It’s easy to make bad choices in isolation. Maybe you’ve had a hard day and you want/need a beer, or a biscuit, or an hour watching TV. Fair enough. But before you pull the trigger, stop and think: what would happen if you made that choice 100 times? What if you:
- Skip/hit the gym 100 times?
- Study for 100 hours?
- Put off contacting a friend 100 times?
- Have 100 ‘quick pints’ after work?
- Spend 100 hours browsing the internet?
- Make an exception 100 times?
Put into context like this, the choice becomes more stark: your decision’s part of a larger whole that’s going to affect your life, one way or the other. That still doesn’t mean that the ‘bad’ decision (AKA the thing you want to do) is wrong, or that you shouldn’t do it – but it’s a better way of looking at the decision.
But I’ll go you one further. Next time you’re presented with an apparently-small choice, consider how many more times – in your life – you’re realistically going to have that choice at all. For me, going wrestling (Olympic freestyle not WWE) is the perfect example: the club where I do it has one good, serious, leave-you-on-the-floor class a week, and it’s on Wednesday night. One Wednesday in four is deadline day at my job, so it’s not realistic to imagine that I’ll ever get to leave on time to get to go to wrestling that night. So the most times I can expect to get a decent wrestling class done over an entire year is 39, and that’s without even factoring in holidays, illness, or times when life gets in the way. And 39 classes, if you want to be any good at wrestling, is nothing.
Since I started thinking this way, I’ve skipped a lot less wrestling classes.
But I’ll go you one further.
One day, the circumstances of your life will change, and probably sooner than you think. You’ll change jobs or meet somebody you want to spend all your time with or have a baby, and suddenly, you won’t have any choices at all. It’s going to happen, and it’s tough to tell when.
The point is, amplifying the results of that one action – however small – make it tougher to make excuses. And it’s not an unrealistic thing to imagine: almost everything you do is habit, and the more times you avoid bad actions and chase good ones, the more ingrained good habits will be.
Self-discipline is killed by exceptions. Avoid the exceptions, and the results will come.
[Hat tip: PeaceH from Reddit, whose was nice enough to let me use elements from this post when I asked. Read his other stuff.]