What decision do you think has the greatest impact on your life? Where you go to college? Who you marry? Perhaps, what career you pick? When we think about important decisions we have been trained to think BIG. But what if I told you that the decisions which impact your life the most are the small ones? What if your whole life is determined more by when, how long and well you sleep, how you pray, and how you schedule your day more than any BIG choice you think you are making?
The Choices I Would Make Differently
In my early adult life, I was very ambitious. Not that I wanted to be rich or famous, but I had specific goals in mind. Some of those goals are very common, like wanting to earn enough money to comfortably provide for my family. The problem was that I had blinders on, neglecting daily life in pursuit of those goals. I would let my health, relationships, and even simple maintenance go by the wayside thinking I would “get to them later.”
Once I started making daily life a priority; sleeping well, eating well, taking time to nurture relationships, saving time for myself to read and think, then the BIG things began to change. In hindsight, my greatest mistake in life was sacrificing today in pursuit of tomorrow.
Big Choices Are Slaves to the Small Ones
“As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
Foolish people regret choices, but wise men regret attitudes. You can't live every day of your life grumpy, stressed, and tired and then think that you are going to make a good decision when the time comes. If you live every day of your life thinking negatively about someone, then you aren't going to keep yourself from "saying the wrong thing" in the heat of the moment.
If ambition burns in your heart, then you shouldn't be surprised when you look back and see a damaged relationships. The choices we so often "regret" are just the times when we end up reaping what we have been sowing for years. “Attitude” is basically just a word to sum up our small choices we make daily: how we react to people, how we approach our work, etc.
You Don’t Really Even Make “BIG” Choices
Not to get too “Matrix” on you, but the reality is that we really don’t make big choices. You have already decided on them. The job you pick is based on your skills and passion, your skills are based on your choices of learning, your learning is based on your talent and priorities. You pick one similar job over another based on which one you think will best get you to your life and career goals. Your life and career goals are based on your worldview. To summarize, the “BIG” choices are really determined by your small choices combined with what is available.
Small Choices Are More Powerful and Longer-Lasting
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap”
- Galatians 6:7
The good news is that making great small choices adds up over time to true sustainable fruits. The phrase, "you will reap what you sow," is as much a promise as it is a warning. If you make great small choices every day, they will eventually add up to great big outcomes. Like my mistake, I thought the little things would wait until I had the big things handled. It turned out, taking care of the little things meant the big things took care of themselves. An example of this is an article I wrote previously on making the bed.
The Real “BIG” Choices
Here are some of the real choices which determine the course of our lives which we so often overlook:
A Good Night’s Sleep
Choosing to get a good night’s sleep is essential to a healthy life. Sleep affects so much of your thoughts and emotions. If you live on little sleep, you will see everything in an increasingly negative light, anxiety will grow, and your relationships will suffer. If you are sacrificing sleep for the illusion of “getting ahead” you are heading for a wall. I learned that no matter how desperate I think things are, it is almost never worth losing sleep over to meet a deadline or beat the clock. Sometimes, the holiest things we can do is face the day well rested.
A Healthy Lifestyle
Eating well and getting exercise are often the first to suffer when you are chasing a goal. Eating healthy takes planning and is difficult in the daily rush, and working out can seem like a big time waste and distraction. However, these things add energy and clarity to our day. Ignoring adds up to truly devastating consequences.
How you think about people, talk about people, and view other people is probably one of the biggest drivers of your life. Every negative thought is a seed which will grow into conflict, and every negative word is a promise of division. We so often unintentionally neglect those around us as we focus on our own problems. Making ourselves available to be aware of others and taking the time to understand those different from us may seem inefficient, but is ultimately the most productive thing we can ever do.
Liken to the above item, I have found listening to be the most powerful career advancement tool. I have come to believe that the things everyone wants most from their coworkers is to know they are understood. We are often so obsessed with being understood, that we often bypass the process of understanding others. When someone feels like you understand them, they also feel like they can trust you.
Taking time every day for prayer and/or meditation, even if it’s as simple as a walk, is so important to making sure your emotions, your thoughts, and your choices are healthy. Nothing can seem like a bigger time waster than doing nothing. But a little bit of nothing goes a long way. A lot of anxiety and stress comes from a build-up of thoughts and experiences that we haven’t taken time to process. They grow into a monster that makes us afraid of the silence. It is like that junk drawer you dread having to clean someday. Stillness helps us clear out the clutter of our thoughts, and we often find great treasures amongst them.
In this light of prayer, what we pray for makes a big difference. Do we pray for “things?” Do we pray for ourselves or others? Do we pray circumstances to change, or for us to change? To we ask God to open our eyes, or do we ask for favors? Little choices like these make a big difference when facing the challenges and decisions of daily life.
Thankfulness and Abundant Living
Especially in America, our culture has become so workaholic and shame based that we think it is virtuous to neglect our own lives in pursuit of success. The “retirement culture” says to put off your passions until you are “done” working. The biggest victim of this mindset is the modern marriage. If you can’t find ways to enjoy your family, relationships, and even spending time with yourself, you will burn out before you have a chance to retire. I am not talking about indulging. In fact, a good habit of thankful living helps keep bad impulses at bay. If we don’t enjoy and show thankfulness for what we have, what point is there in God giving us any more?
If all these things sounds great but “impossible” for our busy schedule, then perhaps we should consider cutting out some responsibilities? Maybe our home is too expensive, maybe we have too much stuff to take care of, maybe our debts are too great, or perhaps we simply commit to too much. If we don’t have enough time to do something fully, with joy, and with a calm spirit, then we probably shouldn’t do it at all.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
- Psalm 46:10a
The Small Choice Challenge
I never liked "let go and let God." First because it seems trite, but also because we have a level of responsibility over our lives, even when things are out of our control. Instead, consider your responsibility to take charge over smaller decisions, and then trust God for the big things. In other words, don't "let go" but do focus on the journey rather than the destination.
It may seem hard to believe that big choices will take care of themselves, but I challenge you to give it a try. Think through your average day, and look for opportunities to make small changes. Greet people generously, do your best to remain calm, take time out for prayer and thought, and find a way to enjoy the day as an act of worship. You will see very quickly how your perceptions change and the fog of modern life begins to lift.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
- Frank Outlaw