A Better Way To Think About Choices

There’s a sketch by Mary Engelbreit, justifiably famous, of a girl setting off down a path into a forest.  She’s just come to a fork in the road.  One sign says, “Your Life”, and the other one says, “No Longer an Option.”  It’s brilliant.  But seldom are choices ever this clear.

If only every choice was this clear!

By now you know I’ve read an endless string of self help books.  And all had at least one good thing to say.  Despite my mildly skeptical stance on self help, what I don’t say as often is that without it, a lot of people would be in a lot of trouble.

There’s a book I’ve held onto even though I’ve only read it once, called The Breakthrough Factor by Olympic track star Henry Marsh.  There is one concept I took from it that I’ve thought about in much higher proportion to the amount of time I spent reading it.  (Shameless plug:  That’s what you’ll get with one reading of The Right Question).  And it’s a good one.

Basically, the idea is this:  Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.

See, the idea behind it is that very often our long-term goals aren’t compatible with our short-term goals.  We want to be slim, which is a future ambition, but the present ambition of enjoying a beer or a piece of cake is easier to satisfy in the short term.  Or when it’s time to work harder toward a long-term goal, it’s easier to take the day off and satisfy a short term goal of improving our golf swing.  Marsh’s take on this is that by choosing the path of least resistance, you’re missing an opportunity to get closer to your loftier ambition.  And he frames it in the perspective of giving up what you want most for what you want now.

As far as that goes, I’m with him.  Marsh spends some  time discussing how to reconcile the short term and the long term goals.  And it’s a valuable point to make.  You need to be able to have a good reason to forgo the short term pain for the long term gain.

A short term decision is a long term decision.  I don’t mean to paralyze you, in the sense that everything you do is going to be somehow responsible for your ultimate success or demise.  But if you’ve read The Right Question you know that it’s scalable; you can ask it anytime, anywhere, about anything.  So it occurred to me one day that really, I didn’t have to think about them as two different goals at all.

Here’s what I mean.  Let’s say you’re facing a choice between an opportunity to further your career by attending an evening workshop, or date night.  Normally you wouldn’t think twice about passing on the date, but this person is super sweet and you don’t want to cancel because you’ve done it before.  So in light of the circumstances, it actually is beginning to look like a choice between long term and short term.

Well, it’s only a choice between a long term goal and a short term one if you frame it that way.  Realistically, the “best” option is the one that gives you the most satisfactory answer to the Question.

What I’m saying is that your choices may seem as though they’re competing with each other when the contrast between instant gratification and future success is highlighted, but it’s the same choice it always was.

You figure it all out by asking the Question.