Our lives are made up of countless decisions every day. At any given time, I would be thinking about several things from "how could I make more money?" to "what should I have for dinner?" to "what my wife would think of me if I don't do the laundry today?"
Every decision we make defines us in some way. And each of them pushes us in one direction or the other.
The truth is, not all decisions are created equally.
Deciding which route to take to the office will get you to the same place. Yes, the views are different but the outcomes are the same. Deciding whether to do something illegal may put people in jail (or not). Deciding what to eat for dinner may sound like a question for this evening. But with time, this simple—but never easy—question has a huge impact on your waistline.
Even not deciding is a decision made—you chose to ignore it and let things run their course.
Trying to make the best decision for all kinds of options we're facing every day will drive us insane. Even when it doesn't, it's counterproductive to try doing it.
To get ahead in life, you don't need to get every decision right. All you need is to focus on the big wins.
You're free to make as many small tweaks with your life as you like. While they keep you busy, it's more productive to focus on things that will put you on the path to big wins.
The first type of big wins is what I called the upstream choices. They are choices that will change your course completely. They are the things that you want to get right—or better put, less wrong—as early as possible.
Any choice you make here leads you down to a different path compared to another. For example:
To make a choice for this group of decisions, you first need to understand what you want and don't want. Next, figure out the struggles that may come with each available choice. And be ready to pay the price.
The process will help you realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side. And the realization prevents you from falling prey to the Paradox of Choice.
The second type are choices that have a compounding effect. Often, they are your habits and routines such as your morning ritual and diet pattern. They are easily ignored because the consequences—both good or bad—aren't immediate.
With time, these habits lead to high-stake outcomes:
When these tiny actions start feeding onto themselves, they become a part of your identity and thus, your outcomes. Getting them right means setting yourself up to become who you want to be.
In a perfect world, we'll have unlimited resources for all the options available to us. But in the real world, we have limited time and energy for a vast number of choices.
By focusing on the upstream and compounding choices, you make moves for big wins instead of optimizing for trivial improvements. To give you a few examples:
Before you make the next move, figure out and focus on the upstream and compounding choices.
While it may sound scary to make the wrong choice, remember that we can always change course—as long as we have time.
It's okay if you've made some dumb mistakes along the way, all you need is to make a better decision next time around. And the only way to make sure you have enough "next time" is to not wasting too much time thinking and analyzing but not deciding.
Join Work Less to get practical insights and tips to help you work less, earn more, and live a better life—straight to your inbox—every Sunday. The first email goes out on July 3.
👆 Join 3,100+ leaders, creatives, and knowledge workers today.
Dean is a strong voice in the self-mastery space. His newsletter consistently delivers insightful ideas on how to become a better version of yourself and is the only newsletter that I always read.
Head of product and engineering