Renowned leadership expert, John Maxwell sums up the importance of decision-making like this: “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”
This stark declaration may horrify the chronically indecisive.
Some will see it as an invitation to be more decisive — they’re not wrong, they should be. After all, it is the one thing we can truly control — our decisions.
Of course, this concept of control comes with a burden some of us struggle to live with. It creates moments of regret as we ponder our past decisions. Unsurprisingly, anxiety is often never far away either, as we worry about future choices.
Frustratingly, our daily thoughts often dwell on minor decisions of the past or future.
Questions and thoughts like, what should we have for dinner tomorrow? How much should I pay off the credit card this month?
These small daily decisions distract us. As a result, we fail to grasp the true importance of our choices.
It is on this topic, the importance of decision-making, that we must prioritise above the trivial.
Here, I’m going to explain why focusing on our choices can lead us away from regret.
The Importance of Decision-Making
Decisions are forks in the road.
Some decisions give us the ability to backtrack, while others offer no alternative. Thanks to Jeff Bezos, we now see these are reversible and non-reversible decisions.
The reversible decisions are great.
They are easily undone and allow us to experiment. But not non-reversible decisions. No, these choices stay with us. They become our life path, and just as time passes, there is no way back.
When we get these wrong, we create moments which we will look back on with regret. As we grow older, so this truth becomes more obvious.
To visualise this, I refer you to a sketch from Tim Urban.
We can only look back at the past, we can't change it.
This image perfectly captures the essence of the quote. Now the John Maxwell quote makes perfect sense — “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Your choices don't just matter for today — they will also affect you tomorrow.
When we make choices now, we rarely contemplate future regret. We don't think about second or third-order effects.
This is why decision-making is important; regret comes from the choices you can’t undo.
Life is all About Choices
Arthur was my sales manager.
He was confident, almost arrogant in tone, but so energetic. As my boss, Arthur embodied the merciless persona of a domineering leader. He commanded both respect and apprehension.
As I rose through the ranks, so I got to know Arthur. He was kind, and far humbler than I first appreciated.
At the time, 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."
Through our growing camaraderie, I discerned a profound remorse lurking within Arthur. After one too many drinks loosened his tongue, he confessed to constantly pursuing the next high-stakes deal. His children felt neglected as work consumed his focus. His absence bred deep resentment as they matured.
Arthur occupied the role of the provider yet neglected that of a father.
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.
Focusing on Your Decisions
By now, you might be coming out in hives at the thought of making a decision. This should mean it's sunk in why decision-making is important.
Deciding shouldn’t scare you into paralysis.
Yet awareness permits preparation.
It isn’t what you decide that matters, it’s how you decide that counts.
It’s a point you might not appreciate yet, but regret fools us into focusing on the outcome, not on the way we decided.
Think of it from a betting man. A winning bet makes him think the choice of who to back was good. A losing bet supports a bad choice. In truth, the bet didn’t change the outcome. What matters more is the approach the betting man took to choose which bet to make.
Making decisions is the same.
When you understand why your decision-making is important, how you decide is the next step to pay attention to. You can’t live in fear of what regrets you might have in the future. You have to put your best efforts into your most important choices.
The outcome you choose may still lead to regret. But at least you won’t regret your choices.
It’s all about controlling the controllable (your decisions). Maybe this realisation is the most important thing about decision-making.
As John Maxwell rightly says, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”
Now, the significance of his words becomes clear.