Your starting point in life matters a lot. You might have been born with good genes or not so good ones. You might have been born in a rich family or a poor one. You might have been raised in a toxic environment or a healthy one.
These are all things you don’t chose. You didn’t choose your talents, skin color, mother tongue or parents. You didn’t even chose your own name.
Recalibration of your starting point also matters a lot in life. We can call that kind of recalibrations a stroke of luck that has nothing to do with your effort, or different situations where you gain a lot by investing a fraction of the benefits.
You win the lottery. Your friend gets a fancy job and hires you, even if your skills don’t match the job. The first person you fall in love with is the perfect fit for you. Recalibrations as your starting point are more or less way out of your control.
Where you currently are = your starting point + the sum of your past decisions
You have zero say about where and to whom you are born, and you have no influence on how lucky you will be in your life. Fortunately, there is another part of the equation defining where you are in life – it’s the sum of your past choices.
No matter where you start, with time good choices lead to a better life and bad choices lead to a low quality of life. You make choices constantly, consciously and unconsciously, and they have a great impact on your life.
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The more you’re aware of your choices, the more control you have over your life and its outcome. Thus one very important job you have in life is to make as many unconscious behavioral patterns as possible, conscious.
That’s how you move from reactive to proactive agency. You can achieve that by getting to know yourself, self-reflection, analyzing your environment, psychoanalysis and other psychological and analytical tools. You want to be consciously in control of your choices, because that is the greatest power you have in life.
The big impact of decisions on your life
Your past decisions have had a great influence on where you currently are in life. Your decisions from this moment on will have a great influence on where you will land in the future. In general, we can divide decisions in four ways:
- Good decisions – smart, healthy, positive ones
- Bad decisions – stupid, unhealthy, negative ones
- Big decisions – rare decisions that have a big impact on your life
- Small decisions – daily or very frequent decisions that have a small impact, but accumulate over time (aka habits)
You endanger your future by making bad decisions – big and small ones. Big bad decisions are not‑that‑frequent, but very important events that you encounter in your life and have a big influence on your future, where you don’t decide well. You make a bad choice and it has huge negative consequences.
Here are examples of big bad decisions: You marry the wrong person. You take a big bribe. You cheat. You have a kid when you aren’t ready yet – materially or emotionally. You rob a bank. One big bad decision like that can completely turn your life around and make a mess out of it.
But you also make daily small decisions every minute or so. They’re called habits. Making daily poor decisions slowly leads to a poor quality of life. Examples of small bad decisions are: You spend more than you earn. You drink alcohol every day. You stuff yourself with fast food daily. You don’t kiss and hug your spouse. You play Solitaire during working hours. You watch TV instead of reading. You go to a job you hate every day.
Small wrong daily choices accumulate until a big crisis occurs. Remember, what you choose today has an impact on your life forever. Sometimes the sum of small bad choices has even more devastating effects than big bad choices. You have to be careful about the details in your life.
What you choose today has an impact on your life forever.
Be an outstanding decision maker
The biggest power you have in your own hands for your bright future is making smart choices – big and small ones. The smarter choices you make, the better the direction your life is headed in. For a happy and successful life, your smart choices must greatly outweigh the bad ones.
It all starts with small daily decisions. Habits, as mentioned. Saving money, regularly exercising, minding your diet, expressing love and communicating deeply with the people you love. These are all smart habits that with years lead to an increasingly better quality of life.
Big smart life decisions are also part of a superior life strategy. Much like big bad decisions can very quickly destroy your life, big smart decisions can improve your quality overnight.
Examples of big good decisions are: You choose very wisely who to marry. You take smart calculated risks with little downside and huge upside. You’re extremely picky about who you accept as a friend. You consciously decide which is the best place for you to live. You save large sums of money you inherit. And so on.
Surrounding yourself with the right people, exposing yourself to many opportunities, developing competences that are in high demand and low supply are all examples of good big smart decisions. Together with small good decisions – health habits, they form the most powerful tool for living a quality life.
Experiences lead to better decision-making
There is a saying that good decisions are a consequence of experience and experience is a consequence of bad decisions. In other words, you make a mistake, you learn, and next time you make better choices.
That kind of logic makes complete sense. You always start by being wrong, you’re always wrong before you are right. That way, you develop true wisdom with years.
There is no other way. You have to fail in life, you have to make mistakes and you always have to try new things, which leads to many missteps. It’s completely okay to fail, it’s completely okay to take smart risks and it’s completely okay to experiment. Sticking only to safe has never led to a successful and happy life. We are made to explore.
