The bad news is, time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.
~ Michael Althsuler
Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.
~ Kerri Russell
March 28, 2015
I hear a great deal about the importance of doing what is important in our lives. Carving out time to do those things that are near and dear to our hearts; the things that often get lost or trampled by matters that command our attention because they are urgent but not necessarily important. Training for a marathon stands out as something that was important to me and which I actually followed through on. This is no small thing because there are many things I have longed to do but never got around to, in part because of the busyness of every day life or plain inertia. What worked for the marathon was the carrot and stick approach:
- the lure of crossing the finish line of the world’s largest marathon–in New York no less–accompanied by;
- the fear of sabotaging a great event by entering a race completely unprepared and paying a lot of money to do so (the significant marathon registration fee and associated costs of training).
Marathon training is what I call a concrete deliverable. You can see it and either you do it or you don’t. But other life decisions are not so clear. And many of the important decisions such as a return to school, travel, change in work, etc. are so easily postponed. Postponement is also exacerbated by the habit of automatically responding affirmatively to requests without stopping to determine if we actually want to do what we have signed up to do. I know I am guilty of that one. Sometimes we are fortunate to get a reminder from life to do those important “things” but the difficulty is discerning what those “things” are. For me, I get this fuzzy something or other kind of feeling that niggles at the back of my mind when I hear someone is doing something fun or fantastic; or I realize, usually in the midst of doing something, that what I am doing isn’t really want I want to do. The problem with vague fuzzy feelings is that they are difficult to articulate and how can one change anything if you can’t explain it?
I am also struck by how seemingly small decisions can have enormous outcomes. The decision to start running at age 51 was the result of a chance encounter in the hall way when I bumped into a colleague who was arriving late for a meeting. She told me she had signed up for a group called Jeans Marines and I thought: seems like an unusual name but I think I should go to the information meeting. It was a small fleeting thought but it was there! And I went to what I thought was the information meeting but actually turned out to be the trial run to place us in our groups. Everything for me changed after that.
You get to a point in your life where you think: if I am going to do something, I’d better do it now. The cold realization is that are fewer decades ahead. And the irony is that we make decisions every day whether we realize it or not. Whether we are caught up in something or distracted or trying to be helpful or too tired to argue, the decisions are still ours.
The other day, a few of us were musing about doing what is important to us–that bucket list so many talk about. But one woman wisely noted that doing what is important includes deciding not to do something. We have likely heard this before but it is a profound thought. I have come to believe that it can be much more difficult and perhaps more important to act on what we won’t do rather than what we will. Author Suzanne Braun Levine recounts her sudden decision to do Outward Bound and after four days of being completely out of her comfort zone doing all kinds of scary things, she found herself terrified as she was about to repel down a mountain. She decided to go through with it (you really have to trust the group you are with) but her most important decision was not to climb back up. She simply did not want to do that and didn’t. While most of us are not on Outward Bound, our decisions can loom as large as any mountain in deciding not do something.
So perhaps this is the place to start–to make that shift to “No, Not, Won’t”. Even when others including our friends, are doing it; even though we may have been doing something for the last 30 years; even though we don’t have a reason other than we don’t feel like it. Explanations become unnecessary, even if the carrot or stick is trying to prod us along. All that counts is that we make the decision–whatever it is; however small. And the effect may be profound!