Thursday, May 19, 2016

Making Mindful Decisions

Most of us want the world to be a better place. We will not always agree on what that means - we will have different opinions on which parts need to improve and how to accomplish those improvements - but we will generally agree that better is better. There are not very many people, relatively speaking, who actually want things to be worse, and those people are usually pretty easy to identify as the kinds of people who make the rest of us uncomfortable, to say the least.

One difficulty we have is that people are used to reacting instead of deciding. Reacting is faster and easier. Reacting doesn’t require extended thought or action, and tends to come with instant gratification. We like instant gratification. Instant gratification doesn’t like us back though. It’s like eating too much candy or chocolate cake. It might seem great at the moment, but there will be consequences, and those consequences are often significantly out of balance with the initial pleasantries.

In order to take care of our physical health, we plan ahead, make careful decisions about our diet and physical activities, and then follow through to see that we are achieving the results we expected. The same should be true for our mental health and for the world around us. Plan ahead, make decisions, and follow through. Are you getting the results you actually want (ie. is the world actually improving as a result)? If so, do more of that. If not, why not, and what can you do differently to get better results?

If you want to make the world a better place, it isn’t as simple as doing what feels right or what someone else tells you is right. There may even be times when, on the surface, at least, the necessary actions seem to go against those more obvious points. Plan ahead, make decisions, and follow through. If you are actually doing those things, you should see the difference.

Are you promoting love or hate? That is the first and most obvious thing to consider when making your decisions. To take an innocuous example, let us say that I dislike crabapple pie and believe it is bad for the world, but I enjoy cactus pudding and believe that it makes the world a better place. I can spend my time telling people how bad crabapple pie is and trying to convince people who like it to stop eating it, or I can spend my time telling people how wonderful cactus pudding is and encouraging them to eat more of that. If I do the former, I am going to meet resistance, no doubt about it. The people who enjoy crabapple pie are going to fight me, there will be hurt feelings and bruised egos, and many of those people will refuse to try my cactus pudding just on principle. If, however, I go with the latter option, I am still getting across my preferred point - the fantastic wonderfulness of cactus pudding - but I am doing so without making enemies and without causing conflict. The people who enjoy crabapple pie can try my pudding as well, without feeling like it is a conflict, and, if I am correct, they will end up enjoying that more anyway, so they will make the change without my having had to lift a finger in hostility. We may not achieve 100% conversion, but we will still get more conversion than we would have gotten by fighting about it, and the conversion we get will be genuine, without hurt feelings or resentment. The world did not become perfect, but it got better, and it did more of the getting better than it would have going the other way around.

This is a thing that people often forget: there is almost always more than one way to do a thing, and there is also almost always a better way and a not so better way. The not so better way tends to feel better at the moment - instant gratification - but it does not usually achieve better long term results. Promoting what you love instead of bashing what you hate will often lead to more of what you love and less of what you hate, without there having to be a conflict with what you hate. There is only so much time in one human life, so don’t waste it on things you don’t like. If you can achieve the same or even better results through encouragement and positive reinforcement, isn’t it better to do that than to add more negative to the world and not even get the results you want?

It’s not even necessarily a matter of doing a different thing than you were going to do. Sometimes it’s just about doing that thing in a different way. I wanted people to eat less crabapple pie and more cactus pudding, so I did that by being more positive about cactus pudding instead of my being more negative about crabapple pie. The same action, but I chose to do the positive aspect of it rather than the negative.

This requires mindful decision making. We have to actually stop for a moment and think about what we’re doing, rather than simply let it happen. We have to be the acting force rather than the object acted upon. We have to be the doer instead of the done. Life is not a spectator sport, and you will not get the best results without jumping in and fully participating.

There are going to be times when conflict is unavoidable, but we don’t need to make those times happen more often than necessary. We don’t need to go looking for conflict when we have other perfectly good methods available to us. We don’t need to make things worse while we were hoping to make them better. Are you promoting love or hate, hope or fear, kindness or cruelty? It's rare that anyone does only one, all the time, but which do you do more, and is that matching what you want the world to be?

We may not always agree on what makes the world better, any more than we would always agree on pie or pudding, but we can agree on whether or not we are actively trying to make the world better. Be positive more often than negative. Don’t cause pain where it is unnecessary. Build up more than you tear down. Think about what you’re doing, and pay attention to what it is achieving, then adjust as needed. Ultimately, that is how we make the world a better place.

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