The difference between active versus passive living is in whether or not you are the one making the decisions that affect your life or if somebody else is. I think most of us want to have control over our lives and not live passively, however decisions can be extremely difficult to make, especially when there are so many possibilities and choices. It’s a common problem for people living in first world nations. It’s a huge blessing and privilege to have a lot of choices, however it can paralyze us with anxiety as we get stuck analyzing the possible outcomes of all these choices, trying to pick the best one. It’s exhausting, and it defaults us to living passively, having other people or other circumstances in life make choices for us.
This is something that I have been battling ever since I took the reins of my life into my own hands and actively started making choices towards the goals I wanted, instead of wishing and waiting for opportunities to fall into my lap. It has not been easy but here’s what I have learned so far.
1. Don’t worry about picking the best possible choice. Just make a decision and make that into the best choice. The only way to know for sure if a choice was good is to look back on it. So choose something, work at it, and make it into the right choice when you look back in the future and connect the dots.
2. Avoiding bad choices is way more important than figuring out which decision is the best out of a pool of good choices. It’s worth spending time and energy thinking through and weeding out the bad choices, but I won’t spend too much time mulling over all the little differences between the good choices anymore.
3. Stick with the choice, work at it and give it time to impact your live. We are so wired for instant gratification nowadays, however just because you don’t see the impact of your choice immediately, does not mean it wasn’t the right choice. The best choices will require you to put time and effort into them to develop their impact. Work at it, and give it time. After you make the choice, stick with it, don’t keep wondering ‘what if I chose something else?’, or ‘was this the right choice?’, that will only take up time and energy you could be spending making your choice the right one. Figure all that out and make peace with it before you choose, but keep in mind #1 and #2 so you don’t get stuck making that choice.
4. Don’t be afraid to call it and try something else. You will make wrong choices so if you have given it time and put in reasonable effort yet you don’t feel like it’s going anywhere, drop it. It’s okay, there’s no sunk cost, because you learned something, which will increase the chance of you making a better choice next time.
Nobody teaches us how to make choices, we all have to figure it out for ourselves, yet it’s one of the most used and most important skills in life. Everyday we are faced with choices big and small and most of us avoid choosing because it’s just too overwhelming to choose everything. However all that means is somebody else is making the choices that affect your life.
I think once you get past the initial choice fatigue, the art of making good choices lies between balancing between #3 and #4. You won’t know if your choice was good or not until you put time and effort into developing it, however if you have put reasonable time and effort into and it still doesn’t feel right. You need to make the call and not get trapped into the sunk cost fallacy.
Interestingly, a lot of the strategies I rely on in making personal and now business choices are learnings I have picked up from my time backpacking. It was a great environment to practice because every few days I would be faced with a slew of pretty big choices: Where did I want to go next? Where was I going to sleep next? At first I would google extensively, look at photos of places, TripAdvisor reviews, trying to figure it all out before I go. But that was exhausting, it took a lot of the discovery out of travel, and a lot of places looked equally good. I quickly fell victim to decision fatigue so I would give up thinking about it and chose randomly. Eventually I realized that it didn’t matter where I chose to go as long as it wasn’t a dangerous place. Every place had it’s own unique experiences, sites, friendly people. It really didn’t matter where I was, it just mattered if I put the effort into getting out and about, exploring, talking to locals and other travelers. It was the effort that I put in once I got to the place that made it fun and memorable, and ultimately the right choice.
So I have been working for myself now for a little over 3 months since I came back from my trip. Ironically I have discovered that the most difficult part of working for myself is the same reason why I was in love with the idea: the freedom over my own time. Nobody tells me want to do, I can wake up whenever I want, I can work whenever I want, I can do whatever I want. It’s all on me. Everyday I’m are faced with so many choices: How much do I work today? Do I work on a blog post today, or go out and network more to find clients for my web development business? Should I reach out to stale leads to try and revive them, or build out an app idea that I have that could become another business? Try to expand my Airbnb gig by renovating and moving into my garage? Work out? Clean my house? Take care of myself? Rest so I don’t get burnt out? What’s the best use of my time today? What’s the best choice?
I’m writing this article for myself because I think it will be valuable for me to reference during the days when I am unsure about my choices or get stuck making a choice. The banner image is a photo I took in the mountainous city of Takayama, Japan. I made a last minute decision to go there instead of the most popular city of Kyoto because I was so tired of busy touristy places.