There are big things in life, and there are little things.
Many people, myself included, think we have a pretty good handle on the big things, but admit we often slack on the little things, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
When presented with a Big Decision, we think we’ll react well. But that’s because we think Big Decisions are different than they are. We think Big Decisions will be single-moment, high-impact, obvious-choice problems. Betray a friend’s trust or don’t? Take advantage of a vulnerable person or not? Things like that. But that’s not the case.
The real Big Decisions are just the little things, with twenty years of hindsight tacked on.
You can’t discount any decision as inconsequential. You should behave well, according to your values and ideals, in every moment. This is incredibly, incredibly hard.
It’s hard! But you should do it anyway. Here are some ways I’m doing that, and maybe they’ll work for you:
- Don’t retroactively defend your impulse decisions. We do that too often – we do something without thinking about it, without considering its place in our overall value structure, on instinct or base desire. But then when we realize it, we make the mistake 10x worse by trying to justify it. You grab a candy bar instead of a healthier snack and then afterwards say “well, I’ve had a rough day and I deserve it and I’ll do extra sit-ups tomorrow and blah blah blah.” Don’t. Just say, “I ate a candy bar when my deeper consideration would have prevented it. I made a mistake. I own it, I’ll try to do better.”
- Examine those decisions. Okay, you ate the candy bar. If you defend it, you’ll do it again. If instead you say, “what conditions led to my impulses getting the better of me,” then you can truly work to prevent that from happening again.
- Find the thing that makes you happier than the mistake. To keep with the candy bar example – for some people, it’s stepping on a scale and seeing the progress they’re making by cutting out sugar. For me, it’s holding my children – and thinking about my father’s failing health due to diabetes. I’m happy when I imagine myself as active with my grandchildren as I am with my children. Happier than a candy bar could ever make me.
Doing this with every little decision can feel daunting, even exhausting. But pick one to start. Build the habit from there. Do it… or at least consider it.