A politician cheats on his wife, gets caught, and says he “made a big mistake.” A businesswoman omits some revenue on her taxes and says something similar to the IRS. A son lies to his mother and later fesses up to his “mistake.” In truth, these examples aren’t mistakes—they’re bad decisions.
Selecting the wrong answer on a test is a mistake. Not studying for that test is a bad decision. The mistake was something you did without intention, while the bad decision was made intentionally, often without regard for the consequence.
It’s easy to dismiss your bad decisions by reclassifying them as mistakes. It takes the edge off, softens the blow. But it’s much worse than that: reclassifying a bad decision as a mistake removes your sense of responsibility, making it no longer your fault. And it’s a lot easier to live with your bad decisions if they aren’t your fault. Consequently, you’re more likely to make the same bad decision over and over and over again if you simply consider it a mistake. Such behavior is, by definition, insane.
We all make mistakes. We all make bad decisions. They are part of the human experience. We can celebrate our mistakes—failure is often the key to success. And we can learn from our bad decisions. But let’s not confuse one with the other.