Stupid decisions have nothing to do with failure and learning. Stupid decisions are plain stupid.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn and gain experience in a smart way. Stupid decisions have nothing to do with failure and learning. Stupid decisions are plain stupid. You can always tell the difference between a smart risk that didn’t pay off, validated learning based on failure, and a stupid decision.
You want to be smart about making mistakes. You should make mistakes in a controlled, manageable and risk-reward justifiable way. Last but not least, you want to start making good decisions as soon as possible, because they accumulate over time and accumulation gives you a great unfair advantage, like a good starting point does.
But now, let’s turn the focus from mistakes to stupid decisions instead.
There are many stupid decisions that can destroy your life in a second
Stupid decisions are decisions with very small gains and a possible colossal negative impact on your life.
Stupid decision = high risk, small reward
They’re the opposite of smart risks, which are risks with a small downside and a huge upside. With stupid decisions, you can destroy your life in a matter of seconds. You do one action that you might regret for the rest of your life.
Examples of plain stupid decisions are:
- Driving drunk
- Jumping into the water without knowing how deep it is
- Not wearing a safety belt
- Dangerously driving any kind of vehicle, like speeding and so on
- Engaging in a physical fight (if you aren’t really protecting yourself)
- Sleeping with a prostitute or your best friend’s wife
- Having unprotected sex
- Cheating on taxes or breaking the law in any other kind of way
- Taking on a huge debt just to enjoy a lavish lifestyle
- Travelling to a country with dangerous diseases or war zones
- Marrying too soon
- Exposing yourself in an investment you don’t understand
- Quitting your job without having a strategy of what you will do next
- Cheating on your exams
- Having somebody else write your diploma thesis or copying it from somebody else
- Stealing at your job or cheating at your company in any other way
- Getting into business with people you don’t know
All these decisions have small benefits and huge potential damage. By driving drunk you may save some time and a few dollars for a cab, but you can kill yourself and others. Fines are only a small thing in the whole picture.
Poor choices lead to a poor life with time. Stupid choices can make your life miserable in a second. Maybe sometimes you get away with them. But it needs to happen only once that the downside comes true and then it might take decades or even more of your happy and perspective life away. You can drown in the misery of your own stupid choices. So try to make as few of them as possible.
Avoid stupid choices like the plague.
Even if you play your cards smart, accidents never sleep
We’ve learnt that you want to make as many smart choices as possible and you want to avoid stupid decisions at all costs. But if we are completely honest, you’re only human, you make errors in judgement and accidents never sleep. We all make stupid decisions from time to time. We all encounter misfortune.
Much like luck strikes you from time to time, in the same way bad things happen to good people every once in a while. Sometimes misfortunate events are entirely not your fault at all, and sometimes they are a consequence of your choices or you have somehow partly influenced the negative outcome.
It’s a shitty thing that can happen to anyone. When that happens, you don’t want to hide but act as quickly and wisely as possible. You should try to minimize the damage, build rapport with all the damaged parties, apologize, admit, and do whatever it takes to repair the bad choices.
But there is only so much you can do, and in the end you usually still have to pay the price and live with it. Sometimes the emotional price is the highest.
Always do a quick calculation of where your choices are leading you
It’s impossible to thoroughly analyze every single decision’s impact on all of your areas of life and lives of other people. That goes especially for the small decisions, because there are simply too many of them. But you can quickly assess what the potential downsides and upsides are.
You can quickly analyze what could go wrong and what could go right. You can quickly assess potential dangers that are out of your control. The closer a decision gets to a stupid one, the more it needs to be avoided.
It’s not about being scared of everything and living life wrapped up in cotton wool. You want to go out, you want to experiment and try new things, you want to experience the diversity of life. But you also want to do everything in a smart way.
No stupid decisions. Safety first. Protecting the downsides. Never going too far from the learning zone to the panic zone. The bigger the choice, the more calculation it requires. Paying attention to your decisions is absolutely a big part of a superior life strategy.
Your choices today and tomorrow will have an impact for years in your future; some even for the rest of your life. At the end of the journey, you are more or less where you choose and deserve to be; if we subtract big strikes of luck and misfortune and, to be fair, we also have to consider your starting point.
At the end of the day, even if not everything is under your control, make sure that the destination your choices will get you to is something you can be proud of.