By Rob Shaul
Knowing what to do = Easy. Doing it = Hard.
Most of life is fairly simple and direct. Ninety-nine percent of the time we know what the “right” thing to do is. Our overthinking minds and selfish selves will try to confuse things with rationalization, but we know deep down what is right. It’s the doing it that is hard.
Quiet professionals push away the rationalization and focus on the hard truths with clear eyes. They identify the right action and do it.
No one is perfect. When they don’t do the right thing, quiet professionals reflect, learn from it, forgive themselves and look forward intent on future improvement.
Below are some tools I’ve developed over the years and through all of my mistakes that I’ve come to use to make decisions.
Ninety-five percent of day-to-day decisions we make don’t matter: what to wear, what car to drive, what music to listen to, where to eat lunch. etc.
However, 5 percent do matter, and are significant. These are focused around safety, health, relationships, and work.
Safety decisions include always wearing a seatbelt, not texting while driving, wearing a bike helmet.
Health decisions include flossing and brushing, diet, getting an annual physical, mammograms, prostate exams, not smoking, moderate alcohol use, no drugs.
Relationship decisions include treating family like friends, simple, easy acts of connection and kindness, saying you’re sorry and forgiving.
Work day-to-day decisions are job-specific and for our community can include checking and re-checking your gear before going on patrol, equipment maintenance, following tactical protocol and checklists, comms checks, always wearing a helmet while skiing and climbing, marksmanship and other job-specific fundamentals technical practice.
Important day-to-day decisions can become “habit-ized.” Putting your seatbelt on in the car isn’t a decision – it’s a habit … you don’t have to ponder it. Same with gear checks, comms checks, safety gear, technical practice.
The danger with these important day-to-day decisions is they can slip into mundane and conceptually lose importance with drastic, life changing consequences. That one time you text while driving can ruin your life.
What’s required is constant diligence, which is “hard.”
“Big” decisions pit our “hearts” (emotions) versus our “minds” (objective thought) and we go round and round in endless decision loops.
“My heart wants me to be an actor, but my head says I should avoid poverty and become a banker.”
“My heart tells me to marry Billy, but my head says I’d be more secure with John.”
Another element often present in these big decisions, somewhere between the heart and the head, is integrity. Sometimes this is moral integrity in the classic sense. In other decisions, it is keeping integrity to the person you really are or want to be.
Below are some tools and lessons I’ve personally used or learned in making my own “big” decisions and advising others with theirs.
1) If you know what you are doing now is wrong. Stop doing it, even if you don’t have something else lined up to take its place.
This directly applies to career/job choices and relationships. Stopping the wrong will force you to begin the journey to discover the right. Often people find themselves in a “rut” – they know what they are doing isn’t right, but it doesn’t hurt enough to quit.
Know that a “rut” is simply a grave open at both ends. Staying in these situations past their due – job or relationship – will lead to bitterness and deepening discontent.
Sometimes, especially on the career side, this “rut” has no obvious cause. You can have a great job, but just find yourself wanting to try something different or needing a new challenge. Know that we are not static. People change over time, including yourself, and what “fit” 5 or 10 years ago may not be appropriate for who you are now. Don’t deny this … this sensation if/when it comes. Recognize it, embrace it and move on.
As you move on, the next thing doesn’t have to be perfect. But it should be a step in the “right” direction.
2) Not making a decision, is a decision.
Putting off a big decision always comes at a cost, often in the form if declining options and missed opportunities. In this way, no decision is a decision.
3) Deciding against integrity always comes with a significant, painful cost.
On the classic moral integrity side, the cost can be an erosion of self-worth, loss of respect, or simple guilt. On the “who I am or want to be” side, the cost is often a lifetime of regret.
The “right” decision for moral integrity issues is generally clear. This does not mean making the “right” decision is easy. Greed (money), ambition (career), envy (relationships) are all emotions we must struggle with daily and if they win, can lead to lapses in integrity.
In this, I take Aristotle’s guidance to heart. The more often you decide with integrity – even small day-to-day decisions, the easier it becomes. The goal is not moral perfection, but constant improvement. When you mess up, see it clearly, own up to it, examine why, and aim to do better next time.
Personal integrity – in terms of who you are or want to be, is much murkier and the two – (1) who you are, and (2) who you want to be, can be different.
Here are two tools I use to help clear the murk.
First – look at actions, not words. See if there is a disconnect between who you say you want to be and who you actually are.
An example …. a personal relative all through his late 20’s and 30’s talked about starting his own company. He researched business names, looked at a couple locations, borrowed a little money, but never quit his corporate job and followed through.
In his 40’s he finally realized that he enjoyed his free time and simply didn’t want to work as hard as it would take to have his own business. This realization was liberating for him. There was a disconnect between who he actually was and who he “thought” he wanted to be.
Second – work to make sure your ladder is up against the right wall. We often put a lot of effort into a journey only to find out when we get there it’s not really where we want to be.
Going to law school because your Mom is an attorney? Becoming a soldier because your Dad was a soldier? Training in finance because you’re scared of being poor? These are easy examples of ladders up against the wrong walls.
4) If integrity isn’t an issue, and it comes down to your “Head” vs. your “Heart,” always go with your Heart.
I’ve yet to meet someone who went with their heart and regretted it, but I’ve met several who went with their “head” and have.
Likewise, if it comes down to “safe” vs. “exciting,” always go with “exciting.”
5) Don’t artificially limited your options.
This occurs often with career or location changes. We artificially limit our options and miss the “in-between” space that can be the bridge to the best solution. Want to be a SOF-level tactical athlete but not move around with the military? Consider national guard SOF or LE SWAT/SRT.
Certainly, there can be a cost of diminishing returns in terms of collecting more information and options. But in my experience, people too quickly put on blinders and fixated on just two choices when some more information collection and options development can open things up and make a hard decision, a much easier one.
Beware of just two choices.
Set a Deadline.
That being said, always set a decision deadline. The mental strain of a big decision can take it’s toll, and often finally making it lifts a weight from your shoulders.
The Happiness Formula
Three things make you happy ….
- Doing work you love
- Being around people you love
- Living in a place you love
If you can get 2 out of 3 you’re doing awesome. Get 3 of 3 and you’ve hit the jackpot.
With 1 out of 3 you can still be content.
Zero out of 3 and you’re miserable. Change it.
Questions, Comments, Feedback? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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