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The Justify-Past-Actions Trap

The more actions you have already taken on behalf of a choice or direction, the more difficult you will find it to change direction or make a different choice. Whenever you invest time, money, or other resources, or your personal reputation is at stake, you will find it more difficult to change your decision or course of action. Suppose you pour a great deal of time and effort into offering a product to a new niche market. Because you have already used resources to be successful in that market, you will find it difficult to withdraw, even when it is clear that the market is not interested in your product. If you have a once-close childhood friend who has not been supportive to you for years, you'll be reluctant to acknowledge that change and are likely to act as if you are still close. Banks used to continue to lend to businesses which had fallen back on payments, thus throwing good money after bad.

For all decisions with a history, make a conscious effort to set aside your "past actions", investments of emotion, money or other resources, as you consider whether to change direction. Seek out and listen to people who were uninvolved with the earlier decisions. Examine why admitting to an earlier mistake distresses you. If the problem lies in your wounded ego, deal with it straight-away. As Warren Buffet once said, "When you find yourself in a hole, the best thing you can do is stop digging."

Don't cultivate a failure-fearing culture in the people around you at home or at work so that others perpetuate mistakes rather than admitting them to you and changing course. Set an example of admitting mistakes in your choices and self-correcting so that others believe they can do likewise without penalties from you.

Kare Anderson is a "Say It Better" expert, a Behavioral Futurist. She is a speaker, national columnist, nine-time author, Emmy-winning former TV commentator and Wall Street Journal reporter. Her online newsletter reaches over 17,000 people in 32 countries. Her latest book is entitled Resolving Conflict Sooner. For information contact www.sayitbetter.com.

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January 2005