How to make better decisions and live life with purpose
Going with the flow may not always be the best choice
When Neo, Keanu Reaves’ character in the Matrix, is faced with the irrevocable decision between taking a blue pill, and continuing to live his days out in ignorance, or the red pill, and choosing to find truth, albeit painful and shocking, he decisively reaches for the red pill.
Whether you have watched the Matrix or not, you have probably heard a version of this story. A fork in the road, where choosing one path will lead to a drastically different life than the other path. It is a fun exercise to put yourself in the shoes of Neo, and think about which pill you would take. Would you be able to make a choice? Or would you need to ruminate over the pros and cons of each decision. Better yet, would you be able to live with the decision you made, or would you be left wondering if you should have made a different decision?
Although most choices we face in real life are not so final, it is the small decisions we make everyday, and the actions that come from those decisions, that truly make our life what it is.
So, if shaping our lives really is as simple as making better decisions, why is it so many of us are stuck living a life that is sub par, wishing that we could have a bigger house, a better job, more free time, be in better shape… Well, unfortunately simple doesn’t always mean easy. Becoming more decisive takes work and practice.
There are three critical parts to making better decisions; intention, decision, and action. Spoiler alert: the decision is actually the least important step.
In order to make better decisions, you need to become very clear on what you stand for, who you are as a person, and where you want your life to be in the future. Setting clear intentions for your life is similar to setting sign posts out at all of the forks in the road, essentially acting as direction.
For example, let’s say you set an intention to wake up one hour earlier each morning so you can get to work on time. Now, it becomes very simple to make decisions around this aspect of your life. Are you going to press “next episode” on Netflix the night before, or are you going to shut off the TV, and get ready for bed? Are you going to hit snooze 12 times before groggily crawling out of bed? The choice is yours, but at least you are informed.
Intentions will change as you learn and grow, so it is important to continually set new intentions, and evaluate where you want your life to go. Intentions can be set daily, weekly, or even yearly – find what works, and then put in the work to make them clear. Start by setting intentions around the major aspects of your life. The minor aspects (such as getting to work on time) will usually fall into place when you know who you want to be (such as productive, purposeful and useful), or what you want in life (stability, freedom, great relationships, and money).
Now comes the easy part – if you have put in the work in step one. Making decisions becomes quite simple when you have a general understanding of your purpose, what drives you, and where you see yourself going. That fork in the road now comes equipped with a sign post, pointing one way or the other. The key to the actual decision is to make it fast, with the knowledge you have in that moment and intentions you have already clearly set, then move forward and don’t look back. Once the decision is made, the only thing to do is to trust and keep going.
Know that you will make the wrong decision sometimes. Such is life – we are not perfect, and we are rarely fully informed. Know that if you have set clear intentions, you will make more right decisions than wrong, and will generally move forward in the direction you want. The key is to learn from your bad decisions, and feed those learnings back into forming clearer intentions so you don’t make the same mistakes going forward.
A decision on its own is useless if it is not acted upon. It becomes quite easy to make the right decision in your head, but if it is not acted upon quickly enough, doubt and weakness can start to creep in pretty quick. Without action, you will be left second guessing the decision, and then you are back at square one; indecisive and no further ahead.
A tip here is to take at least one action immediately after making a decision. You may not be able to do everything it takes to act on a decision immediately, but you can always do at least one thing. For example, let’s say you set the intention to be healthier. This may lead you to make the decision to start cooking wholesome dinners, rather than ordering in every night. Maybe you made this decision in the morning when you were full, both of food and energy – you probably aren’t ready to start cooking dinner quite yet, and your resolve is likely quite high at this moment. But you can take one action immediately – perhaps this means deleting the food delivery apps off your phone, or going to the grocery store and stocking up with wholesome, healthy, raw ingredients so you are prepared. These small actions taken immediately will push you in the right direction, and when it comes time for dinner, and you are tired and hungry, you will stay strong and actually do what it takes to eat healthy.
Now, faced with a red pill and blue pill scenario, do you know which you would choose? If you put a little time into these three steps, the decision should be a whole lot simpler. The choices we make are not always as black and white as this example, but by developing your intention, and following your decision with action, you will start moving your life in the direction you want it to go. You will begin to live life on your terms, rather than merely going with the flow.