how do we know when we are making a mistake?

mistake. blunder. failure. lapse. relapse. error. gaffe. miscalculation. omission. oversight. sin. transgression. wrongdoing.

more than an amusingly misquoted Police song. all weighted words, lying on our hearts and souls so heavily, that we cannot bear them, and we look away, make excuses.

mistakes – I think I’m going to call them errors, from now in – can be known by their consequences. but to do so ignores much about them. the decision to drink drive is always going to be an error, whether or not the consequences that time are immediate and tragic.

one division of errors can be that into those of commission and those of omission, a rather Biblical division into those things which we do, which we know we ought not, and those things we don’t do, that we know that we should. mistakes that we continually commit, despite not wishing to, as Donne chillingly asks for forgiveness in the first verse of ‘Hymn to God the Father’:

‘Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
         And do run still, though still I do deplore?’

the trouble is that often we see an outcome and it is difficult to determine the error that led to it…. eg – I have a marriage-shaking row with my husband…. is it down to:

– an error of commission? marrying the wrong man, saying the wrong thing, me drinking three quadruple gins on an empty stomach?

– an error of omission? neglecting to run for the third morning in a row SO THAT I am snappy SO THAT I make the thoughtless remark SO THAT the row erupts?

(please note that the incidence of earth-shattering rows in the Primrose household is now virtually nil. if you are concerned about any relationship then one of you getting sober for over eighteen months can work fucking wonders. just sayin’. )

our days are a forest full of decision trees, sadly none of which look like this version by Harold’s Planet. each time we decide to do option A we forgo the benefits of option B, and also an infinity of other options some of which we have never even conceived of and would have ended up by us being married to that man we never sat next to on the train because he didn’t get that job because his alarm clock didn’t go off that morning due to a power-cut in leafy Balham, gateway to the South.

so many options, and what an illusion of control over our own lives.

what control we have, then – how can we best exercise it? well, perhaps we can learn something from the industries most interested in preventing errors wherever possible, such as the medical and airline industries, who research this because when I decide to have another chunk of Green & Black’s milk chocolate with sea salt it may impact my jean-fastening ability. when a pilot or a surgeon makes an error, people die. as, may I remind you, do alcoholics, too early and too often.

listening to a back-list podcast from Belle by the way the other day (think it was the one on having a firm high bottom?)  and was really struck by something she said – that we decide to give up drinking when we have to. ie when we have had serious, undeniable consequences from our drinking. what we don’t let ourselves see is that giving up when we have to will not be easier than giving up now. by its very nature, we will be further along the road, and it will be harder then. so giving up before we have to is the smarter choice. because it is teeth grittingly almost impossible then, too. but not as hard as it will be, later.

right, sorry, this is all a bit discursive – back to the medical/airline error analysis stuff.

there’s an interesting article here by James Clear referencing the benefits of doing more of what we already know works, more consistently. which comes back to my post on avoiding inspiration overload.

in the book referred to in that article, Atul Gawande talks about a different distinction between errors – errors of ignorance (which we make because we don’t know enough) and errors of ineptitude (which we make because we fail to apply our knowledge correctly).

when I think about my sober journey, I think I was repeatedly making the same error of ignorance when I was drinking. I was ignorant of what I now consider to be a fact, which is that alcohol does not suit me. that I am happier without it.

in the same way surgeons in years gone by were ignorant of the causes of puerperal or childbed fever, and until the work of Semmelweis did not see the need to wash their hands between obstetric patients.

as I progressed through the stages of change I became more and more aware of the fact that alcohol was making me unhappy. I tried to convince myself that moderation would be possible and desirable for me. however eventually the evidence that it would be neither became too strong to ignore.

I made many errors of ineptitude in early sobriety, with the one exception of drinking alcohol. I failed to apply my new found knowledge to old life situations correctly and made life more difficult for myself than it need have been. I overthought constantly (still working on that one!) and ruled out options that turned out to be just what I needed at a future time.

the good news about errors of ineptitude is that correcting them can reap dividends disproportionate to the effort involved.  if I do my back exercises for five minutes every day, then my dodgy back doesn’t conk out on me. if I remember to do an online food shop every week, then we never run out of milk…

I am not trying to find myself more challenges to meet, more perfectionist standards to conform to. I am trying to apply the 80/20 rule to minor areas of my life so that I can run it more effectively, with less potential for sudden calamities, and more scope for fun.

are there some non-sobriety areas of your life where you already know what you could be doing? and how would doing them improve it? what could they free you up to do?

more of this, for example? have a great weekend, folks! Prim xx

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