“I used to think there was this lesson,” Sierra says. “I had this hope that there was a plan for me, and I want to believe. I’m just losing hope.”
Rev. Bacon tells Sierra he knows all about those feelings of self-doubt. “So I just want to affirm that you are a normal human being,” he says. “You’re not unusual and you’re not weird and you’re not going down the tubes.”
In order to get where she wants to be, Rev. Bacon tells Sierra she has to give up the notion of ever giving up. “Nobody has ever made it who wasn’t persevering,” he says.
“I think life is really like a scavenger hunt and you don’t know where you’re going to end up,” he continues. “You can only live one day at a time and do today’s event, and get the clue from today what the next day is. Sometimes it’s from minute to minute; sometimes it’s from hour to hour.”
Not knowing the future can be frustrating, Rev Bacon says. “I get up in the morning and I am so regimented,” he says. “I’ve got my cell phone, I know exactly all the appointments I have. And then when I pray in the morning, I have to give it all up and understand that the end of the day is going to be so very different than what the calendar said the end of the day was going to be.”
To reach her career goals, Rev. Bacon tells Sierra there are three things she can do.
“Perseverance,” he says, holding up one finger.
Second, “Giving up that vision of ‘down the road,’ but using every day as getting a clue in the scavenger hunt of your life,” he says.
And lastly, “Staying really confident that you are unique and that you do have a beautiful contribution to make to the history of the universe that nobody else can make, Sierra,” he says. “It is yours, my friend.”
The Rev. Bacon ends with one last piece of advice. “One of the keys to life is to learn how to have your fears and not become your fear,” he says. “When you do that, invariably you relax, you connect with others, you realize you’re a member of the human family and your life actually improves. Your thinking improves, and your creativity actually improves.”
On “Super Soul Sunday,” Nyad tells Oprah about a woman she met after one of her speaking engagements. Nyad, who was sexually abused as a teenager by her swim coach, says she sometimes talks about the abuse in her speeches. “I don’t suffer through it,” she says. “I’m no victim. But I tell it because it’s real and because it is an epidemic.”
After the event, Nyad says she was invited to a dinner where she met a retired professor who shared her own powerful story.
“She reached across the table to get something that night … and her sleeve pulled back and I saw the numbers etched in her forearm.” Nyad says. “And I said, ‘You’re a survivor.’ And so she told me about it.”
The woman told Nyad her story of surviving the Holocaust and sexual abuse by her captor. “Three years old. Poland. Gestapos came in, got the family,” Nyad says. Her father was shot and her mother and sibling were taken away. “She never saw them again in her life,” Nyad says. “At [age] 3, that day, became the SS officer’s concubine, and was forced to do, you know, the whole thing for two and a half years, at [age] 3.”
“I started weeping at this table,” Nyad says. “And I said, first of all, I feel so ashamed that I brought up my little story on stage tonight about what I suffered in my life. And she said, ‘Don’t ever say that. Every human being on this planet has their pain and their heartache and it’s up to all of us to find our way back to light.'”
After the young girl was freed, she told her adopted mother what had happened to her, according to Nyad. “And this woman said to her, ‘Look, darling, hold my hands. You will never forget this experience. You can’t. It happened to you, it’s real. But put it in your soul deep, deep down and don’t let it live on your skin, because this is a beautiful life and almost all the people on this planet are beautiful, loving people. And you’re going to know them and you’re going to live a beautiful life filled with joy.'”
Hearing that story, Nyad says, helped her to heal. “Helped me more than anything I’ve ever heard about the whole sexual abuse thing,” she says. “Fine, it happened. Stuff it down. You’ve got anger, that’s fine. Don’t let it ruin your life. This is your life, not his life, you know?”
“So those are the people I admire, who have had real tough roads but they have found a way to still live a beautiful life,” Nyad says.
“I’m so moved by that story,” Oprah says, wiping tears from her eyes.
Since then, my friends have wanted to know everything from “is it scary to have a person seriously inside of you?” to “How bad does giving birth actually hurt?” to “How do you live without the option to take two full days off of life to lay in bed, binge watch Netflix and eat the entire contents of your fridge?” The core reduction of all my friends’ questioning comes down to one existential point: Will having kids make everything better and fuller, or will it swallow my life and sh*t on my autonomy and fill me with a deep, lasting regret which I’ll be forced to deny so people don’t think I’m a terrible person?
Basically, they want to know if this whole procreating thing is a good decision or not. (Also, everyone wants to know if it irrevocably f*cks up your vagina, to which I will say I’ve read horror stories, but mine seems to be no worse for the experience, but hey, them’s the perks to having a baby when you’re 25 and still chock full of elastin.)
But the corporal punishments of child-bearing aside, the majority of my babyless friends are primarily curious about how we — the Young, Ambitious, Busy, Oft-Broke And Regularly Irresponsible — go about integrating a human child person into our self-obsessed lives, and moreover, if it’s worth the work.
