I recently had the unfortunate experience of watching a friend of mine’s life spiral out of control. While it all came crashing down shockingly fast, one thing after another like a row of dominoes, it was not an overnight process. It had been accumulating for years. One bad decision after another had added up to the precise predicament he found himself in. It wasn’t luck. It struck me while watching his world crumble around him, how all of the seemingly banal decisions I make daily; to opt for a venti drink at Starbucks rather than a large, to watch TV when I could be doing my homework, to check my email when I could be calling my parents to see how they are, are taking me somewhere. I may or may not like the direction I’m headed, but nonetheless, I, and all of us for that matter, are traveling to a destination. Our lives are produced from our daily habits, and our daily habits are completely within our control. Failure to take control of our daily habits, and regularly maintain ourselves, results in failure and unhappiness more often than not.
Most of the decisions we make daily do not have immediate effects, which is why so many people find it easy to fall into patterns of neglect. Those same decisions made consistently for weeks, months, years, and over a lifetime, add up to the people we are, and the people we eventually become. For instance, I can eat a Pizza and not have a heart attack. I may feel terrible for the rest of the day, but my arteries will not be clogged, and my life will be the same. Should I continue to make that small decision over weeks, months and years, it becomes quite clear where I’d be headed. The same goes for anything in life. If I put a dish in the sink and do not wash it, it is only one dish. Do that over the course of a week or two, and the entire sink is overflowing with dirty dishes. What was a one minute job has accumulated into a one hour job. It is not the big moments, but the small ones that count in the long run.
My friend Dave gained hundreds of pounds over the last few years, has been jobless for over a year, and generally lost most of his friends in the process. As a result, he had to move back with his parents to start over. Why? The consistent decisions he made that accumulated. When I first met him, he was clean, had a job, and was about 150 pounds lighter. He had a ton of friends and generally led a “normal” life. Over the years, however, I watched as he neglected various areas of his life, fell into habits that swiftly took him nowhere, and the decline started. His friends quit their jobs and he followed suit, without thinking about how he was going to pay his bills. He ate the worst food imaginable, he was inactive, his attitude became increasingly bitter towards people in general, and he stopped being social. He didn’t do anything but sit in the house and play video games.
Dave didn’t start out as that person. He became that person through meticulous effort, whether he knew it or not. We are all going somewhere, and our daily routines dictate where that is. None of the decisions were decisions that completely revolutionized his life overnight. It was the cumulative effect of years of neglect of friends, family, and himself that led him to the place he was at recently, sleeping on my couch because he had nowhere else to go, and no other friends that were willing to put up with him anymore. Had he taken control of those decisions, found time for his friends instead of playing video games, spent his time looking for a job or being active, and eaten health food rather than fast food, his life would be completely different today. We are either going in the direction of what we want, or away from what we want every time we eat, spend money, time, or do anything. Our daily habits are crucial, and watching the gradual decline Dave experienced, I realized that it is not necessarily about the big decisions any of us make at any given time, but the small, almost invisible decisions that we make daily and their cumulative effect on our lives.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.