Small Decisions Contribute to Long-Term Goals

As I set long-term goals for the New Year, I do not want to underestimate the impact of small decisions I make everyday. These positive or negative choices will either contribute to or hinder my goals. The daily choices I make will eventually form into a habit, which will then turn into a lifestyle. I want my goals to be more than just for this year but for the many years to come. To have an effective long-term goal, it must be coupled with positive short-term decisions I make in the moment. I want to share an excerpt from this book I read over the holidays that describes it so well:

We also need to make better choices in the moment. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling described, we behave as if we’re two different people: one who wants a lean body and another who wants dessert.

Even small short-term differences in how we allocate our time can result in better days. An extra half-hour of sleep or an extra hour of social time can be the difference between a great day and a mediocre day. Changing our daily routine a little can have a big impact on the quality of each day.

On a given day, we might sit around and respond to problems at work instead of initiating. We might passively watch TV rather than getting out and exercising. Or maybe we spend on something now that creates stress in a few weeks or months. We might even think about doing something to give back to our community, but decide we’ll do it later and never get around to it. Days like this start a vicious cycle.

Just one day when we eat poorly, skip exercising, are stressed at work, don’t get enough social time, and worry about money leads to a host of negative outcomes. On days like this, we have less energy, we look worse, we don’t treat people well, and we get a lousy night’s sleep. As a result, we miss the reset provided by a sound night of sleep, and the cycle continues.

When we break this downward spiral and get a good night’s sleep, we’re off to the right start. This allows us to wake up refreshed and increases our chances of exercising in the morning. If we can use our strengths at our job every day, this connects our daily activities to a much higher purpose and allows us to get more done. Between work and time with our friends and family, if we can get in six hours of social time, chances are, we’ll have 10 times as many good moments as stressful ones.

One of the best ways to create more good days is by setting positive defaults. Any time you help your short-term self work with your long-term self, you have an opportunity. You can intentionally choose to spend more time with the people you enjoy most and engage your strengths as much as possible. You can structure your finances to minimize the worry caused by debt. You can make exercise a standard part of your routine. You can make healthier decisions in the supermarket so you don’t have to trust yourself when you have a craving a few days later. And you can make commitments to community, religious, or volunteer groups, knowing that you will follow through once you’ve signed up in advance. Through these daily choices, you create stronger friendships, families, workplaces, and communities.

-Well Being The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath & Jim Harter (pgs. 110-112)

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