The only real answer I can come up with is that it’s fine either way. My kid makes me feel uncontrollable joy every single day. I find myself recalling one of the few things Charlotte from Sex and the City ever said that didn’t bug me; when Samantha, miserable and beaten down by being suppressed and unfulfilled in her relationship, asks Charlotte how often she feels happy, she responds, “Everyday. Not all day everyday, but everyday.” There’s something universally true in that statement — even the best relationships, be they between romantic partners, parents and children, employers and employees, fail to inspire happy feelings all the time, but they definitely should do so regularly and reliably. I still experience the complete range of positive and negative moods that I always did before having a kid, but I can depend on knowing that at some point every single day, I will be made to feel supremely elated and warmed, and that’s not a guarantee I had pre-baby. That’s only one difference, but honestly, I can’t undersell how much having that brief reprieve of happiness somewhere in your day makes dealing with everything else utterly more manageable.
But here’s an important note on that, which I emphatically make clear to my friends when they ask about mom life: The daily infusion of big, loving energy that I describe about being a mom is totally not exclusive to parenthood. Ultimately, all of us should aim to choose at least a few things and people in our lives that make us feel joy at some point in every day, because in the end, isn’t that the mark of a healthy relationship or a choice well-made? This is not a degree of emotional fulfillment that is solely available to breeders. And even when looking at the smiling, dirty, toothy little face of my progeny, I’m perpetually aware of the fact that I would’ve had just as much potential for a full and exciting life if he had never existed. That shouldn’t indicate any lack of love or devotion I feel for him, nor an absence of awed appreciation of having him around — it’s not hyperbolic to say that I would readily take a bullet for that glorious fatty — it’s a comfortable acknowledgment that there are infinite ways to be happy. One of mine just happens to sh*t his pants a lot. It’s not a perfect situation, you guys.
I’ve never hated kids, nor parents, but I always felt indifferent to participating in the whole domestic circus myself. I think a lot of that stemmed from having always held a special loathing for babied-up people who are all, “Life is meaaaannningless until you have kids. You don’t know anything about anything and are selfish and basically dead inside until you have a baby.” F*ck you and the diaper genie you rode in on, Holier-Than-Thou McStretchmark. Before I was pregnant, and during the whole nine months I was staring down the barrel of impending parenthood, I hoped with everything in me that I wouldn’t unwittingly become one of those condescending monster moms, even if I was simultaneously hoping just as hard that parenthood would, in fact, give me a newly enlightened perspective on sh*t. That feeling isn’t unique to baby-having; I want everything I do to open me up a bit more, alter my understanding of life, and give more depth and range to my perception of things. I also always pray that I can be the kind of person who would never hold that new understanding over the heads of people who maybe don’t have it. Because they’ve likely been doing other things that have gained them access to truths that I’m not privy to because I was busy getting all sciencey in my uterus. Quantifying life choices is a bullsh*t game, and the biggest losers are the people who think their choices are inherently better than anyone else’s.
The truest thing I can figure out is that attaining and maintaining happiness has a lot less to do with making the correct choices, and more to do with cultivating an ability to weather change with all the courage, humility, curiosity and amusement we can muster. None of us is going to make the right call 100% of the time, or even feel entirely in control of the direction we go, but we absolutely can mold ourselves to become the type of people who embrace change rather than fear it. Whether it’s a kid or some other force, something will undoubtedly come along and move your life forward. It will happen a lot. And as soon as you get comfortable and settled into one version of reality, it will change, because reality is a dick like that. The trick isn’t to find a single way of being that works for you; you have to learn to exist in the midst of perpetual motion. If you can pull that off, and be ruthlessly discerning about culling negative people/jobs/habits from your life, there’s not a hell of a lot that can keep you from being happy.
This article originally appeared on Thought Catalog. If you have questions about being pregnant/giving birth/having a baby/raising a human as a 20-something while continuing to be a non-awful person who doesn’t settle for a life of lameness, email Jessica who will enthusiastically (possibly drunkenly) answer them in an upcoming column!
If you ask most people, they will say that poor choices are a result of a “lack of willpower.”
But research from Columbia University is beginning to reveal that willpower doesn’t quite work that way.
In fact, you may be surprised just how much small daily decisions impact the willpower you have for important choices. And most importantly, it turns out there are simple choices you can make that will help you master your willpower and make better decisions on a more consistent basis.
Here’s the deal:
Why Some Criminals Don’t Get a Fair Hearing
In a research study published by the National Academy of Sciences, psychologists examined the factors that impact whether or not a judge approves a criminal for parole.
The researchers examined 1,112 judicial rulings over a 10-month period. All of the rulings were made by a parole board judge, who was determining whether or not to allow the criminal to be released from prison on parole. (In some cases, the criminal was asking not for a release, but rather for a change in parole terms.)
Now, you might assume that the judges were influenced by factors like the type of crime committed or the particular laws that were broken.
But the researchers found exactly the opposite. The choices made by judges are impacted by all types of things that shouldn’t have an effect in the courtroom. Most notably, the time of day.
What the researchers found was that at the beginning of the day, a judge was likely to give a favorable ruling about 65 percent of the time. However, as the morning wore on and the judge became drained from making more and more decisions, the likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero.
After taking a lunch break, however, the judge would return to the courtroom refreshed and the likelihood of a favorable ruling would immediately jump back up to 65 percent. And then, as the hours moved on, the percentage of favorable rulings would fall back down to zero by the end of the day.
