowledge when a decision turned out to be the wrong one, learn from that experience, and move on.

What lessons did you learn (or re-learn) during 2010? Please share your hard-earned wisdom from this past year.

  1. I realize this statement invites disagreement from those who believe in an interventional supreme being. But I’ve yet to see any evidence that any god is controlling our actions on a daily basis like a puppetmaster or warping probability simply to ensure specific outcomes. Feel free to disagree, but you’re unlikely to change my mind. []

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