Nov 16

Choose to choose

When I was a little younger I believed that the ultimate goal in life was to be happy. I still believe this, but my idea of what ‘happiness’ is has changed. When I was younger and I needed to make a choice between going to the party and staying home I asked myself a simple question, “Will I be happier at home or at the party?” It’s a simple question and the answer usually came easy. I determined my actions for the evening in a simple and easy way; which will make me happier right now?

However, that method of making choices only produced consistent results in momentary happiness. That is, I was happier at the party than I would’ve been at home, ‘at that moment.’ But, the next day, when I was tired and practically sleepless, I wasn’t happy at all. The closest thing to happiness I could find the following day was to lay brain-dead on the couch watching reruns on TV, too tired to even challenge my mind to wonder if there was anything better on to watch. I was happy at the party, for 5 or 6 hours, but I was really tired, unhappy, and feeling bad for an entire day afterwards. Just measured in time alone one can see that the net happiness was not what I had calculated it to be when I made the decision. There was a flaw in my choice-making process in that it focused on short term, momentary things without taking into consideration the consequences of those choices in the long term.

Life is full of choices. Some people have even gone as far to say that our choices are the material from which our existence is formed. In every day, at every moment, with every thought we are confronted with choice. We make hundreds, if not thousands of choices every hour.  Should I look left or right? Should I step with my left foot or my right? Should I speed up or slow down? Stand or sit? Talk or remain quiet? Raise your voice or lower it. Reprimand your kids or laugh with them? It seems that these choices are our lives. We ‘are’ a product of the choices we make.

How we choose what choices to make and how we go about making those choices can significantly affect our lives. Some choices seem simple, but have the potential to impact our life greatly. Some choices seem difficult and important, but have little if any impact on the happiness or success we experience whatsoever. How do we know what choices are important and which aren’t? What process do we use to make the choices we need to make?

These are the same questions people have been asking and seeking answers to since the beginning of civilization (and probably before). Nobody knows the answers and I’m not going to pretend that I do either. However, I do know some things. I have made some good choices along with the bad. As a result, I have learned a few things that have helped me to make choices that result in a higher overall level of happiness. I have learned some things that have helped me to determine which choices were important and which were not worth the time. Consequently, I have put some things into practice that have genuinely and profoundly changed my life for the better. That have had such a positive impact on me, my personality, my interactions with others, my relationships with my kids and other people in my life that I can barely imagine thinking or living the way I was before them.

I’d like to share some of these practices with you in hopes that you can incorporate them into your lives either in whole or in part because I genuinely want each of your lives to be enhanced in a way that is fulfilling and full of happiness. I desire for each of you, a sincere and internal confidence; the kind of confidence that only comes from a life full of happiness, friends, love, and personal growth.

Know what you want to achieve:

This seems like something everyone should know already. In fact, you’ve probably heard it said in one of many ways that dozens of people have said before me. “Begin with the end in mind.” “Never begin a journey until you’ve chosen the destination” One of the hardest and simplest things you can do is to figure out what you really want to achieve… Not at the moment, that’s easy. Determining what you want to achieve at any moment without concern for what you want to achieve in life is like asking yourself the question “what will make me happier right now?” As I already mentioned, that method of making choices seldom turns out produce the kind of real benefit to someone’s life that they truly desire.

To make a choice about what to do right now I have to know what I want to achieve over, say, the next hour. To make a choice about what to achieve over the next hour, I have to know what I want to achieve today. To determine what I should achieve today I have to know what I want to accomplish for the week. It should be obvious where this is going right? You have to set long term goals in order to make the appropriate short term goals. Making good decisions requires that you take the time to make up your mind about what YOU want out of life.

This is kind of morbid, but useful nevertheless: Stephen Covey says to think about what you want people to say about you at your funeral. How do you want to be remembered? What must you do to be remembered in that way? What kind of changes do you need to make today to work toward doing what you need to do? It may be worth the effort to decide today what you want others to remember about you.

Realize how you spend your time:

How closely do you keep track of what you spend your time on? Most people would probably be amazed at where their time goes. I have never seen anyone, that kept track of their time over a 2-week period that didn’t either cheat and list productive time they didn’t actually spend, or that weren’t amazed at where their time actually went. Before you can allocate your time appropriately, you need to understand where your time is going now. So spend a little effort and figure out where your time is being spent currently. This will give you an idea of where you are currently so that you can get to where you want to go more efficiently.

