When to not recalibrate

Tough phases in life create chaos. Among the several implications that ensue, the casting of serious questions on your mental model of how the world works is perhaps the most critical.

These could be induced by one or a combination of multiple events. Some examples include failure to clear an exam, ending of a relationship, going through a difficult time at work, passing away of a loved one, illness or some black swan event such as recession/COVID.

When the expected response of a set of inputs is not commensurate with the desired outcome, recalibration is a natural reaction. But whether it is the correct reaction or not is a slightly nuanced discussion. Taking the right approach (by choosing between recalibration and persistence) is tough. This essay is a discourse on when to not recalibrate.

The prerequisite for building conviction in the ‘no recalibration’ decision is that the individual be self-aware, driven and have access to unfiltered feedback from reasonably smart and emotionally stable well-wishers. I will unpack each of these components.

Being self-aware fosters the recognition of one’s strengths and weaknesses. During a crisis, a self-aware person is able to manage themselves better by efficiently deploying their strengths and limiting exposure to weaknesses.

The presence of a natural drive to improve ensures that the individual acts in their best interests from a growth point of view. It is a proxy for the ability to be unbiased, delay gratification and take tough calls.

Finally, access to advice is key for validating or critiquing your stance. During chaotic times, you might be blindsided by confirmation bias or overwhelmed with emotions. This impairs your ability to reason objectively and sometimes even increases the urge to react. Your well-wishers anchor you in such situations. By virtue of their important role in your life, they want the highest positive-sum long-term outcome for you. They need to be reasonably smart for their advice to be helpful. And they need to be emotionally stable to ensure their judgement is unclouded.

Meeting the prerequisites dramatically reduces the probability of individuals taking the ‘no recalibration’ decision out of ignorance, laziness and lack of guidance/counselling.

When experiencing a rut, it is crucial to consider three fundamental questions: what caused this situation, how can it be resolved, and how can it be prevented in the future. The first and third questions are particularly relevant to the focus of this essay.

If analysing the precursor events leading to the current situation reveals that the counterfactual outcome was equally likely given the same set of behaviours, then this is a good testament to your approach to things, regardless of whether better luck or different circumstances would have resulted in a different outcome.

Additionally, if your answer to the question of avoiding this turmoil in the future involves a distinct context (uncontrollable events unfolding differently) without altering your response, then your mental model of how the world works is rightly placed. This is the ‘no recalibration required’ equilibrium.

Not everything is your fault. Sometimes bad things just happen. There could be x number of reasons for it, but it is possible for none of them to have any connection to you or your actions. It is tough to accept—specially when feelings of despair and hopelessness are flooding your soul. Amidst all this chaos, you owe it to your future self not to jump at the first impulse of doubt and start questioning your core beliefs. It is important not to recalibrate—to keep trusting your instincts and process. The long-term fixes things.

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