In a world of infinite choices, picking the right one sometimes feels like agony. There are many examples/studies that show more choices actually lead to more indecisiveness, and more unhappiness. A great book on the subject is The Paradox of Choice, which I highly recommend. There’s a great Ted talk by the author, Barry Schwartz, here.
Part of what makes us human and special is our ability to choose. If you’re an animal, you have much less options. You hunt or you die. You try to stay safe in a pact and pray you don’t get eaten or taken by the elements. Or if you’re a snail, you keep on snailing.
Making the wrong choice on a micro level has little consequence – eating a bag of chips isn’t going to kill you. But continually making the wrong choice has huge consequences – eating entire bags of chips with dip 5 meals a day for 15 years straight and you’ll get fat, have a heart attack, and all of that awful stuff. These are what we call bad habits.
So you see, bad habits are just a bunch of wrong choices that have become automatic. Habits themselves are harder to break but easier to change. The Power of Habit is a good book on the subject. Better though, is to make good choices in the first place, and let those habits form – i.e. what we call good habits.
There are some universally good choices, and universally bad choices. Say no to cocaine and stuff – those are bad choices. Eat your vegetables – they are good choices. Yes, even spinach. Choosing work over family is a bad choice (in the long run). So is choosing work over your health. Trust me, I don’t have a magical crystal ball, but I’m pretty sure nobody lye on their deathbed and wish they had worked more. So we have a general idea of what are good choices and what are bad choices on the good-bad spectrum. Obviously we’ll want to have most of our choices on the good side of the spectrum.
If you’re unsure what a good choice is, I’d suggest the following mental model: If it contributes to your life in a meaningful way – that is, it adds value, happiness, or meaning, it’s probably a good choice. If it adds value, happiness, or meaning to family and friends.. good choice. Ditto for complete strangers, the environment, and the world. And always choose the long term benefits over the short term.
This is where people get messed up and why you have to be veryyyyyyyyyyy careful with these suggestions. That video game might be tempting, or that huge cheesecake, and you might think they add value, and to an extent they do, but only in the short term. In the long term, those cheesecakes add up, and next thing you know you’re on a one way express to Diabetes Town – population: you.
I know far too many people that never achieve the goals they set out because the small choices they make in the day to day are not in their best interests towards achieving their goals. My very good friends fall prey to this all. the. time. And it kills me to see it and makes me sadface. I slip up quite a bit, which is fine and normal, but over the long run I believe I make more good choices than bad ones. That’s also important to know. Nobody is perfect and nobody should be held to perfect standards, something I have to remind myself of frequently. The important bit to know is that as long as you’re making better choices over the long run, the math is in your favour that good things will happen.