You will make decisions in your life. Some of these decisions will be incredibly good and result with you experiencing a much improved quality of life. Other decisions will be poor, yielding little benefit, or worse, cause more damage than good. If there is one truth I have found it is that I’m not very good at predicting which decisions will have tremendous benefits and which ones will be a waste of time.
Pareto’s Principle, often referred to as the 80/20 rule, discovered by late Itallian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, applies strongly to the decisions you make in your life. A select few of my decisions have had major consequences in improving my own life, even those that seemed minor and unimportant at the time. As a result, I would share the best decisions I have made in my life, particularly those in the past few years.
Decision No. 9 – Give Up Television
Rounding out the bottom of my list, giving up television has been one of the most profitable decisions I have made. Initially I though that giving up television would simply save me some time as my schedule got busier. Although this was definitely true, the full consequences of this decision were far greater than I had first imagined.
Television provides a source of fairly low quality stimulation and interest. I say low-quality because the amount of actual interest is spread over a large area of boring and ad filled wasteland. By giving up television I noticed myself shifting more towards genuinely interesting social activities and entertainment. Although I had initially expected my entertainment and enjoyment value to go down because of this decision, the opposite turned out to be true. I have written previously about this decision, here.
Decision No. 8 – Listen to Audio Programs
Like many of the decisions that have really impacted the quality of my life, listening to audio programs seemed like a fairly innocuous one at first. I originally thought that listening to audio recordings would be a good way to gather new ideas when I couldn’t read. But listening to recordings has a far greater impact than that. Not only do you get fresh new idea, but you also get the emotional content of the message which is incredibly important in keeping your emotional energy high.
Audio recordings are also great because they don’t require any additional time or energy investment. You can listen to audio recordings when driving, exercising, cooking or doing any other activity that doesn’t require much of your mental resources. Adopting the habit of listening to recordings whenever I had the opportunity I could often listen to as much as an hour or two each day even when my schedule was completely full. I have written more about this here.
Decision No. 7 – Join Toastmasters
This was a completely unexpected but incredibly powerful decision. After hearing a bit of positive words about Toastmasters I decided to check out our local club on a whim. When I got there I was very surprised to be warmly greeted and encouraged. Not only did I find my communication skills improving greatly in a supportive environment, but the meetings were a blast.
Toastmasters is a great organization for improving your personal development even if you don’t think you need to improve communication skills (although I believe this is a core skill necessary for everyone). Far cheaper than a seminar you get tons of opportunity to improve your confidence and enjoy a great atmosphere. I am planning to join a new Toastmasters club in Winnipeg when I leave for University and I am hoping to get my Competent Toastmasters award in the upcoming year.
Decision No. 6 – Become an Early Riser
I am not an early riser by nature and being a teenager doesn’t help things. After reading How To Become An Early Riser by Steve Pavlina, I was inspired to make the change (although my personal experience disagrees with some of his recommendations on this issue). Two years ago I was waking up usually at about 7:30 AM on weekdays and sleeping in between 9-10 AM on weekends. From this starting point I worked to consistently start going to sleep and waking up earlier to a point where I was waking up at 5:30 AM this June.
At first I thought becoming an early riser would simply be a trade between morning hours and night hours. After making this change, however, I believe that the exchange is far more than that. By waking up earlier you are literally jump-starting your day to be filled with more productivity, energy and enthusiasm. A slow and late wake up tends to make it much harder to accelerate the day. I think this may have something to do with the psychological connections between rising early and being productive, but it is almost spooky how much more energy you can create out of an early rising day once you are used to it.
Decision No. 5 – Become a Strict Vegetarian
I’m not your typical animal-rights activist type of vegetarian. When I was eating meat a year ago I didn’t have any real moral quandary over it. In fact most probably would have considered me far closer to the insensitive scale than over pouring with emotion for animals. But in a typical self-serving fashion I began to learn a lot more about that health benefits of eating a vegetarian diet and decided to make a switch.
The amazing thing about this decision was simply that after becoming a vegetarian, I started to empathize more and more with all the other ethical and ecological reasons for becoming a vegetarian. Now I think if I were told that a vegetarian diet was equal to a meat eating diet in terms of health benefits (which I haven’t) I would probably still stick to this way of life simply because the other reasons have become far more compelling.
The purpose of this post isn’t to outline why you should become a vegetarian or even bring up reasons which I think most people are currently unaware. You will have to do that for yourself. I’m also not trying to get on an ethical platform to tout my beliefs. The only thing I would like to state is that doing research on becoming a vegetarian and experiencing it for myself broke down some of the things I had previously desensitized myself to.
Decision No. 4 – Read a Book Per Week
Almost a year ago I started reading at least one book per week. Some books take longer than others, but this is what I strive for on average. In the short term this habit doesn’t have many consequences on the quality of your life. But increasing reading has opened myself up to new ideas that have considerably affected the quality of my life.
Not only has increased reading given me many new personal development ideas, but I have been able to improve my skills as well. Based on some PHP and CSS books I read, I was able to make some changes to this website design that would have been impossible previously. Although reading can’t make up for actual experience, nothing facilitates learning more than a good book.
Decision No. 3 – Exercise Regularly
The decision to exercise for an hour almost every day of the week has brought numerous benefits to my overall quality of life. Aside from increased energy and fitness, exercise causes a boost in emotions, overall. Although sometimes it can be hard to compel yourself to put on those running shoes or head to the gym, I always find myself feeling better and more energized when I am heading back.
If you don’t exercise regularly, I would suggest incrementally improving the amount you are already doing, so if you don’t exercise at all, starting with a half hour, three times a week would probably be good. Moving it up as you get more accustomed to the exercise and you can make it a part of your daily routine. If you want to start an exercise program, I wrote about it here.
Decision No. 2 – Set Goals
Setting goals dramatically improves the quality of your life. Somewhat paradoxically, achieving goals has little or no effect. The real benefit to goal setting lies in setting and working towards them. Writing down a goal and working towards it has a powerful ability to make you feel motivated, inspired and that you are doing something meaningful. Although taking the occasional break from goal setting can be a good idea, carefully setting and working towards goals can have a huge impact on your life.
When I originally discovered goal-setting I used it like most people, simply to get results more quickly. However, the real power of goal-setting came when I realized that goals improve your life not by being achieved but by being worked towards. I have written about goal setting extensively and you can have my free full-version program, Goals! An Interactive Guide, to help you get started.
Decision No. 1 – Start Blogging
Simply put, starting this blog has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. More than anything else, starting this blog has really catapulted my own growth and quality of life. Not only have I got to fully articulate my ideas and set myself to a higher standard I have been able to reach a lot of people.
Originally I was skeptical about starting a blog, worrying that I might not be able to provide value or help. Now I can see clearly that it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Blogging certainly isn’t for everyone and it is a lot of work, but I would suggest that anyone who has even the slightest inclination give it a try. It might just change your life.
So there you have it, the top nine decisions that have really shaped my life. There are a lot of other decisions that have gotten me to this point, but these have been the major factors. Hopefully I will make even more decisions and I can post another list like this in the future. Many of them seemed like nothing at the time but they truly have been the best decisions I have made.
So now I have a question for you, what are some of the best decisions you have ever made?