Once you’ve figured out where your time is being spent, you need to understand something about the pros and cons of spending your time the way you do. Divide your time into 4 quadrants (Stephen Covey – 7 habits) as in the graphic below.

Take a look at the graphic and understand what it means. If you’re spending your time in the top left then you’re reacting to events in your life that have become urgent and need your immediate attention.

Most people spend the majority of their time in quadrant 1, reacting to things that are urgent and important. We become accustomed to it. We begin to take pride in our ability to fight fires with skill and finesse.  However, living in quadrant 1 is stressful and it generally takes up a great deal of our time and energy. It takes up so much time and energy in fact that when we get done fighting and reacting, we need to take a break! We long to find something that is neither important, nor urgent to do. We need time so that we can relax and take a load off. Quadrant 4 is just the place we usually choose to go when we’re tired from a long day of stressful quadrant 1 activity. We find solace in doing nothing and feeling nothing. If you’re like me, you promise yourself before entering quadrant 4 that it is just for a little while; just long enough to gain back enough energy to revisit my priorities and find something more productive to attend to. More times than I would like to admit, I keep relaxing until the next thing becomes urgent and then I jump right back into quadrant 1.

The problem with swinging back and forth between quadrants 1 & 4 is that we never have time to do anything except swing back and forth. It’s been said, and I’ve found it to be true, that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort (Pareto Principle). I believe that the “20%” that they’re talking about, probably comes from the effort that is spent in the important, but not urgent quadrant… Quadrant 2!

Why is that quadrant 2 produces more results? Well, in quadrant 2, we are working on things that are important, but we’re working on them before they become urgent. This lack of urgency, and the pressure that goes along with reacting to urgency, gives us the ability to do our absolute best work. When we aren’t rushed with deadlines or impending doom as we are during crisis and firefighting, the results that we produce align better with our higher level goals. In this quadrant we are able to put our best foot forward and to actively take action that produces more benefit with less of the effort. Quadrant 2 activity is where we want to spend our time!

If you’ve followed along this far, then you’re probably already figuring out that we need to find time to put effort into quadrant 2. But from where do we get that time? Where will we find the energy to work in quadrant 2 when we are spending all our time fire-fighting and recuperating to do anything productive? That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. If you haven’t read my post on ‘Navigating the River of Life,’ you may want to give it a quick read. But, to answer the question, “Where are we going to find the time and energy to work in quadrant 2?” The answer is that you’re not going to find it. You’re going to take control of the time you already have and use it efficiently.

In a nutshell, you’re going to take some of your time back from quadrant 1, and you’re going to take all of your time back from quadrant 4. I know what you’re thinking. I can’t take time back from quadrant 1 because that effort is spent on things that are both urgent, and important. But, here’s my thoughts on it, and if I’m wrong then don’t take my advice.

First, If you’re like most people, when you’re in quadrant 1 solving an immediate and important issue, you tend to use your time slightly less wisely than you would if you took a step back, took a deep breath, and asked yourself, “What is the minimum required effort that I can give toward this task to remove it from the urgent quadrant?” Most people don’t think this way. After all, we’re programmed from an early age that we’re supposed to do our best. We’re supposed to give it our all and never ask ourselves “What’s the least I can do?” Right? It’s true. We shouldn’t give our least, we should always give our best. But, what if, by failing to do the minimum in quadrant 1, we are actually not doing our best? What if we change our mindset and understand that quadrant 1 activity is actually sucking the life out of us? What if we learn to realize that the only way to be free of it, is to minimize out time in it and use that time in quadrant 2?

Second, I know it’s hard, but push yourself. When you get done stressing over working in quadrant 1, and you fall comfortably into quadrant 4. DON’T. Just don’t. Don’t allow yourself to be convinced that it’s acceptable. Admit to yourself that you’re tired. Admit to yourself that you just finished running a marathon problem solving exercise. Admit how tough it was and then, realize that you are in control of your ability to break the cycle. You control it and only you can. If you can’t control it, then by all means, give in and let it control you (I’m kidding … that was sarcasm).

