Generally every new year we all sit down and make a list of things we want to change right? They’re usually things like eat more healthily, hit the gym more, quit smoking, drink less … and apparently 66% of us break them within the first month. Personally I don’t bother making new year’s resolutions except for ones that involve having more experiences (visiting 15 new cities in 2015, 16 new places in London in 2016 etc) because denying pleasure short-term for no long-term gain is not my idea of fun.
I think that these kinds of big decisions, whether they be at New Year’s or at any other time, fail because the big choices have to be followed up by little choices which we don’t always realise we need to make. In reality, the big “decision” isn’t really a decision so much as a guideline. The actual “decisions” come when we have to take the steps to implement that choice. For example, if I decide that I’m going to lose weight and I resolve to do so, that decision goes nowhere unless I make daily choices to support it. Those choices rear their little heads literally all the time and half the time we don’t even notice.
For me, my ultimate goal (or big decision) is to live healthily, by eating well, working out hard and looking after my mental health by choosing happiness. That means that I face a big number of choices every day to follow the path that leads me to that goal. For example, this morning I was going up to St Alban’s to visit my friend Karly, which meant that I had to leave home at 09:25 to get onto the right train. Before I got on that train, these were the choices I had to deal with:
- whether I got up early enough to go to the gym before I left for St Albans;
- whether, once I got to the gym, I actually did my work out or whether I left (it was touch and go!);
- whether, once I’d decided to stay, I did my full work-out or part of it;
- once I’d finished working out, whether I had pancakes or weetbix and fruit for breakfast;
- whether I had coffee or green tea with my breakfast.
Those are tiny decisions (even if getting out of bed did not feel like a tiny decision) and each one on its own made absolutely zero difference. However, they all make up a pattern which is exactly what makes the difference in the long run. Each tiny decision is one which either leads on the path to your goal or the path to the opposite of that goal. Taken together, the balance of how many choices are made to go down each path end up dictating where we go.
To me, the answer to which path to choose lies in two questions – first, whether you want the long-term goal more than the short-term action and, secondly, whether you can connect the consequences of the short-term action with the long-term goal. Taking the choices I had to make above, my long-term goal is being as healthy as I can be, as set out above. Therefore my questions had to be, in each case:
- did I want to be healthy more or less than I wanted to take the action in question?; and
- would the short-term action in question help or hinder me in achieving my goal?
The answers to the examples are pretty obvious when they’re set down in black and white, but often choices are made without thinking about them at all. Sometimes this is wilful mindlessness because you know very well that if you think about it, you won’t get the answers you want!! Sometimes, however, it is far more mindless and rote, because you don’t really think about the choices you’re making.
Therefore, the key to getting making the choices that lead to health is recognising the decisions as they arise and making each decision mindfully. This doesn’t always mean that I choose the action that leads to my goal … for example, although my morning choices were all on track to achieve my long-term goals, my choices at lunchtime were a little different … ! Instead of a salad I had a grilled cheese (with sweet potato fries), instead of water I had hot chocolate and instead of a plain hot chocolate I had a hot chocolate with whipped cream (and it was amazing). I don’t feel bad about those choices at all because I made them mindfully and at the time they were the right decision – life is too short not to have the hot chocolate sometimes.
The beauty of recognising each decision and making it mindfully is that by doing so, I take charge of the consequences of the actions I take. That gives me the power to decide properly … and means I never have any regrets because I know that I made the right decision at the time. Good right?!
It’s a journey and it’s a fun one right?!