3 Ways to Avoid Making Big Mistakes

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Ever look back and wish you had acted differently. This is the 2nd part of our 2-part series discussing self-control. (Click here for part 1.)

Big Mistakes: Regular mistakes we've made one time too many

Many of the big mistakes that we make are not 'one off' mistakes. Often they are ‘habitual’ mistakes made one too many times. Perhaps we sometimes get a little too drunk. Or perhaps we have a tendency to lose the keys to our house. Perhaps we sometimes get angry and end up saying things we later regret. Perhaps we regularly leave things until the last minute. More often than not we will get away with our little ‘mistakes’. We get drunk, but at least we get home and don't do anything too stupid. We often lose the house keys but usually we find them again. We often get angry and say nasty things. But people usually forgive us. The ‘big mistakes’ occur when we make the same mistake, but on this occasion, there are serious consequences. Whilst drunk, we get into a fight and get seriously hurt. We lose our house keys and can’t get back into the house. We get angry and say something so hurtful that the other person refuses to forgive us and won’t speak to us any more. We can end up regretting a serious 'Big Mistake' for the rest of our lives. But learning how to avoid our 'habitual mistakes' is key to ensuring that more serious 'Big Mistakes' do not occur. This article follows on from our interview with semi-professional poker player Nate Chance. As a young man Nate had addictive gambling tendencies. Nate had to learn to manage his tendency to fall into habitual negative behavioural patterns. After he learnt to manage these patterns Nate became a highly successful poker player. In this article I will draw out 3 more key lessons we can learn from Nate’s experiences concerning how to avoid falling into habitual negative patterns.
  1. Take Breaks This is how Nate responds when he begins to realise he is getting to the point where he’s going to start giving in to negative patterns. When Nate realises he is becoming emotionally weak, he takes a break. Nate says, ‘The key thing I’ve learned is that I need to take breaks. You have to set aside that break time. I might say to myself “Ok, tomorrow I’m not gonna play.” Or, “I’m taking a week off.”’ ‘Now if, during those times that I have set aside for myself, I go and play anyway – those are typically the days I lose the most money. This is because I shouldn’t be playing: I should be taking a break! I should be doing some care for myself. You gotta trust your body.’
    • This takes tremendous self-reflection. You really have to be aware of your current emotional state. And you have to learn to recognise when you are getting to the point where you’re going to give in to negative patterns. But I believe that this is the key to learning to manage our impulses.
    Start Quote We need to look after ourselves properly. For example, if we’re working too hard, we can become unhappy. And if our relationships are suffering, or we are arguing with our family and friends, then this will also have an affect on our emotional wellbeing. And this is when we behave in ways we don’t want to. End Quote
    I’ve actually said in the past, ‘When I start drinking too much I see this as a good thing.’ Why? ‘Because then I know that something is up. I’m not happy for some reason.' So, you see, my behaviour highlights that there’s some stuff I need to deal with. In my case the problem usually boils down to the fact that I am working too much. When I work too much I don’t invest enough quality time into friendships. But the triggers will be different for everyone. This principle also affects Principle 2 from Part 1: Know Your Triggers. (Click here to read Part 1 which outlines Principle 2). A 'trigger' environment is a place that has often triggered my negative behavioural patterns in the past. If I am feeling very happy and I am well rested, then I may be able to spend some time in my ‘trigger’ environment without acting impulsively. However, if I am anxious, stressed or tired, then I know that I must avoid my trigger environment. Otherwise I will certainly end up acting impulsively.
  2. Set Boundaries This is a powerful tool that I have applied in order to manage my negative behavioural tendencies. Like Nate, I have the potential to be quite impulsive. However, well applied boundaries probably end up enabling me to be more controlled then people who are typically less impulsive than me. Nate says in relation to poker: ‘You can play sensibly, if you play within a limit that you have set aside. This set limit, that you determine in advance of playing, is your ‘bankroll’. That’s an amount you can loose without going broke. If you play outside of your bankroll, you certainly will go broke.’ Nate knows he has a tendency to gamble all of his money away. So he enters the poker room with a set amount of money. And that is all he can play. This enables him to limit his poker playing pot to money he can afford to lose. Interestingly, my book editor (Click here to be kept up to date about my forthcoming book, We Are Who We Meet) is a highly successful semi-professional rugby gambler. However, he supplements his gambling income with income from rugby journalism and book writing. Both Nate and my book editor are Semi-professional gamblers. This means that they have another source of income alongside their gambling income. If worst comes to worst, they only lose their gambling pot. They still have their other sources of income.