Let’s assume that you’ve decided beyond any doubt that you’re going to get your time back and put it toward working in quadrant 2. What will you do? What will you spend your time on? Simply, by virtue of the fact that you’re asking yourself that question, you are already working efficiently and safely in quadrant 2. Asking yourself that question is more important that busying yourself with work. Think about it! “What can I do that would produce the most benefit toward my goal?” Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of doing the things that are most comfortable even if they will help you toward your goal. Only do the single thing that will produce the most benefit. … “How do I know what that is?” I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you, that it’s probably the thing that causes you to grow the most. It’s probably the thing that makes you step out of your comfort zone. It’s probably the thing, that if you were to have a choice, you would choose something else to do.

Live to grow. Grow to live.



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  1. Elouise

    Touchdown! That’s a rellay cool way of putting it!

  2. Dora

    Great cmmoon sense here. Wish I’d thought of that.

  3. Barbara

    Actually it’s more about consciously choosing, isn’t it? I mean, when we do not choose “A” or “B”, we are actually choosing “c”. There is never a moment of our life that we do not make choices; it’s just that if it’s not a conscious choice, then we are choosing not to choose, thereby letting life, other people, or circumstances choose for us.

    1. Barbi

      A piece of erudition ulikne any other!

  4. Scott

    What happens if your long term goals turn out to be a dead end? Or they are not what you thought they were?

    Then people live on short term and intermediate goals and see how that leads them.
    Then they make decisions as they go along. That has been my experience.

    What quadrant would reflection fall in? That is where I go to recharge mentally.
    Hard exercise is where I go to recharge physically. Or sleep 🙂

    You can’t eliminate emergencies. My confidence in Jesus helping me, lets me know problems aren’t the end.

    1. Dan Prince

      Reflection and physical exercise both fall in quadrant 2. If we don’t take care of our minds and bodies then we end up back in quadrant 1 as a result of inattention. Just like we have to eat before we begin to starve we have to exercise before we become sedentary. We have to nourish our bodies and our minds. We need to exercise our minds as well as our bodies.

      You’re right Scott. You can’t completely eliminate emergencies. But you can prevent many of them by taking action before they become emergencies. The more time you put into proactive, quadrant 2 activity, the less time you will be forced into reactive, quadrant 1 activities.

      1. Jaxon

        I’m raelly into it, thanks for this great stuff!

    2. Marylada

      Good to see a taenlt at work. I can’t match that.

  5. Josh Bulloc

    I think an addition to this post is to be sure that what someone considers important is actually important. I have encountered too many people that make somethings seem important that are not really.

    1. Dan Prince

      I don’t disagree with you that the article doesn’t address that in detail. I just said, “Do the minimum it takes to get out of quadrant 2.” The reason is probably because I don’t have a method to ensure that you’re working on what’s “most important.” If you do then please share it!!! 🙂

      Here’s what I know. There are times, when I’ve worked so hard in quadrant 2 that I have felt a need to take a break. One day, after deciding that pushing myself was producing less and less result, I felt something calling to me in my head. It said, “Go jump…” So, I did. I left and drove out to the drop zone. On the way there I thought several times that I could be home getting some good proactive work done. But I listened to my heart and went jumping instead. That day I spoke to someone that put me in touch with someone else who, had I not met this person, I would not be on the path I am on right now. I look back on that choice to abandon my work to “seemingly” go play and wonder how I could have designed it any better by being diligent to staying out of the “unimportant” quadrants.

      If you have a method you use, please share it with me. I’m very interested in figuring this out and growing as a result. I know you’re experienced and wise in this area so… Help me out. 🙂 Thanks Josh! You rock buddy.

      1. Jayna

        To think, I was confused a mtniue ago.

  6. Bev

    Dan, I’ve never seen this concept laid out like this, and I think it is really effective for a lot of people. Your words flow well and you are very accessible in your writing.

    1. laura

      bev i agree….very well put together…danny you did a awesome job…and it’s easy to understand 🙂 and makes alot of sense

      1. Idalia

        Thanks alot – your answer solved all my prbolmes after several days struggling

    2. Kaleigh

      If you wrote an article about life we’d all reach enlihgetnment.

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