84. Treat each situation as unique…

Paul Coelho said that: ‘The two worst strategic mistakes to make are acting prematurely and letting an opportunity slip; to avoid this, the warrior treats each situation as if it were unique and never resorts to formulae, recipes or other people’s opinions.’

Whilst I may not be a warrior, I do believe that there is a certain strategy to life. The more we experience the more we inevitably build up expectations of likelihood, or what might be called ‘baggage’. As much as we try to view each situation independently it is inevitable that we bring our experience and knowledge to what we encounter. And it’s not just us; everyone you meet has an opinion or advice on what you should do. But what if that baggage is actually dentrimental to us?

Nothing is set in stone so is it really fair to make assumptions of how things will turn out? I read a book on randomness recently that said that just because a CEO has 5 successful years in a row, it is actually no more likely that his 6th year will be a success than his counterpart who’s had five bad years.

The book explains that it is easy to find patterns in things retrospectively. For example, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour people were able to cite many reasons it could have been prevented, but were they really so obvious before the event? We find patterns comforting. They make us feel like we have more control over our lives. Sometimes patterns gives us hope, sometimes they can destroy our hope. But either way they seem to give us a kind of explanation, something tangible that we can process and then move on with.

But the reality, perhaps more startling, is that things are much more random than that. We are so used to cause and effect, that if bad things happen to us we assume we are being punished for a reason. Conversely, if our luck changes we assume that that too is a result of something we did. In the real world two people can be in seemingly similar situations and the outcomes can be strikingly different. There is an element of randomness to everything we do. Sometimes things just happen. I’m not saying we should just give up because we can’t control anything, but don’t expect things to always be so logical.

At the end of the day we really can’t predict the outcomes of every situation in our lives. Of course it’s hard to ignore what experience has taught you, but what if you miss out on something amazing because you jumped to conclusions? The better option is to remain open-minded and trust your instincts. That’s the only way to avoid acting prematurely or letting an opportunity slip away.