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"What should I do??" my friend asked me. She was feeling torn between spending a weekend out of town or staying home and picking up some extra shifts at work. On one hand, she needed the money. On the other, she really needed a break. I didn't have an answer for her, so I just said, "I think you know what you need better than I do, but I always try to pick the next good and right thing."
Doing the next good and right thing is how I orient myself when I'm faced with a difficult decision. Focusing on doing the next good and right thing got me through eating disorder recovery, helped me stepladder my way into a career, helped me back pedal my way out of bad relationships, helped me focus on the here and now. It is good and right to take a break from life, and it's also good and right to say no to a trip when you're strapped for cash. It is good and right to say yes to a scary opportunity or a new endeavor. It is good and right to tell someone you need help, or to ask for forgiveness. Doing the next good and right thing is not always easy, but that’s not the point. The point of doing the next good and right thing is to give yourself a chance of finding your path in this weird and wild life.
I grew up obliquely religious. I went to church, got confirmed, memorized verses, and prayed even when it felt like I was talking to nobody. Maybe I was. Maybe the point of praying isn’t always to be heard, but to say something that needs to be said. Maybe the point of my eating disorder was to teach me not to take my body for granted. Maybe the point of my bad relationship was to help me find a strong and healthy one. Maybe the point of a career isn't only to make money, but to strengthen your strengths and accomplish something meaningful along the way.
Doing the next good and right thing is something I learned in recovery. Some days, the next good and right thing was to eat breakfast and keep it all down. Sometimes it was buying clothes that fit me, or throwing away my scale, or exercising to feel joy instead of to punish myself. Sometimes, the next good and right thing isn't obvious and seems a whole lot less fun than the next bad or wrong thing. My friend decided to stay home and work. That weekend, her employer offered her a promotion that came with a modest pay raise. She chose the next good and right thing and it payed off in the long run. Here are my tips for choosing the next good thing:
1. Look Beyond the Present
Making good decisions requires looking as far into the future as you can. My long term goals inform a lot of my decisions, and help me quickly and easily decode what the next right thing might be. When I was in recovery, I could have continued to purge and lie to my treatment team, but then I would have been stuck in treatment even longer. I had to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable in my body for the short term, in order to be strong and healthy in the long term.
2. Be More Rational and Less Emotional
Often, I rely on my intuition to guide my decision making. There is something very powerful and real about our intuitions and sometimes we can just feel when something is a bad or good choice. When I don't have a strong intuition about a situation, I try to utilize logic to make a sound decision. This can require taking time to let my emotions calm down so I can think clearly. Generally, my best decisions have been using a higher degree of ration than emotion.
3. Recognize the Influence of Others
Take into account how your decision will affect those around you, and how those around you might impact your decision. If you're easily swayed by peer pressure, you might want to make important decisions with less input from others. Similarly, if your decision will have a significant impact on your friends or family members, it's probably a good idea to consult with them beforehand. Often, doing the next good and right thing depends on timing. What is good and right today might not be good and right tomorrow.
4. Avoid Analysis Paralysis
If you think about your choices too much, you might not ever make one. Weigh your options, pray, seek advice, make a pro con list, do whatever you need to do, but you need to take action eventually. Making difficult decisions gets easier the more you do it. And when you do screw up and don't choose the next good and right thing, know that you can always course correct.
5. Ask Yourself Two Questions
This is another tip I picked up in therapy. Ask yourself, "Which choice do I want to make and which choice am I trying to avoid making?" The first exposes self-interest while the second reveals the voice of your conscience, which is the voice I tend to follow.
P.S. Watch this video about making difficult decisions, read this article from Farnam Street about making difficult decisions, or check out The Book of the World, a Contemporary Scripture, for some general moral guidance.