My next-door neighbor when I was growing up was a true adventurer. She made trips all over the world, including, amazingly enough, one to the North Pole. In preparation for her grueling trip across the miles of ice, she would rollerblade in the neighborhood, dragging a tire from a rope tied around her waist. Needless to say, she received some funny looks. Although most kept their opinions to themselves, one passerby apparently recognized a hint of the monastic in her training. He remarked, “I don’t even want to know what you did to deserve that penance.”

The history of people’s reactions to their own poor choices is a fascinating one. Although most don’t go to the lengths of medieval monks to try to rid themselves of guilty feelings after a bad decision, a poor judgment call on the job can be a haunting specter for a long time afterward, injuring self-confidence, damaging relationships, and impeding career goals. Many have questioned whether there is much point in “crying over spilt milk,” yet there is utter unanimity regarding the merits of avoiding bad decisions in the first place.

While perfection is never a realistic human goal, there are ways to improve our decision-making skills. Among the most significant of these are learning to minimize mental distractions, knowing when you should seek advice, and developing a practical approach to make sure that you are spending more time on what matters most.

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