Each day we make hundreds of decisions. All of them have consequences. And those consequences affect our lives, some more meaningfully than others.
Maybe you decide to take a certain route home from work one evening. And that decision may result in a shorter commute, or a longer commute. Or getting stuck in traffic. Or an accident. And death. Or maybe you decide to have lunch at a certain restaurant. And end up in the hospital from food poisoning.
Maybe you decide to work at a coffee shop for a few hours to get out of your home office for a while. Maybe you run into someone at the coffee shop, have a wonderful conversation with her, and wind up in a meaningful relationship. Or maybe you get mugged on the way to the coffee shop, or run over by a bus.
We make some decisions knowing that they will deeply affect our lives. Selecting a college. Taking a job. Buying a house. Beginning a serious relationship. But we make many others thinking that they won’t make much of a difference. And most don’t. But some do. And because of the nature of those seemingly inconsequential decisions, we make them lightly, without much analysis. Not that analysis would help anyway, since the only way ostensibly inconsequential decisions become consequential is if something totally unexpected happens. Something that analysis would not have considered. Like a drunk driver happening to run a red light precisely when you were crossing that particular street on your way home from work.
So we have no alternative but to accept that we will never be able to accurately predict the results of any of our decisions beforehand, whether seemingly consequential or seemingly trivial.
But wait. There’s more.
We also need to consider that, even with the benefit of hindsight, we will never know if any one of our decisions was “good” or “bad” within the context of our intended result. For example, you decide to go to a certain college, and end up satisfied with the education and overall experience you got there. So you tell yourself it was a “good” decision to select that particular college. But you will never know what would have happened had you selected a different college. Or elected to not attend college at all. So you really don’t know.
Another example: you get married. No matter how your marriage turns out, you will never know what would have happened if you didn’t marry. Or married someone else. Since the merits of one result may only be measured against the merits of the alternative, which is unknown, they cannot be measured.
And so it goes. The same applies to every single decision we make. We know the consequences of the path we took, and we can feel satisfied, dissatisfied or indifferent about them. But we will never know the consequences of the path we chose not to take, and in the absence of that information there is no valid conclusion.
All we can do is play the probabilities. Hope for the best. And not obsess about what might have been.