How to Make Bad Decisions

Quite possibly the earliest recorded bad decision in my life – that’s me wearing a New Kids On The Block hat and throwing down gang signs in front of a Saturn. I think/hope my taste has improved since then.

There’s a point, I think, where some people stop changing – they reach a certain level of personal growth, a plateau of sorts, and they just freeze. There must be a muscle deep within your soul, responsible for curiosity, for improvement, for disruption, and, one day, it just starts to atrophy.

I remember when I realized that I wasn’t going to get any taller. 5′ 11.5″ – that’s where I’d stop, my body’s seemingly insatiable thirst for height finally quenched at age 19. It was disappointing to me, knowing that I’d never notch another mark on the doorway where my parents measured and tracked my height over the years – the finality of it all, reaching a peak and knowing that you’ll never scale a new summit.

I should mention that food was a battle for me as a kid. I dreaded mealtimes, my then-cantankerous palette rejecting all but a few choice foods – some bland (spaghetti with butter, and even parsley was grounds for refusal), some odd (clam strips) – none particularly nutritious. I’ve wondered at times how I’d have turned out if my appetite for vegetables had matched my affinity for pizza.

To what heights could I have grown? Crested the all-important six-foot mark, or perhaps towered to 6′ 5″ as I once hoped? Or was my limit always written, a sort of genetic ceiling erected at conception, unchangeable even if I ate my green religiously and injected my growth plates with syringes of holy water?

Though it would be comforting to embrace the latter – to absolve myself of culpability, to know that I’ve reached my full potential despite taking a path of questionable nutrition – I have to admit that I’m a firm believer in nurture over nature. And though that brings to bear the full burden of unrealized vertical potential onto my shoulders, I can’t say that I lose much sleep over it.

Regret, after all, is merely an attempt at decision-making in the past tense.

Most people you meet are stunted in some way – emotionally, professionally, physically – some old, some young. Some think they can’t change. Some just don’t want to.

But the worst thing you can do is to not think at all.

It’s easy to dredge your way through the work week – the early happy hour on Friday leading to a late start on Saturday, bringing a lazy afternoon at the beach and a forgettable gathering at night, the days blending into weeks and the weeks into months, and before you know it, you’re old, and you’re tired, and you’re stuck in your ways, and you decide you can’t change.

I suppose what I’m suggesting is that there’s a sort of energy you have nourish along the way – a vegetable for your soul, if you will, and that’s something that you have to intentionally seek out. As an adult, no one is going to force you to sit at the table until you finish everything on your plate – moreover, the opportunities for growth often won’t even be put in front of you to begin with. They must be actively pursued.

The brain is constantly bombarded with stimuli – as I sit here and write, there’s the sound of the keystrokes, the words appearing on the screen as I type, and the thoughts swirling around in my head. But if I pause to explore my world for a moment, another layer of perception becomes available: the blowing of air conditioning, the rhythmic beating of my heart, odd noises as my apartment settles.

Your brain focuses only on what is in front of you and it tunes out the rest; it can’t possibly process all the stimuli, so it sorts, prioritizes, and discards. This applies to your life, too – the vast majority of your day is spent on autopilot. You can either take advantage of this or you can let it take you on the slow train to mediocrity.

Consciousness is the enemy of inertia. Work to become more conscious of how you spend your time, and you’ll find that merely making yourself aware of your actions will often correct bad habits. People who keep food journals lose more weight than those who don’t, simply because they’re making a subconscious habit a conscious decision.

Try keeping a time journal for a day – record your activities every 15 minutes, and at the end of the day, ask yourself if each one is moving you closer or further away from where or who you want to be in your life.

Of all the decisions you make, I urge you to make your bad decisions consciously. It’s OK to eat an entire pizza, to call your ex, to party til sunrise on a work night (though, probably not advisable to do in one night) – as long as you’re making the conscious decision to do it. Admit to yourself that it’s a bad idea and then declare that you’re going to do it anyways.

The dangerous path, in my opinion, is to convince yourself that a bad decision is a good one or to just undertake an action without thinking about it – that’s how you build a pathway to an unconscious bad habit.

I went to get a DEXA scan the other day (a full body x-ray that measures your percentage of fat, muscle, tissue, and bone). I reasoned that making myself consciously aware of the state of my body would help me make better decisions for it.

I wanted to tell you that I was greeted with an unexpected surprise – the technician measured me and reported that I was, finally, a full 6′ tall.

Look at me, 26 and still growing 🙂