Every moment of every day there are three key decisions that determine the outcome of our lives. This incredible insight came at the end of Tony Robbins's book Money, Master The Game (see related article 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom). I loved the quote that kicked off this section of his book: from Henry David Thoreau, "Wealth is the ability to fully experience life." A great quote, and you can see the application based on each of the three key decisions we make every moment:
Decision #1: What am I going to focus on? Throughout my life, I have had many mentors, coaches, and teachers who have encouraged me to "Be Here Now." When we focus on the past, we tend to bring up feelings of regret. When we focus too much on the future, we tend to feel anxious. The only moment we can do anything about is the present. Or, as Tony Robbins puts it, "...where focus goes, energy flows. What you focus on and your pattern of focus, shape your whole life." So I ask you, where do you put your focus? Are you filled with gratitude (see related article, The Secret to Happiness), or are you obsessed by what you don't currently have in your life? Gratitude will bring you peace and happiness, while focusing on what you don't have will bring feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment.
Moreover, are you focused on the things you can control or the things you can't control in your life? Remember the serenity prayer? "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,/ The courage to change the things I can,/ And the wisdom to know the difference." When you focus on what you can't control, you cause yourself great deals of stress. For example, you can't control how someone else treats you, but you can control how you respond.
Once you decide to focus on something (regardless if it is the right thing to focus on or not), you shift immediately to the next decision.
Decision #2: What does this mean? "Ultimately, how we feel about our lives has nothing to do with the events of our lives, or with our financial condition, or what has or has not happened to us," says Tony Robbins. "The quality of our lives is controlled by the meaning we give these things." This is an incredibly important distinction, and one that most people don't truly understand. One of my earliest black belt instructors used to tell me, "When someone pushes your buttons, you should thank them." That drove me crazy. How could this be? They are PUSHING MY BUTTONS!!! To which he would ask me, "Why, Bill, do you still have buttons others can push?" It took me some time to really understand his point, but eventually I got it.
When someone calls you out on something, your own perception gives the event meaning. Do you perceive the person as "attacking" you? Or perhaps "teaching" you? Or even "loving" you? We all have our built-in filters; how we perceive the world impacts our emotional state and how we react to the exact same event that millions of others also experience. Or, as Tony Robbins puts it, "Your life becomes whatever meaning you give it ... meaning equals emotion, and emotion equals life."
The trick is to assign powerful and empowering meaning to anything that happens in your life. Do that and you will not only grow, but also find strength and a sense of purpose in the most adverse and seemingly terrible circumstances. You cannot control all the events in your life, but you can and do control what meaning you assign to these events. If you believe that all the events in your life happen so that they make you stronger, more powerful, and more successful (even if they don't immediately feel that way in the moment), then deep meaning and purpose will saturate your life.
Decision #3: What am I going to do? Given any event, you will decide to take some sort of action. The emotions you are feeling (given the first two decisions of Focus and Meaning) greatly impact actions you choose to take. Or as Tony Robbins puts it, "The actions we take are powerfully shaped by the emotional states we're in. If we're angry, we're going to behave quite differently than if we're feeling playful or outrageous."
Here's the thing: If you want different outcomes in your life, you need different patterns. How you see the world and where you spend your time thinking about things shapes the first two areas of Focus and Meaning. It's incredibly difficult to take the right actions if you're in a bad place emotionally.
Most of us begin our days via mobile devices. Who texted me while I was asleep? What problems await me in my e-mail inbox? What horrible tragedies will be brought to me in the news today? What five things did I think of in the shower that I now need to add to my to-do list? Sound familiar? How can we make important decisions when we start our day with negative thoughts and emotions?
An alternative approach is what psychologists call priming, and Tony Robbins and I highly recommend it after adopting this practice for the past 4 months. At its most basic level, it's about taking ten minutes each morning to complete a guided meditation. There are three focused sections:
If you incorporate priming into your daily morning ritual, you will start the day in an optimal emotional state and be far more likely to focus on the right things and give positive meaning to the events that occur throughout your day. This positive emotional state will lead to making the right actions and moving consciously toward your desired outcomes. In this way, you can make sure that you actualize the three key decisions we form every moment of our lives the right decisions that produce your desired outcomes (see related article, The Secret to Happiness).