One of my go-to pieces of advice for my children (and myself) is to string good decisions together in a row. Often, when we’re practicing a new discipline or implementing a healthy habit, we do it once or twice and feel so drained from the effort that we follow those good steps up with some decisions that end up taking us in the wrong direction.
We go to the gym a couple of times that week, so we decide that we “earned” some cake to celebrate. We wake up early a few days in a row so we go back to being a night owl thinking that we can have it all. Those examples are not very significant, but they help clarify the point that I’m making. When we do new things, the sense of accomplishment we get from doing them is a good thing, but it can sometimes backfire on us. That’s especially true when we’re practicing new habits that are better for us but require a lot of mental, emotional, or physical effort.
When we are working on speaking more gently to our spouse and our kids, it’s easy to fall back into our habits that we’ve been practicing for decades. We tell ourselves that we paused and practiced the new habit, that we’ve done enough because doing so takes more work. Plus, we already did it once or twice, and that’s an improvement. Do you see how easy it is to start justifying our decisions by telling ourselves something that sounds reasonable? Although, it wouldn’t sound reasonable if we were listening to somebody else saying the same thing!
Stringing those good decisions together is not the easiest or most appealing thing. But when we start doing it, we will see the impact it makes. Making wise choices yields beautiful results. If we make two or three good decisions in a row, it’s tempting to feel like we’ve “earned” the ability to make one of our bad decisions again. And that usually sends us back further than we expect.
My guess is that you already know the areas where this will be a challenge for you. Your struggle might be treating people with kindness when you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed. Or maybe you need to work to avoid going certain places, doing certain things, or talking to certain people. Whatever it is, you probably know your own “bad decision” areas a whole lot better than anybody else does. So, take an honest look at the patterns in your life, and work to make some changes where you know you’re not making good and healthy decisions.
It may be tempting to view this as an all-or-nothing situation, where you either succeed or you fail. But that kind of thinking means that as soon as you make one wrong decision, you start thinking of the whole process as a waste of time. Try your best not to get discouraged, because change takes time. “Two steps forward: one step back,” is a well-known phrase for a reason. When you avoid the all-or-nothing approach and start stringing several good decisions together in a row, I trust you’ll start seeing the difference it can make!