    I over-spent by £6000 because I didn't budget

    I have a tendency to spend all of my money.
    Start Quote One year my tax bill came to £6000. Unfortunately I had already spent the entire £6000 during the year. I therefore ended up having to borrow £6000 to cover my tax bill. I am still paying off that debt years later. Terrible. End Quote
    So now I apply strict boundaries. Each week I have a standing order that sends £45 into a current account. This £45 is all I can spend on food and entertainment in that week. However, I also have an extra £100 per month set aside which I can use to supplement my spending money if I need to during any month. I can use some of this extra money if I do something that requires me to spent more than my allotted £45 in any given week. Last year I applied this strict budgeting system. In 6 months I saved £2500. I invested this money. This contrasts dramatically with the £6000 I 'lost' when I did not apply strict boundaries. This demonstrates how important boundaries and budgeting are for me. They enable me to control and keep a check on my impulsive tendencies. Do you have a tendency to over-indulge in certain behaviours? Perhaps you over-indulge in relation to unhealthy foods, or alcohol, or (like me) money? Applying pre-set boundaries might also help you to limit your negative behaviour. Find Out How Impulsive You Are: Try our Impulsiveness quiz: CLICK HERE
  3. Be With Other People This is a little something I noticed when I interviewed Nate. Nate explains that he started making money after he began to play live. '…When you play live, it's more paced. You’re more in control of your emotions. And when you play live, you play the cash you have. Whereas when you play online, your money is just a number on the screen.' The other thing Nate didn’t mention about playing live, is that you are surrounded by other people.
    Start Quote One of my central beliefs is that our emotional wellbeing is largely determined by the quality of our relationships. Being alone can be a dangerous place for the a person who has addictive tendencies. End Quote

    I nearly became alcohol-dependent

    I began drinking when I was age 21 - just before my 21st birthday. I was suffering from severe depression at the time. And so I began to drink a lot. And I started drinking at home alone. Straight Vodka amongst other things. But a week or two after my 21st birthday I went out for a meal with my Dad. I told him that I had started drinking alcohol. I also mentioned that I was drinking at home, alone. He quickly realised that this could have easily developed into a serious problem. He said, ‘You are starting to sound like an alcoholic’. And he gave me some advice which saved me at that time. He said, ‘If you’re in a social situation, drinking can be fun. It helps to relax you. It can help to calm your nerves and enable you to talk more freely.’ ‘However,’ he said, ‘I don’t think you should drink when you are on your own. Drink when you are with friends but don’t drink when you are alone. Or you could start going downhill.’ And I applied his rule rigidly. (Click here to read about why I followed rules so rigidly). And I think it saved me from getting into serious trouble at that time. Of course this won’t apply to every addictive behaviour. If you are prone to having physical fights, then being in public settings might make things worse! But I think that many addictive behaviours can have a lot worse of an affect when we indulge in them on our own. I believe that humans are designed to be social. And we are designed to be around other people. In any event, I believe that our emotional well-being is nurtured by positive interactions with others. If we spend too much time alone, our emotional well-being is likely to suffer. Don’t spend too much time alone. And ask your friends to help you stay strong if you feel as though you are likely to start giving in to addictive patterns.

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Live Life Satisfied is a website dedicated to improving our emotional wellbeing. We do this by trying to understand ourselves better. I publish around 2 or 3 articles per week in which I share lessons I have learned that have significantly improved my life outcomes. Why not have my e-mail updates sent directly to your inbox? SIGN UP FOR MY EMAIL UPDATES to have my articles sent directly to you! (Alternatively click the orange 'Subscribe to Email Updates' button below.) Please Give Feedback: Did you find this article helpful? I love to receive feedback from people: it's what makes writing these articles worthwhile. If you found this article useful, or if you have any questions or comments please let me know. Click here to e-mail me, or leave a COMMENT BELOW. Your feedback means a great deal to me. Photo: Tambako The Jaguar


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