Mental wealth: Don't lose sight of the bigger picture

Our major mistakes in life can be caused by emotional thinking and subconscious prejudices that stop us seeing the bigger picture.

Why do we make serious errors of judgement about life’s most major decisions? I don’t mean the genuine accidents, nor the mistakes and oversights that occur because we’re rushed, exhausted, overloaded, intoxicated or emotionally incensed.   

I mean that critical error of judgement we calmly make after ample amounts of careful consideration... or so we thought. The resulting error is the career move, major purchase or relationship commitment that we soon come to regret. What on earth were we thinking, we ask ourselves, as we seem to come to our senses.

Surely we had weighed things up so sagely and systematically, yet it now becomes self-evident that we consistently overlooked or undervalued one or more critical factors.

There is, too, a flip side to this coin of major error: it’s the dynamic action we didn’t take, but should have.

Under this category falls our failure to take a transforming opportunity, to change direction, to partner up or part company, though the circumstances clearly championed doing so. They are also the passions we talked ourselves out of, and turned our backs on.

Though such omissions are often invisible to anyone but ourselves, those deeds left undone will haunt our thoughts and form the shadow life we did not live but could have.

This is painful medicine, but if we dare to consider what kryptonite so badly skewed our game-changing decisions, we will likely unmask one or more of the following:

  • We fail to take a big enough perspective. Rather than losing oneself in the detailed planning of our pending course of action, better to ask: this may feel so necessary now, but how will I look back on it in a year’s time?  

  • We fail to question the goal itself, and to play the devil’s advocate: does the intended outcome of my action fairly reflect what I value most? What are some really good reasons why I shouldn’t be doing this?

  • We fail to consider the possible consequences: can I survive the worst-case scenario if something goes tits up? Are all my eggs in one basket? Sometimes, we daren’t look for any down sides lurking just over the horizon, because we’re so desperate to have the shiny and immediate rewards.  

  • If we feel we have no choice, that’s a sure sign we’re locked into blinkered thinking, and should hold fire. The truth is, unless we can raise enthusiasm for at least one competing alternative, we’re not thinking freely.

  • We fail to search for the subconscious drivers that, like currents beneath the wat­er’s surface, can drown our good judgement. Subliminal such effects may be, but they can still be guessed at. For instance, we’ll know that ‘Dad always went on and on about such matters’; or ‘Mum made it clear the topic was taboo’. So we can infer from those childhood influences (on the usual suspects of sex, money, marriage, class, qualifications and careers) that we may be liable to poor evaluation of one subject or another. Likewise, if we feel a pressing sense of urgency from deep inside, we’re probably being driven by something subliminal. We should wonder, too, whether we’re so keen to take action only because we feel so stagnant in other arenas of our life.

  •  Our pride can make us secretive, and we might fail to confide in a clear-thinking friend who would drive a horse and cart through our pie-eyed presumptions.

We might even conclude our life course is so strongly shaped by the emotional and rational influences bearing down on our biggest calls to action, that it’s well worth having a checklist to keep our choices versatile.

Visit Nick Baylis’ website at

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