A Million Little Decisions

One of the themes I stumbled across from reading books is that you are the culmination of every decision you’ve made. Eating a cupcake today for breakfast won’t have much impact on my health. Eating a cupcake every day will.

Living in a fantasy world of one single choice changing everything is fun, but reality shows up eventually, if only at death. There are inciting incidents which change the path you’re on, but you still have a thousand choices a day in front of you.

While looking back over one of my favorite books, Life at the Bottom, which is an examination on the human condition from a doctor who worked in an inner city prison in London for 10 years, I stumbled on this highlighted page below.

But why are they bored, they ask me. The answer, of course, is that they have never applied their intelligence either to their work, their personal lives, or their leisure, and intelligence is a distinct disadvantage when it is not used: it bites back. Reviewing their life stories, they see for the first time that at every point they have chosen the line of least resistance, the least strenuous path.

They never received any guidance, because all agreed that one path was as good as another. They never awoke to the fact that a life is a biography, not a series of disconnected moments, more or less pleasurable but increasingly tedious and unsatisfying unless one imposes a purposive pattern upon them. Their education was an enforced and seemingly interminable irrelevance: nothing their parents or their teachers told them, nothing they absorbed from the culture around them, led them to suppose that their early efforts at school, or lack of them, would have any effect upon their subsequent lives. The jobs they took as soon as they were able were purely to fund their pleasures of the moment. They formed relationships with the opposite sex whimsically, without thought of the future. Their children were born as instruments, either to repair troubled relations or to fill an emotional and spiritual void, and were soon found wanting in either capacity. Their friends – for the first time perceived as of lesser intelligence – now bore them.

And, for the first time wishing to escape the artificial, self-stimulated crises that amuse them no longer, they suffer the undisguised taedium vitae of the slums.

Success or failure is rarely the result of one choice, but a million little decisions that may be of no consequence on their own, yet swell into something much bigger.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terrence.a.davis1 Terrence Andrew Davis

    Chuck Swindoll said we have a God-shaped vaccuum in us. Mom said Hell was the absense of God, so I figure God’s company must be Heaven, or as good as it gets.

  • http://twitter.com/sarahkpeck sarah kathleen peck

    Interesting. This is why habits are so crucial, if you can develop them in your favor. (Energy in the beginning results in extra-ordinary results because of compounding over time of small decisions).

    I also view decisions as a “decision tree,” and try to determine if there’s a point in the branch where I can make ONE decision that then affects many, many decisions that would otherwise fall in line afterwards. For example, deciding every day whether or not to, say, drink–could result in your cumulative decisions adding up to drinking 5-6 nights per week. Creating a higher-level framework that says “I don’t drink on weeknights” takes away having to make that decision on a random Tuesday or Wednesday night, and adds up to better decisions in the long term.

    Same would apply for whether or not to decide what you wear in the morning; for a long time I wore only black shirts and jeans because I didn’t ever have to decide on a given day–the choice was made once, long ago. Given that some research suggests we only have so much power to make decisions in a single day, wouldn’t it make sense to rigorously remove all of the instances when you might make a decision, but you can design it so that you don’t need to anymore?

    • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

      I love the idea of a decision tree. Lately I’ve been thinking about “things I think about but shouldn’t be.” If I don’t answer a personal email in the same day, I’ll find myself thinking about the email at least once or twice a day until I answer it. Since I knew I was going answer the email eventually and it would require maybe 5-10 minutes, I should have written back write away. Instead I thought about it when I shouldn’t have, occupying unnecessary thought which could have been focused on something more useful.

      I think it comes down to creating a priority and deliberately choosing where to invest your higher thinking instead of equally dispersing it. If you think of mental energy like fuel, you want to put the most fuel in the car (project/task/job) that you want to go the farthest. And you have to make that choice every day.

      I’m now reminded of James Altuchers concept of “plugging your leaks” for maintaining energy and focus: