When someone is in the midst of a big decision, I offer them some advice. I tell them that the harder choice is often the right choice.
I’ve been giving this advice to people since high school. There wasn’t a specific event that brought me to this conclusion about decision-making. I said it one day to my high school sweetheart and it just made sense. It was one of those rare occasions when the subconscious let’s a truth about life slip into the conscious mind.
I think this advice is solid, but when I give it to people, sometimes they roll their eyes at me or tell me how depressing it is.
Why do we have to make hard choices to live a good life?! Life shouldn’t need to be so hard! You’re so pessimistic, Rob!
This makes me rethink the advice I give: Do I really believe that the harder choice is the right choice? Am I being dramatic? Do I take life too seriously? What if I just started making easy choices? Would I still be able to live a good life, or an even better life?
I think on this for a while, then always return to believing that the hard choice is the right choice to make when indecision. But questioning this belief of mine gets tiring, so when Tim Ferriss said that someone very successful gives similar advice about choice-making, I lit up.
At the end of Tim Ferriss’s Ted Talk Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals, he features a quote by his friend Jerzy Gregorek, a winner of four world weightlifting championships.
This is Jerzy’s life mantra…
Hard choices, easy life.
Easy choices, hard life.
Tim says in his talk that “the hard choices — what we most fear doing, asking, and saying — are very often what we most need to do. And the biggest challenges and problems we face will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether those are in our head or with other people.”
There are times when choosing the harder option isn’t the right decision, though, and knowing the difference between the good and bad times to choose the harder option over the easier one is important.
When to make hard choices
When something is or is not meaningful to you
If you feel like you’re wasting your time with someone or something, you should make the hard decision and leave it.
Relationships might come to mind here, as well as your career. We don’t want to hurt people or let them down, so we end up staying in situations that don’t suit us. In the long term, this isn’t good for anyone.
Scenario: You’re starting to realize that you like autonomy while working and have a hint of an entrepreneurial spirit. Despite this, you start a new job because the company seems cool and promising. Two weeks in, you realize what you suspected: that being an employee makes you miserable.
What do you do?
Hard choice — Tell your employer who just hired you that it’s not working out. Leave behind your consistent paycheck. Spend time searching for something that is meaningful to you.
Easy choice — Keep working a job you don’t enjoy. Avoid conflict with your employer. Keep your paycheck.
When to make easy choices
To recover from making hard choices
We can’t make hard choices all the time. We’ll burn out. Hard choices take a toll on the mind. They require strong focus and a lot of preparation.
I equate making hard choices to lifting heavy weights at the gym. After doing a dozen sets of really intense exercises, your muscles and nervous system need time to rest. Similarly, you need to give your ability to make hard choices time to rest.
Scenario: All in one day, you stuck to your morning routine even though you were stressed (writing, yoga, meditation), decided to leave a role at a really good company, and did a crossfit workout even though you felt nauseous. You get home, eat, and crave a beer.
Hard choice — Don’t drink the beer.
Easy choice — Drink the beer.
Bottom line: Make hard choices but don’t be too hard on yourself. The hard choices you make will make your life better. Don’t counteract that by getting obsessed with always making the hard choice. Do it for the big stuff and let it slide sometimes for the small stuff.
Now go make that hard choice then treat yourself to a beer.
— Robert Gibb (@gibbiv) June 18, 2017