CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Just this once. It won't really matter. I can start tomorrow."
Does this sound familiar? If so, you may have the same voices running around in your head as I do. Our minds play tricks on us. We think those everyday little choices don't count for much.
The truth is they have everything to do with getting us where we want to go in life. Sure, we focus on the big events -- graduation, marriage, kids and jobs. Those are the things that make up photo albums. So it doesn't really matter if we bend the rules on those little decisions along the way, right?
Wrong. It's exactly those little everyday decisions that shape our futures. Every choice we make leads us in one of two directions: focused on our futures or stuck in the past.
Choices made from fear keep us in the past. Our need for safety, security and predictability prevents us from stepping outside the reality we know. With every decision we're either moving forward or moving backward, explains author Debbie Ford. There's no middle ground.
It's easy to see how the big choices shape our lives, and it's easy to deceive ourselves into believing the small choices don't really matter. But a hundred small choices in the wrong direction can add up to a lifetime, where our dreams are always one step in front of us. And one small choice each day -- for a little over three months -- can add up to a hundred wrong choices.
We don't fail overnight. Failure is the result of an accumulation of poor choices, explains Jim Rohn, author of "Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle." Simply put, failure is nothing more than a few errors in judgment repeated every day. Why, then, do we continue repeating behaviors that no longer serve us? Because, Rohn says, the joy of the moment wins out over the consequences of the future.
And our ability to rationalize our behaviors just might be our biggest curse, Ford says, because it makes us masters at justifying our actions. She recommends a question to get clarity: "Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future, or will it keep me stuck in the past?" This question gives us a fixed compass. The moment we ask it, our eyes open.
Consider the story of Bill, as illustrated by Ford in her book "The Right Questions." Bill had done very well in his career as a senior corporate executive. By age 50, he had accomplished many of his professional goals and had acquired the status and money that go with success.
But each morning, as he pulled himself out of bed, he was aware there was something missing. Bill had no passion. Truth be told, it had been years since Bill had felt any enthusiasm about his job. He stayed with it, though, because it was what he knew -- and he felt safe. It may not have been what he wanted, but Bill decided it was better than the unknown. Remember that comfort zone?
Bill went to work with the nagging awareness he was doing nothing in this life that helped his fellow human beings. He ached inside to make a bigger contribution. Bill had long dreamed of making a difference in the world. Deep down inside, though, he feared that if he followed his dream and failed he would be devastated. Still, the conflict between his desire and his fears ate at him more with each passing day.
Bill began to look at his daily choices and ask himself, "Will this action propel me toward an inspiring future, or will it keep me stuck in the past?" At that point, he could no longer postpone the moment of decision. He did some research and found a nonprofit organization whose sole mission was to transform people's lives.