Our life path is the sum of all available opportunities, our socio-economic status, the choices we make, our personal narrative and countless other factors.
We’ve all made a New Year’s resolution. They sound like a good idea at the time. But a frivolous resolution is a perfect example of expecting critical change to come from making one decision. They are a symptom of a society that has developed an unrealistic attitude of demanding instant gratification. Few want to hear the truth that positive habits need to marinate over time.
A better way of thinking about good habits is that you are not trying to improve your life today. Rather, the larger goal is to change the trajectory of your life.
For instance, most people recognize that going to college will certainly limit your short-term earning potential. But they also know that over the long term a college degree can drastically increase one’s pool of contacts and boost their earning potential. The result is thousands of students each year make the rational choice to stomach the boring classes so they can finish the coursework.
Of course, it is not always possible to see such tangible proof that a small decision can radically improve the trajectory of your life as signing up for a college degree. But it remains true that every decision sends ripples through your life. Unfortunately, many people just live in the moment and only consider the short-term consequences.
I see this reality in my own life. As a father of two boys, my job is to encourage their positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. When my wife and I make parenting decisions, our aim is always to raise considerate young men with the necessary skills to reach their goals. Parenting would be much easier if we simply dismissed their bad behavior as “boys being boys,” but refusing to discourage bad behavior will only set my boys on a life path of corrosive entitlement.
Success is a process of adopting good habits over time. But remember, trajectory is not destiny.
You won’t have complete control over what happens to you, but you can change the trajectory of your life. Taking control of your life requires understanding the short, intermediate, and long-term consequences of your decisions, habits, routines and processes.
So, buying a car slightly over budget might feel good at the time and briefly lift your social status, but paying your monthly bills will begin to boil your blood. Worse, with fewer funds in your bank account, you might miss out on taking an investment opportunity or be forced to skip a much-needed vacation. The result of one unwise purchasing decision could be enough to skew your life onto a wildly different trajectory.
Conversely, by reading books, starting an exercise routine or adopting a new diet might feel a bit like extra work (because it is). But pushing through the early monotony of these sacrifices can be enough to send positive ripples through your entire life – especially if they become part of your lifestyle. The upside of making these changes will eventually give you more energy at work, make you less snippy with your kids and release all that built-up stress.
Furthermore, the ripples might even help your body dodge serious illness, the books could reveal information that could double your income or you might find the love of your life. The possible changes are endless.
Boosting your value in the eyes of others is a great way to change your life’s trajectory. Value is derived from constant learning, upgrading of critical skills and taking care of your mind, body and spirit. Setting up systems in your life and business, rather than grinding every day and hoping for luck, is also key for increasing your value. Equally, if you own a company, make sure to strategically hire only valuable people who fit into your work culture. Surrounding yourself with valuable people can have enormous impact on your life’s trajectory.
Working hard is certainly important for achieving amazing success, but without the discipline to sacrifice short term gratification your life’s trajectory won’t change much no matter how many 10-hour workdays go on the timesheet.
Reputations are not like a smart missile – your actions will never just affect who you want them to affect. The moment you decide to act, everyone gets a bit more data for recalibrating their impression of who you are. Indeed, if I ask about your five closest friends, you could easily tell me about their work ethic, level of honesty, skills, how they deal with challenges, empathy and dozens of other critical reputation factors.
People are always studying each other’s behavior and being known for having a bad reputation could mean missing out on amazing opportunities. And while there are no shortcuts, developing and maintaining a good reputation is as close as you can get to jumping on the fast-track for changing your life’s path.
It is natural to want little life changes to have an immediate effect. But that is simply not how success works. The goal is not an instant fix. The goal is to alter the trajectory of our life. After all, if it’s too good (or quick) to be true, it probably is.