How to Stop Stressing Out Over Decisions


There are a handful of choices that really change the direction of the rest of our lives.

Probably five to seven really big ones that send us in one direction (good or bad) rather than countless others. Who you marry, where you go to college, trying an addictive drug, what job you take or business you start, committing a crime, joining the military, etc

That’s not to say that your destiny is fixed when you decide on one of these, or that you can’t change course, it just means that the scale of these decisions is so large that it will probably have an impact on the rest of your life.

For example, you will always be someone who attended a specific college or married a specific person, no matter what changes you make in the future. 

On the other hand, you won’t always be known as the guy that decided to get up an hour early to run 5 miles before starting his day, or as the lady who listens to educational podcasts rather than music on the way into work.

This could lead us to believe that someone should just focus on the big decisions.  Afterall, if these account for the trajectory of the rest of our lives, why spend any energy focusing on the little decisions that seem mundane in comparison.

I agree that it behooves a person to make wise big decisions due to the scale of their impact.  However, I believe it’s the combination of little decisions, or more accurately, the intentionality of daily decisions, that truly leads to results and even changes a person’s happiness levels.

If you think about it, where you are in life right this second is just a culmination of all of the decisions you made up to this point.  Circumstances happen, but it’s the decisions we make as a result, that lead us to our future selves.

That being said, it’s fascinating to observe people making the daily decisions they do, and to see how those decisions impact their lives positively or negatively. Most of the time people don’t recognize that they are the ones making those decisions and, as a result, creating the outcomes they are experiencing.

If this is has such a massive impact on how our lives turn out, why do more people not make better decisions?

Are Big Decisions Overrated?

When you make a decision you are choosing one option, and, by definition, giving up a billion other options that you could have pursued instead.

Big decisions are labeled “big” because of the way society perceives someone associated with the results of these decisions. 

For example if you decide to attend Harvard, being a Harvard graduate is going carry with it ideas and expectations from others as to what that means. 

Likewise, if you are convicted of a felony, being a felon will also hold preconceived notions that will most likely impact your identity from that point forward.

However, there are many Harvard graduates that lead very unhappy and unfulfilling lives and many convicted felons that eventually become productive happy people.

As with all decisions, the results of your choice dictates your starting point for the next decisions you will make.  In other words, the choice you make today, will turn into a result tomorrow, which is the beginning of another choice.

The results of big decisions provide you with either more or less options in the future, but it’s still just one decision that will lead you to the opportunity to make many more decisions.

Why Little Decisions Are So Important

A “good decision” is typically characterized by two things:

  1. Does the result of that decision open up more and better options for you (i.e. future decisions you will need to make)
  2. Does the result of that decision get you closer to what you perceive as happiness?

This is why big decisions get all the focus.  The perceived impact on the two questions above is really high around big decisions.

After being intrigued by this for years, I’ve observed over and over, that the people I know that are the most happy and successful have made many different “big decisions.” They are literally all over the map.  I cannot point to certain big decisions and say, “if you just do these few big things you will be successful and happy.”

However, almost all of them have daily habits (or little decisions) that would be characterized as “good decisions” based on the two questions outlined above.  They continually open up more and better options for themselves that get them closer to what they have established as happiness for them.

How To Ensure The Best Possible Decisions

This requires a little up front work, but it ensures outsized payoff and much easier decision making long-term.

  1. Establish what you are all about as a person.  What do you stand for?  What are the few biggest values that make you who you are? (it can evolve so don’t be afraid to pick some and write them down)
  2. Write down what makes you the happiest. The types of work, leisure activities, clubs, sports, purchases you have made, places you have visited. Write these down.  This is you getting intentional rather than life just happening to you.
  3. Pick the option today that benefit the version of you five years from now. Based on what you established in number 1 and 2, which decision will your future self thank you for?

Notice, this does not mean your decision will keep you from having to do hard things. As a matter of fact, in most cases, it’s quite the opposite.  Typically your future self thanks you for the harder decision over the easier one, at least in the short term.

Over time, all those little, daily decisions, that seem unimportant start turning into big positive outcomes.

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