Sometimes the greatest life advice comes from what are ostensibly stories for children. For example, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore tells Harry, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? We wouldn’t take money from our friend’s left-behind wallet, so why would we take money from a wallet we find randomly? Choosing between what is right and what is easy isn’t always a clear-cut moral choice, though. It’s easy to eat what’s convenient, fritter away extra cash rather than saving it, or skipping exercise, and you may not catch much flak for doing so. But ultimately those little “easy” decisions add up and have a discernable effect on your life, making it worse than it has to be. How can you turn “doing what’s right” into “doing what’s easy?”
Where Do You Start?
No one is advising a life of bleak and soulless deprivation. As with most life changes, it’s easier if you start small. You could grab that soda from the fridge and gulp it down, but you know from experience that if you do, you’ll feel sluggish and headachy in an hour, plus it’s bad for your teeth. Maybe just this once you’ll drink water instead and see what happens. Chances are you’re not going to get to the end of the day and wish you’d had that can of soda. Here’s an approach to try:
- Think of a choice and its possible consequences.
- Will it affect others, or just you? Or will it only affect you for now, but could affect others later (like if you have to have major, avoidable dental work and it limits your vacation options with your family)?
- How will you feel an hour or a day after making the better choice?
- Who could you ask for support in your choice?
Remind Yourself of the Benefits of Making the Right Choices
One of the reasons it’s so hard to make that first right choice is that you probably won’t see a major benefit right away. In fact, if you’re used to having a soda mid-afternoon and suddenly stop, you might end up with a nasty caffeine-withdrawal headache: not much of a motivator! But once you’re over that hump, it gets easier each time. It won’t take that long before you start seeing the benefits, such as a fatter bank account from avoiding frivolous spending, or a healthier number on the scale from cutting back on desserts. Once those results start making themselves manifest, you’re far likelier to continue making those good decisions.
Doing the Right Thing Is a Skill Like Any Other: It Takes Practice
Making good choices consistently requires practice. And “practice” isn’t always fun or rewarding. But it gets better. Practice is what results in your developing new work efficiency habits (that allow you free time to pursue personal pleasures), developing a taste for healthier foods, or being able to anticipate that endorphin “high” that comes from peak athletic performance. Most life skills worth having are skills that require practice. The people you know who are great at healthy cooking, tennis, playing piano, or serving the community are people who have put in the time it takes to get good at it.
Also Remember That Perfection Is Impossible
If always making the correct decision sounds like a life devoid of fun and enjoyment, try to reframe how you look at it. You are, after all, a functioning adult. The occasional dessert, glass of champagne, or afternoon spent watching silly movies in no way undoes all your hard work. In fact, all your hard work can make those treats more satisfying than they are now.
Striving to make right choices is admirable, and you’re better off when you consistently make more good choices than bad ones. But perfection is an impossible goal, and you have to be willing to let yourself be indulgent on occasion, and forgive yourself for the times you make mistakes. Getting back on track may take a bit of that effort you experienced when you first changed your behavior, but the sooner you do it, the easier it will be.
Much of leadership coaching is about learning to make the next right decision, and I know from experience that coaching can accelerate the process. If you want to know more about leadership coaching, I invite you to get in touch at any time. Let’s get started on your best path forward!