Deciding

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.” ~ Steve Jobs to Walter Isaacson

And I believe it is true for people as well.  In this graduation season many graduates  face the next step in their lives with uncertainty.  If they have not already committed to a job or further education, the possibilities seem endless and it is overwhelming to think about the choices.  This is one of the times when thinking in the negative is helpful.  To eliminate the things one knows for sure are not options is the first step in  the narrowing process.  Each of us can use this technique to help refine our decision-making.

My home and the nine acres surrounding it always have a list of things that need doing that would strike fear in the heart of my former suburban self.  On any given day, it is easier to start with deciding what not to do.  Mother Nature is the guiding force more often than not in the process of elimination.  Choosing a task compatible with the weather often cuts the outdoor list in half.  The wear and tear on my less than youthful body is another consideration.  If the day before was extremely physical, I immediately set aside heavy work projects the following day.

Deciding what not to do falls into two categories, what not to do right now, and what will never be done.  Just because the option presents itself does not mean that it is worthy of further consideration.  Allowing oneself to toss out the unworthy and unworkable, clears out the mental clutter a bit.  If it is simply a question of not doing it right now, assigning the task a priority ranking and placing any related items that must happen first in front, the action list begins to emerge.  Use this for anything from making large life choices to planning the spring yard cleanup, the idea and process is the same.

The point is to refine one’s focus to a manageable list of options and be able to weigh the relative value of the particular choice.  Thinking of our lives as a product development project allows us to step back and to leave behind consideration of options that do nothing to further that development.  When faced with open-ended questions, starting with what not to do can in fact point us directly at the answer of what to do.

Comparisons

“If God had not made brown honey, men would think figs far sweeter than they do.”   ~Xenophanes

It is in our nature to compare, we use the technique often to make judgements and decisions.  We compare prices when we shop, we compare the features of a car or appliance to decide which one will be the best for our use.  Because it is an habitual way of thinking, it is often applied to people as well.  The problem lies in the myriad of “features” that come with each person, and to weigh one against another is opening oneself to the risk of overlooking traits absent in one or another.

The measure of comparing a human is against one’s own moral beliefs, tastes, interests and peccadilloes.  To hold one person up against the other we may develop mis-information, but to evaluate  whether a person is an asset to our lives we must observe how they fit one’s way of being.  It demands of us that we look more deeply and carefully than we would if we were to say, “he is kinder, she is more generous”.  It is the whole and not the sum of the parts of a person that we must come to know.

Being judgemental has the connotation of being unfair, yet relying on judgement to make choices and to discern the value and importance of each factor is vital in making good choices for one’s best interest.  Weighing instead against life experience rather than another person, we gain the essence of someone, and the way they might fit with us or that in fact, there are critical elements missing that we recognize we cannot do without.

Remaining mindful that comparisons have their place, and taking care to use them only when necessary, we avoid the distressing and happiness stripping habit of holding up unlike things against each other.  To be fully in the moment requires letting go of the past moments and choosing to savor whatever this one has to offer.  Developing the ability to stay present, using judgement to make good choices, and comparison for buying a new washing machine, gives us the tools to be kind to ourselves and find our way to the people and moments that will enrich our lives.