Tony Robbins said, “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” We all make a life by the decisions we make. A great man I once knew said to me, “Life is a decision.”
So how do you make the right decisions in life, both for yourself and for your family? The simple reality is that you must have a basis for your decisions. Think of it as an immovable rock that you build your life on.
Roy Disney wisely said, “It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Dads4Kids is a values-based charity. On some things we are immovable, and you should be the same.
A Chinese proverb says, “A wise man makes his own decisions. An ignorant man follows public opinion.” All I can say is, thank God for the Chinese. If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything!
Decisions are important and have far-reaching consequences. I came across this brilliant video the other day by Jordan Petersen about the importance of Selecting Your Friends Carefully. Trust me, such decisions will make or break you.
“You make decisions all the time. Most are small. However, some are really big: they have ramifications for years or even decades. In your final moments, you might well think back on these decisions — and some you may regret.
Part of what makes big decisions so significant is how rare they are. You don’t get an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. If you want to make big decisions you won’t regret, it’s important you learn from others who have been there before.
There is a good deal of existing research into what people regret in their lives. In my current project, I decided to approach the problem from the other end and ask people about their life’s biggest decisions.
To better understand what life’s biggest decisions are, I recruited 657 Americans aged between 20 and 80 years old to tell me about the ten biggest decisions in their lives so far.
Each decision was classified into one of nine categories and 58 subcategories. At the end of the survey, respondents ranked the ten decisions from biggest to smallest. You can take the survey yourself here. (If you do, your answers may help develop my research further…)
Of course, the results depend on whom you ask. Men in their 70s have different answers than women in their 30s. To explore this data more deeply, I’ve built a tool that allows you to filter these results down to specific types of respondents.
What are life’s biggest regrets?
Much can also be learned about how to make good life decisions by asking people what their biggest regrets are. Regret is a negative emotion you feel when reflecting on past decisions and wishing you had done something differently.
In 2012, Australian caregiver Bronnie Ware wrote a book about her experiences in palliative care. There were five regrets that dying people told her about most often:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends
I wish I had let myself be happier.
This anecdotal evidence has received support from more rigorous academic research. For example, a 2011 study asked a nationally representative sample of 270 Americans to describe one significant life regret. The six most commonly reported regrets involved romance (19.3%), family (16.9%), education (14.0%), career (13.8%), finance (9.9%), and parenting (9.0%).
Although lost loves and unfulfilling relationships were the most common regrets, there was an interesting gender difference. For women, regrets about love (romance/family) were more common than regrets about work (career/education), while the reverse was true for men.
What causes regret?
Several factors increase the chances you will feel regret.
In the long run it is inaction — deciding not to pursue something — that generates more regret. This is particularly true for males, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. “If only I had asked her out, we might now be happily married.”
Poor decisions produce greater regret when it is harder to justify those decisions in retrospect. “I really value my friends and family, so why did I leave them all behind to take up that overseas job?”
Given that we are social beings, poor decisions in domains relevant to our sense of social belonging — such as romantic and family contexts — are more often regretted. “Why did I break up my family by having a fling?”
Regrets tend to be strongest for lost opportunities: that is, when undesirable outcomes that could have been prevented in the past can no longer be affected. “I could have had a better relationship with my daughter if I had been there more often when she was growing up.”
These findings provide valuable lessons for those with big life decisions ahead, which is nearly everyone. You’re likely to have to keep making big decisions over the whole course of your life.
The most important decisions in life relate to family and friends. Spend the time getting these decisions right and then don’t let other distractions — particularly those at work — undermine these relationships.
Seize opportunities. You can apologise or change course later, but you can’t time-travel. Your education and experience can never be lost.
Avoid making decisions that violate your personal values and move you away from your aspirational self. If you have good justifications for a decision now, no matter what happens, you’ll at least not regret it later.”
Jim Collins said it well,
“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
As most of you know, we held a Men’s Leadership Summit a few weeks ago. I reported last week that men claimed it changed their life. I have no doubt that it did. The challenge is to keep on changing. This is where we come unstuck, including yours truly.
Last Tuesday, we invited men who attended the Summit to come and be part of a sharing and debrief Zoom session, with reports on forward motion. Many men were greatly encouraged, and some have joined an online Dr Allan Meyer, 10-week Man to Man Course.
Many others have expressed strong interest in being part of a 10-week online Zoom Courageous Fathering Course starting at 8PM AEST on Monday 6 September 2021.
That’s what I call forward motion. The only person you can change is yourself, and you have to expose yourself to a constant process of change. That, my friends, is a decision.
Paulo Coelho said, “Why do we have to listen to our hearts? Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you all find your treasure.” This is your lovework. Discover your heart, as John Eldredge would say. Find out what your heart is saying and make your decisions accordingly, because life is all about making the right choices.
Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker.
Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”
The Fatherhood Foundation Incorporated trading as Dads4Kids is a Harm Prevention Charity listed under Subdivision 30_EA of the Australian Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 with Tax Deductible Status (DGR) for donations
Dads4Kids – Building Men. Growing Fathers. Changing Generations.