Focusing on the Right Decisions

I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. One thing I’ve only recently realized I’ve learned is this: the truly consequential decisions our lives are exactly the ones we spend the least time worrying about.

There are decisions we spend days and weeks obsessively pondering. Who should I marry? What job should I take? Which school should I attend? The answer to these questions do matter. To insist that they make no difference in your life would be foolhardy. But they matter a lot less than we think they do.

The day-to-day reality of your life is not sexy, but it’s where you really live. And decisions like who you share a home with and where you spend your days being able to pay for that home have influence. But their impact on your life can  pale in comparison to the vast number of unthinking decisions you make on a daily basis.

This is easiest to see in dieting and weight loss. Almost no big decision you make in your life really affects your weight. There are probably outliers who make a resolution that they will gain 80 pounds, or intentionally opt-in to a less-active life for the purposes of gaining weight. But for most people, most of the time, their weight is decided by the 100,000 minor decisions they make about food over the course of a year. Compare:

  • “Doughnuts in the break room?! I’ll have two, thanks.”
  • “Doughnuts in the break room?! That sounds good, but I don’t think I should have more than half of one. Want to take half?”

If you regularly choose one or the other side of that kind of dichotomy over the course of your life, you’ll wake up healthy or having gained 50 pounds. But you’ll probably never have said to yourself, “You know I think my life would be better if I weighed 50 pounds more than I do.”

These cumulative choices are everywhere. It’s no single choice, but rather 1,000 minor one in the course of holding a job that decides whether your boss secretly wishes to fire you or eagerly wants you to be promoted to be able to get even more opportunity to work with you. Your relationship with your husband is determined more by the way you choose to deal with him leaving the cap off the toothpaste, his dirty dishes in the sink, etc than by what he was like when you first met him.

There are important choice-points in life. But balanced on a scale, the slow drip into your life from the thousands of thoughtless or minor decisions you make vastly outweighs the large volume of the big choices. If you fail to bring your attention to all the small decisions in your life, you’ll suddenly wake up with a life you never chose. Life really is just a sequence of small decisions; a life can be shaped without realizing.