’ve never been happier to ring in a new year. Finally, 2020 is behind us, the U.S. presidential election is over and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has begun. After a year of trauma, upheaval and challenge, a brand new year is the next best thing to a reset button.
Maybe you’ve jotted down a few resolutions for this fresh, unmarred year or mapped out specific goals for the months to come. Good for you. Or you may be thinking: Why bother? It may be that 2021 isn’t any better and is out of my control anyway.
Before you go down either of these trails, may I make a suggestion? Take time to ask yourself a simple question: What story do I want to tell?
Though we’ve probably never met, here’s something I know about you: You would like to be able to tell your entire story without skipping any chapters or having to lie about the details. We all want that. And going forward, you can have that. But it will require you to stop mid-decision and ask: What story do I want to tell?
The decisions you’re in the middle of making right now are going to be reduced to a story you tell. Once it’s behind you, like 2020, it’s a story. But the rest of your life is a story waiting to be written, and you will create that story one decision at a time.
Here’s an example. If you lost your job during 2020, surviving this season without a job is going to be a story you tell someday. What story do you want to tell?
You could decide to make this the story: I lost my job. I was embarrassed. I told friends I was doing consulting work. But I wasn’t consulting. I was consoling myself every afternoon with a bottle. I racked up a ton of debt. I lost the respect of my wife and kids. Maybe worse, I lost my self-respect.
Or you could decide a better story, because we each write our story one decision at a time: I lost my job. I was embarrassed. I let my friends and family know, and they not only offered encouragement, they offered job leads. And brought over a few meals. Our family worked together to cut expenses, and I worked two part-time jobs for a while. My faith grew as I trusted God for daily bread. Our family grew closer, and our compassion for others deepened.
The decisions you make in the valleys are eventually just stories you tell on the other side. Which of the available options do you want as part of your story?
The primary reason we don’t think in terms of story when making decisions is that the story comes later. Decisions are now. We think about the future later. As in later, when it’s too late to do anything about it. We don’t think in terms of story because we’re distracted by the pressure and emotions we feel in the moment.
Isn’t it true that your worst decisions were fueled by something with strong emotional appeal? Not rational, just emotional. That weekend. That first marriage. That purchase. That lease. It was so appealing you bought it.
It was so appealing you ate it. It was so appealing you dated that person and moved in with him or her. It was so appealing you jumped at the opportunity. If was so appealing you took it, smoked it.
It goes on and on. The reason we have regrets, the reason we look back and wonder what we were thinking is that we were presented with something that had strong emotional appeal.
When confronted with a situation or decision that has strong emotional appeal, it’s a good idea to press pause, not play. Not because he’s not the one. He may be. Not because it’s not a good investment. It may be. Not because it’s not the perfect job. It may be.
We should step back because anything with strong emotional appeal — even the right thing —clouds our judgment. So pause. Get your bearings. Go home and think about it. Call a friend. Consider your story.
Considering your story draws you out of the immediate and focuses on the eventual. It empowers you to put the decision-making process within the broader context of the story of your life. Our story is future tense. And every decision can be improved by keeping this question in mind: What story do I want to tell?
One day down the road, you’ll either tell your own story or have your story told by others. You can decide today who you want to be, and your future decisions can flow out of that vision. Make your story a good one, one worth retelling.
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