Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Power of Small Decisions: Part 1

pint of blueberries

We covered how to get through difficult times in life the past couple of days, but now let's get back to the daily grind, where we live most of the time.

Previously I wrote about the Power of Ordinary Days. Those ordinary days are made up of thousands of mundane decisions.

There are a few very big decisions to make in life. Where to go to college or what to study, who to marry, what you want to do for a living, whether or not to have kids. People fret endlessly over them. We read books to help us decide, get counseling, enlist any number of advisers to walk us through the deciding process, and often look back and wonder if we made the right decision.

We should probably be more concerned with what we had for lunch today, or if we sat on the sofa for more than 4 hours watching television, or got a meal from a drive through. Because those decisions about our health and other decisions we make many times a day, day in and day out for years have powerful cumulative effects over time. They have a few things in common:

You make them several times a day.  What to have for dinner, whether or not to walk the dog or get up during commercials or read a book or buy a five dollar coffee are the things that make up ordinary days.

On the surface, they look unimportant. They look so unimportant, that if we were to give them the same amount of decision-making effort we give other things, we'd look crazy. We'd also get very little done every day.

They aren't overly difficult. The hidden power of these decisions is that everyone else is making them every day. If your friend calls you and says he's thinking of proposing to his girlfriend, you aren't likely doing that today as well. But lunch? What's the big deal, right?

Here's the big deal:

They have a powerful cumulative effect. The myriad of tiny little decisions you are making each day work on the same principle as the law of compounded interest, which Albert Einstein described as "the greatest mathematical discovery of all time."  One of the things that make it so powerful is that while you may not be using Algebra in your everyday life you can apply the law of compounded interest. It's the everydayness of it that makes it more important than a one-time windfall or extra big tax refund.

Let's apply that principle to health instead of finances. Every year on New Year's Eve we all plan our resolutions for the coming 365 days. We start big. We join a gym or buy exercise equipment. We get excited and want to change. Soon after, something usually happens. We lose our motivation often because we don't see immediate results and the power of old habits lures us back to the sofa with a bag of chips. The long term effect of our big resolution is basically zero. I think it's because no one has taught us the power of a lifetime.

They are not easily undone. If you are 70 and have smoked and eaten a hamburger every day for 50 years, a drastic change like quitting smoking and becoming a vegetarian will not have the effect you want. Damage was done to your lungs, heart, and other major organs and will not be quickly reversed and is too often irreversible. But on the positive side daily exercise, a healthy diet, and focus on fitness will not be undermined by the occasional hot fudge sundae or margarita. The power lies in what you are doing over and over again.

It is the power of every day. And your life is made up of it. A friend of mine once said, "The problem with life is it's just so daily."

Let's look at how this might work out in life over six months:

If you saved $5.00 a day, in six months you would have $900.00.

If you quit smoking you'd save roughly $1200.00

Drinking one 12 oz. can of soda a day provides an extra 25,000 calories.

If you wrote every day you could probably complete a novel.

When we see the accumulated effects it puts things in a completely different light. The small things yield powerful results. The small decisions are sustainable. In fact, that is where their power lies.



  1. I had a thought about sustainability which I hope doesn't detract from your post. It came to me that Perfectionism is not sustainable. My definition is "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It's the belief that if we do things perfectly, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it's really preventing us form being seen." Quote by Brené Brown from her book Daring Greatly. This does not relate entirely to your post but does relate to the idea of looking at sustainable ways of being.

  2. I wouldn't think of that as a detraction at all! Perfectionism is absolutely something that needs to be addressed because it is so insidious and unattainable. Can't wait to read your take on it! Love me some Brene Brown but haven't read that book. Looking forward to it!

    1. Here is one way I bump up to perfectionismhttp:


    2. Thanks for posting the link! I loved reading all the comments too! You really struck a nerve. It's a constant struggle. (sigh)


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