This trend held true for more than 1,100 cases. It didn’t matter what the crime was — murder, rape, theft, embezzlement — a criminal was much more likely to get a favorable response if their parole hearing was scheduled in the morning (or immediately after a food break) than if it was scheduled near the end of a long session.
What’s Going on Here?
As it turns out, your willpower is like a muscle. And similar to the muscles in your body, willpower can get fatigued when you use it over and over again. Every time you make a decision, it’s like doing another rep in the gym. And similar to how your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower fades as you make more decisions.
Researchers often refer to this phenomenon as decision fatigue. When the judge on a parole board experiences decision fatigue, they deny more parole requests.
This makes sense. When your willpower is fading and your brain is tired of making decisions, it’s easier just to say no and keep everyone locked up than it is to debate whether or not someone is trustworthy enough to leave prison. At the beginning of the day, a judge will give each case a fair shot. But as their energy starts to fade? Deny, deny, deny.
Here’s why this is important for you:
Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?
Decision fatigue happens every day in your life as well. If you have a particularly decision-heavy day at work, then you come home feeling drained. You might want to go to the gym and work out, but your brain would rather default to the easy decision: sit on the couch. That’s decision fatigue.
The same thing is true if you find it hard to muster up the willpower to work on your side business at night or to cook a healthy meal for dinner.
And while decision fatigue is something that we all deal with, there are a few ways that you can organize your life and design your day to master your willpower.
Five Ways to Overcome Decision Fatigue
Here are some ways to overcome decision fatigue:
1. Plan daily decisions the night before.
There will always be decisions that pop up each day that you can’t plan for. That’s fine. It’s just part of life.
But for most of us, the decisions that drain us are the ones that we make over and over and over again. Wasting precious willpower these decisions– which could be automated or planned in advance — is one reason why many people feel so drained at the end of the day.
For example, decisions like:
What am I going to wear to work? What should I eat for breakfast? Should I go to the dry cleaner before or after work? And so on.
All of those examples above, can be decided in three minutes or less the night before, which means you won’t be wasting your willpower on those choices the next day. Taking time to plan out, simplify, and design the repeated daily decisions will give you more mental space to make the important choices each day.
2. Do the most important thing first.
If there was the most important court case in the world, when would you want the judge to hear it?
Based on the research above, first thing in the morning. You’d want their best attention, energy, and focus to go toward the decisions that were most important.
The same thing goes for your work and life. What’s the most important thing for you right now?
Is it getting in shape? Is it building your business? Is it writing that book you have inside of you? Is it learning to eliminate stress and relax?
Whatever it is for you, put your best energy toward it. If you have to wake up 30 minutes earlier, then do that. Start your day by working on the most important thing in your life.
3. Stop making decisions. Start making commitments.
I think advice like, “You just need to decide to do it,” gets dished around too much.
Yes, of course you need to decide to do the things that are important to you, but more than that you need to schedule them into your life.
We all have things that we say are important to us.
“I really want to scale my business.”
“I really want to lose 40 pounds.”
“I really want to get started on XYZ.”
Unfortunately, most of us simply hope that we’ll have the willpower and motivation to make the right decisions each day.
Rather than hoping that I’ll make the right choice each day, I’ve found much more success by scheduling the things that are important to me.
For example, my schedule for writing is Monday and Thursday. My schedule for weightlifting is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. On any given Monday, I don’t have to decide whether I’m going to write. It’s already on the schedule. And I’m not hoping that I’ll have enough willpower to make it to the gym. It’s just where I go on Mondays at 6 p.m.
If you sit back and hope that you’ll be able to make the right decisions each day, then you will certainly fall victim to decision fatigue and a lack of willpower.
4. If you have to make good decisions later in the day, then eat something first.
It’s no coincidence that the judges became better decision makers after eating. Now, if you cram French fries into your veins every day, then I doubt that you’ll enjoy the same results. But taking a break to feed your brain is a wonderful way to boost willpower.
This is especially important because although it’s great to do the most important thing first, it’s not always possible to organize your day like that.
When you want to get better decisions from your mind, put better food into your body.
Whether you are trying to reach the highest level of performance or just want to start eating a healthy diet, the biggest frustration for most people is the feeling that you need to use willpower on an hourly basis.
Find ways to simplify your life. If something isn’t important to you, eliminate it. Making decisions about unimportant things, even if you have the time to do so, isn’t a benign task. It’s pulling precious energy and willpower from the things that matter.
Willpower is one area of life where you can most certainly improve your output by reducing the number of inputs.
The Bottom Line
Willpower isn’t something you have or something you lack. It rises and falls. And while it’s impossible to maximize your willpower for every moment of every day, it is possible to make a few changes to your day and your routine so that you can get the most of your decisions and make consistent progress on the things that are important to you.
James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares ideas about using behavior science to improve your performance and master your habits. For useful ideas on how to live a healthy life, both mentally and physically, join his free newsletter.
Hat tip to John Tierney’s NYT article, where I originally learned about decision fatigue.
For more by James Clear, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.