Two years ago I dropped out of college. That was, of course, a huge decision that had an enormous impact on my life. Recently though, I've realized that it was even more important than I first realized: it set a precedent for how I make any decision regarding the work I do to support myself and, even more generally, how I respond to status quo expectations.
Now, anytime I think about committing myself to work I don't love, I filter it through that decision.
'Did I drop out of school for this? I made a decision to find a life that works with my passions and I am making that decision again now.'
Setting precedents when given the opportunity allows you to constantly ratchet up the quality of your life, each good decision fortifying the next.
Without thinking about it, most of us naturally use our past decisions to inform present ones. The trouble is that we often aren't fully aware of it. As a result, opportunities to make strong, lasting decisions go unnoticed and poor decisions carry too much weight going forward.
So, the trick is to become aware of situations that pose an extraordinary challenge: doing your art on a particularly busy day, sticking to your eating goals on a night out with friends, holding out when you really want to buy something, the list could go on forever!
The magic is that this awareness alone reframes the situation. Now it's not frustrating that you're stuck in miles of traffic, it's an opportunity for you to flex your ability to stay calm and set a positive precedent for yourself.
A lot of what makes challenging activities so challenging is the unknown. By committing to experience hard scenarios in the name of setting strong precedents, you get practice smashing through the unknown and realize that actually doing is usually no where near as bad as thinking about doing.
Is it raining outside? Had you been planning on going for a run? This is the perfect time to set a precedent for yourself: weather is not a factor in whether or not you get your exercise in.
In fact, don't even worry about your specific running goals, just get out there. Your only goal should be to set a positive precedent for the future. So that next time you think, “This is easy, I’ve done it before.”, “I run no matter what.”, “It’s actually not even raining as hard as last time.”, “I actually kind of liked running in the rain...”
You're creating positive affirmations for yourself that are actually backed up by true experiences.
The final piece here is to cut the negative decisions you make loose. When you make a decision you soon regret, just move on. I’ve found that negative precedents are much easier to overturn than positive ones. If I give them less weight than positive experiences, they have less momentum dragging them forwards in time.
Go easy on yourself. Remember that good decisions last so it's ok to go slow and let them build up over time.
When a situation is at its most difficult, that is when our good decisions have the most leverage over our future. Be aware of this and use those moments to your advantage.
Don't just read, take action!
- Think about how you react when you encounter a situation that threatens your goals. Look out for those thoughts and behaviors! The first step in setting strong precedents is noticing that there's an opportunity to.
- Next time circumstances are threatening you carrying out a goal, forget the details and take action in the simplest way possible. The only goal is to uncover some of the unknown and set a precedent for next time.
- Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments so we can learn each others strategies for setting strong precedents.
p.s.: I really didn't feel like posting an article today!
Sign-up for email updates
Submit your email address below and you'll never miss a new article.