The Sum of Our Decisions

Sum of Our Decisions

I hoped to condense this to just one article, but it is too much and too important to abbreviate.  Perhaps it is our age and/or represents the sum of what we would like to pass along to our children and grandchildren, but it is more than one short article can convey.

One thing we all eventually learn is that your past, current, and future place in life is driven by the sum of the decisions you make along the way.  The earlier you make good decisions the easier it is to stay on track to a full, productive, and less stressful existence.  The opposite is also true, the earlier you make bad decisions the more difficult mid-course corrections become for you and those around you.  It is also the compounding effect of these decisions that can cause us to veer far from life’s desired course.

This is not a unique concept and has been expressed down through the ages as almost a given and points out the absurdity of life.  It has been expressed by many in many different ways.  We believe the Buddha may have encapsulated the concept most succinctly when he noted:

Thoughts become words, words become actions

Actions become habits, habits become character –

Watch your character, for it is your destiny.

The analysis is no different than any construction project where in a three-story building a wall that is off just one degree at the ground floor will be off by feet at the top.  When running a hundred yards this slight variance forces you off by five feet.  After a mile you are off by over ninety-two feet and the difference is becoming more than noticeable.  And these are simple examples involving only one yes or no decision, “Am I aligned correctly before I start?”

My brother-in-law and I often marvel at the college athletes and how much trouble they can get into in just three or four years.  It is all about decisions, each taken one at a time.  We are certain the coaches sit them down in their freshman year and say something to the effect of: “All we ask is that you work hard, go to class, come to practice each day, and stay out of trouble with the law.  If you do these simple things, then we will do everything we can to help you to the pros where you will make a lot of money and be set for life!”  However, some with the talent to get to the pros just cannot follow these simple instructions for a brief, defined period.  They get in trouble with the law, or violate team rules, or skip class.  No matter how simple you make it some cannot see the linkage between the sum of their actions and success!  Three or four years of good decisions to have a successful life and some cannot do it!

Our lives are infinitely more complex, involving millions of Boolean decisions every year.  A 2015 study published by Dr. Joel Hoomans of Robert Wesleyan College estimates that most adults make as many as (35,000 decisions every day, many on just what food to eat)  Even with children, he notes, the decisions can be in the range of 3,000 each day.  Using Dr. Hoomans’ research our annual decisions approach 12,000,000, a figure that seems overwhelming when first considered.

Significant fortunes have been made by consultants and self-help gurus giving complex and insightful advice on avoiding poverty and having a fulfilling life.  Their advice often lists helpful and insightful considerations, but their considerations often center on external environmental forces coming into play.  There is nothing wrong with their well-intended guidance, it just makes it too complex to digest and follow.  Often these advisors, self-proclaimed experts, focus on external forces rather than individual choices in their cause-and-effect discussions.  This mistakenly relieves the individual from responsibility for their decisions.  The truth is that every day of our lives is a “Do Over.”  You get up and decide what and how you will take on the day.  Every day can be better than the last one or worse.  But you own your actions, no one else.  You reap the benefits or suffer the consequences.

In 2001 Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of The Brookings Institution published an article titled Work and Marriage: The Way to End Poverty and Welfare.  Accepted by many for its reliance on data rather than emotion, the analysis was obviously ignored by politicians and the left.  The analysis by Haskins and Sawhill illustrated that statically a person only has to do three things to avoid living in poverty in America.  Those three things are: finish high school, do not have a child out of wedlock, and get a job.

If those three simple things are all it takes to have a middle-class life in America, why can’t everyone do them?  The answer to that question is as complex as any issue we face as a society.  But to throw our opinion into the mix, we believe there are two additional considerations that enhance a person’s life and improve their chances to achieve those three goals.  These two are avoid substance abuse and believe in something bigger than yourself.

Over the next five weeks we are going to tackle these five issues in more detail and see just how complex or simple life can become.  Just five simple things that if you can do them life is much easier, and your chances of success almost assured.  Finish high school, get married before you have children, get and hold a job, avoid substance abuse, and believe in something bigger than yourself.

That is all it takes!  Let’s look at the facts and not conjectures to draw our conclusions.