I am a terrible golfer, but I am a willing student on the course and many of my playing partners are generous with their knowledge and their patience.
Sometimes that generosity and patience involves encouragement for me to try again after my first attempt has resulted in a worm burner, a topper, or an all-out whiff. Take your pick.
One of my favorite partners, who has taught me a lot over the years, is fond of saying “just hit your second shot first” after the second attempt leads to a much better result.
It’s really another way of saying that my second attempt was better because I figured out what I needed to do after my first attempt.
It occurred to me that the same could be said for decisions.
How many times have you found that you chose not to decide something or to bypass an opportunity altogether simply because you worried about making the wrong call or failing in your attempt? What would you be capable of achieving if you were somehow able to make yesterday’s decision today?
Try as I might, I have not figured out how to transport myself back in time, but I have figured out how to focus on improving my present by continually learning from my past.
There have been plenty of decisions that I made yesterday that have helped to make today better and there are several common threads amongst them.
Before I share those threads, I want to make the point that very little of what I decided yesterday will provide me with a definitive answer or absolute clarity today. It is important to realize this up front because my experience in working with others has taught me that people who have difficulty making decisions are too focused on an immediate result or whether they will quickly regret making a decision.
The fact is that most of the time life doesn’t work like that, especially when it involves the things that are worthwhile and need to play out over an extended period of time. If you make your decisions focused only on what the immediate outcome will be, you may as well never pursue meaningful relationships, parenthood, or a career because these things all involve highs and lows, good days and bad, and positives and negatives and you won’t be able to figure out whether you really made the right decision until all the facts are in and weighed.
In this context, all decisions are just steps along the way and the best ones share affirmative answers to the following questions:
Did yesterday’s decision prepare me for success today?
Did it create momentum for today?
Am I in a stronger position today?
Did I learn something from it?
Are you better prepared for today because of what you did or didn’t do yesterday? If you are committed to making consistently good decisions, this is a great question to ask yourself as you begin each day. The examples that you will use to determine the answer to the question are in the present and the information you are drawing from just happened. Learning as you go is crucial to success in life. Constantly delving into the distant past just to second guess yourself and come up with everything that could have gone differently is detrimental to progress and unhealthy for you.
An ancillary question is did you make that decision yesterday preparing and expecting to succeed, or at the very least move forward? If you are going to take the time that is necessary to consistently make good decisions, make them with purpose and because you desire to be successful. The last thing you want to do is wake up today and not know how you got here. Deliberate with intent and be aware of both the contributing and detracting factors of your decision making so that you can continue to refine your process toward ultimate success.
The extent and quality of your deliberation will go a long way toward creating momentum for today. If you reached a conclusion yesterday after considering all relevant factors, there is no reason to feel that you are being held back from progress today even if there were some things that you miscalculated or didn’t fully understand when you made yesterday’s decision.
Starting each day from a position of strength is difficult. There are so many different things going on around you each day that work against you gaining positive leverage on a regular basis, but it is essential that you strive for it every day because starting each morning in the hole or with all your weaknesses on display is unacceptable and a sure way to get demoralized and disinvested.
The best way to determine if you are in a stronger or weaker position as you begin today is to figure out if you learned something from yesterday’s decision. Count on something unexpected happening. Be prepared to change part of your course or to consider new information when you make decisions today involving what you decided yesterday.
Understand that you may have more work to do, or a different goal today than you did yesterday. If, as you are considering all these new aspects to your decisions today, you have the benefit of incorporating everything you learned from yesterday’s decision, you will definitely be operating from a stronger position today than you were yesterday. Additionally, you will be preparing to be successful and creating momentum toward that success at the same time.
Reflecting on yesterday’s decisions and evaluating them for use today keeps you in the present. Of equal importance, it keeps you from dwelling in the past or looking too far ahead, practices that can be every bit as detrimental to your decision making as failing to be in and appreciate the present.
Answering these questions and building off of yesterday’s decisions on a daily basis will ultimately determine the long-term quality of your decision making and carry you through the many times you may wonder whether the decisions you made many years ago to commit to that relationship, or become a parent, or pursue that career were the correct ones.
Setting long terms goals is difficult. Staying committed to them, even more so. Utilizing a present day approach to help you manage through the thousands of moments you will experience while taking the steps you need to take to ultimately reach those goals is the best way to get to where you’re going and to feel good about it when you get there.
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union