John Maxwell sums up the importance of decision-making like this: “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”
It is the one thing we can truly control — our decisions.
Making decisions means taking a bet on the future — the future version of you. If making a bet wasn’t hard enough, navigation of past bets lurks ready to spoil the opportunity. Although we live in the present, we dwell on our histories, and we dream about our futures. We can’t predict our futures, but we can prepare for them. And so, the importance of decision making makes itself clear.
But is that enough?
We're all busy living in the moment, consumed by the petty issues of life.
Everyday thoughts are more frequently tied to decisions of our history— or the future — all with seemingly little consequence. What should we have for dinner tomorrow? I wish I hadn't eaten that slice of cake. Will my kids be okay walking to school tomorrow? How much should I pay off the credit card this month?
And so, it goes on.
At the end of your life though, what will you have?
The regret of decisions not made
His name was Arthur.
He was confident, almost arrogant in tone, but so energetic. As a sales manager, he was stereotypical of those in charge of sales. Ruthless, driven, direct — he was the leader you admired and feared in equal measure.
You crossed him at your peril.
As I rose through the ranks, so I ended up working with him every day. Travelling to meetings gave me access to Arthur the person.
I was a dad to two youngsters, and whenever we spoke about them, Arthur would always say the same thing.
"Make the most of them at this age, for they will grow quickly."
As we grew closer, it became clear Arthur fostered a regret. His focus was to provide for his family, but it came at a cost. He told me over a few too many beers one evening that he was always chasing the next deal. The kids were never the centre of his attention. As they grew, so they resented him for his lack of attention.
Arthur's regret was for the decision he didn't make.
He never 'let go' of work.
Arthur wasn't a dad to his kids; he was a provider. The justification — well he had to work hard to be successful. But the more he focused on work, the further he grew away from his kids.
The clashes with his son fostered his sense of regret.
Arthur was too hard and too proud to let it show, but this regret chewed him up. The resentment from his son only fed the pain of the choices he'd made.
The importance of decision-making
Arthur isn't alone.
Most of us foster regret. We don't like the outcomes we must live with. The pain though — that's something deeper.
It is this deepening understanding as we grow older that we can't go back.
Our decisions affect us now — and our future selves. When we are young, we fool ourselves we have time. As we grow older, so the reality of the big green tree starts to hit home.
There is no going back.
What's the big green tree you may ask. Well, the big green tree is a visualisation of our life and the path — or choices we have. Created by Tim Urban, the writer behind the wait but why blog — it is haunting.
We can only look back at the past, we can't change it.
Rarely does an image better capture the essence of a quote than this one does. Now the John Maxwell quote makes perfect sense — “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Your decision today affects today — but will also affect you tomorrow.
It is this grasp of the future we do not contemplate. We don't think about second or third-order effects.
Tim's big green tree visualises the future.
Every decision matters. Our weakness is how we see each possibility as binary — both in choice — and outcome. Life is a game of trial and error, of less certainty and more enquiry. Such is the influence of randomness and uncertainty.
Your life today needs to grasp this not so hidden truth; The importance of decision making isn’t the outcome, but the process.
Your choices matter
Your choices matter.
Although you might worry about what you decide, what matters more is how you decide. As is clear from the laws of nature, entropy will always play its part in your life. But you know this — and you can prepare for this.
I'll say it again, what matters is how you make decisions.
You control your choices.
There are several articles here to help you improve the way you decide. Whether it be the power of reflective decision-making or thinking like a detective. A new perspective can change your view, or you might want to clarify what a good decision-making process looks like. Each article offers insights you can take and evolve to suit the way you want to make better decisions.
The key is to recognise every decision matters.
I can't help but return to the quote at the beginning.
“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Your choices make you. It is this fundamental principle that should underpin the decisions you make.
Better this, than the pain of regret.
It is the not so hidden truth about the importance of decision-making.