Last night, I had the urge to open a bag of potato chips and eat until it’s empty. I like those hand-cooked thick chips from Kettle or Tyrrells.
I almost grabbed a bag, but I decided to grab a small cup of Greek yogurt instead.
It was the smarter choice. A week prior, I went for the potato chips and I felt like my stomach was about to explode. That was the normal, not-so-smart choice.
We often make those types of not-so-smart choices. But we know that’s not in our best interest. We just need a little reminder, now and then. Here’s a list of choices that can improve our lives.
Doing the hard thing
There’s a great episode of The Office, where Michael Scott, manager of a paper company, has to fire someone on his team by the end of the day. He tries all kinds of things to get out of making that tough choice.
He’s willing to do anything so he can avoid having the difficult conversation of firing someone. I’ve never met a leader who enjoys firing someone. That’s why a lot of leaders keep people on their team even though they should’ve been let go.
When you run into a situation that makes you want to escape like Michael Scott, remember to do the hard thing. Rip the bandaid off. It hurts, but it’s better for everyone.
The same is true for relationships that no longer work but stay alive on a thin thread.
Similarly, if you’re miserable in your job, find another job. It’s the smarter choice in the long term.
Taking the stairs
I don’t mean this as a metaphor. I mean literally take the stairs.
I have to be honest. The first weeks when the coronavirus crisis started, I avoided the elevator in my apartment building. But when we learned it’s fine to take the elevator, I still took the stairs because it’s good.
When I have the opportunity to walk a bit more, I go for it. For example, I’ve formed the habit of parking my car at the end of parking lots so I can get a few extra steps. Staying active is the smarter choice.
Why are we obsessed with looking and sounding smart? It’s like the droves of people on Twitter who tweet one-liners. Or say stuff like, “I built an online business. A thread,” and then continue rehashing clichés.
Sometimes the smarter choice is to look stupid. When you’re in class and you have a question but don’t put your hand up, you’re not being smart. You’re afraid to look stupid, so you just keep to yourself.
I see this all the time with work. Even with my own team. We’re afraid to ask “dumb” questions, which make us look bad. But that’s not true. Not asking stupid is the only dumb thing. Clarifying things means you’re thorough.
The truth is that most people are not good communicators. So don’t be surprised to get an email or message that makes no sense. Just ask what that person means. It’s the smarter choice.
Reading a book
There are many apps and services that want to make learning easy for you. There’s stuff like Blinkist, that gives you the summary of a book.
I used to like it. But after a while, I thought, “Why can’t I remember anything I consumed on those apps?” Because it’s like candy—feels good in the moment, but has zero nutritional value.
We all want to save time so people say, “Give me the summary!” And then another person says, “Just give it to me in one sentence!”
It’s superficial. Learning is not only about breadth, it’s about depth. Nothing can replace the activity of reading books.
When you read a book for an hour, you’re meditating. You think, you learn, you connect the dots. That’s the smarter choice.
Sticking to your values
“Who cares? Just have a drink with us!” That’s what we said to Florent, a former co-worker who didn’t drink, every Friday. He never budged. He stuck to his values, which I really respected.
We often find ourselves in situations that call for abandoning our values. And you think, “It’s just this one time.” That doesn’t hurt when you have another piece of chocolate, but it’s an issue when it comes to important things.
If you value friendship, you never want to gossip about people. Not once. If you value truthfulness, you won’t tell a lie, no matter how insignificant the situation is.
Staying true to your values is always the smarter choice because you’ll feel better about yourself.
Choose the option that has a positive return
When you have the choice to do something that has a positive return over something that has a negative return, you obviously want to go with the former.
Is there a hack or trick that helps ensure you do the positive thing? No.
Stop looking for that type of stuff. Hard things are hard for a reason. It sometimes requires 1000 tries to finally go with the smarter choice. That doesn’t mean you give up.
When I go for the not-so-smart-choice of eating a bag of potato chips, I aim to do the smart thing again next time. We all mess up, now and then. Only a robot is perfect. So always keep trying to do what’s good for you.
Even if things don’t always go your way. That’s also the smarter choice to make.