Small Decisions Have Big Consequences

Every new year brings with it an onslaught of changes and subsequent emotions. Unbelievably important decisions are made in the first few weeks of  a new school year, and these decisions could either ruin or glorify the rest of your semester, or even the rest of your life. After all, what side of the room do I put my desk on? Do I put my lamp on the left or the right? Do I buy dark roast or Breakfast Blend for my new coffee maker?

While these questions may seem to be purposefully simplistic—which they are—I assure you that I have actually lost hours of sleep over what kind of coffee to buy. Anyone who has ever stayed up far too late browsing RedBubble for stickers knows what I’m talking about: Decisions, especially the “tiny” ones, can be surprisingly difficult. Take all these “tiny” decisions and add in all the “big” decisions college students make, and suddenly you find yourself drowning under your choices. How does one cope with having to make so many decisions, big or small?

Thinking about all my decisions invariably reminds me of Goldilocks. Everything I try to do I try to do just right. And while you may think Goldilocks was simply a pretentious brat who should’ve eaten her cold porridge, or you disregard her morality entirely since she just stole everything from hardworking bears, she nonetheless stands as an icon for the freedom of arbitrary choice. She had a lot of decisions to make, and she rolled with them all. After all, what was “just right” for Goldilocks was only right for one of the three bears. Is there anything to be gained from studying such a heroine?

Goldilocks, in her constant reflection and consideration of her decisions, may actually embody the purest form of the Jesuit value of mindfulness—a value that is particularly useful for grappling with the start of a new year.

Though that comparison is admittedly hyperbolic, it still holds merit. Mindfulness finds an easy avenue into one’s life through reflection on decisions. I choose my classes like I choose breakfast cereals: with a lot of thoughtful consideration. What I eat every day should be just as important as what I work toward every day. The tiny decisions in life aren’t difficult because they’re unimportant—they’re difficult because they are genuinely meaningful. Buying my textbooks takes no thought, and no stress: I simply do it. But when I stand in that line for half an hour, and I admire the Boston College pens and cups and mugs, I spend most of that time entertaining ideas about whether I really do want that BC fidget spinner.

That decision, though less important and costly than my textbook, is made with more consideration simply because it’s an absolutely free choice. I can’t not buy a textbook for a class without large negative consequences, but that fidget spinner is a mystery. It could dramatically improve or ruin my quality of life, but I’ll only know the result of what I choose. If—like Goldilocks—I take the time to think about every decision I make, no matter how insignificant, I am being mindful in the purest sense.

While this may seem tangential to any conversation about choosing majors or careers and can be scoffed at as unnecessary grief and over-analyzation, I find it all incredibly rewarding. Over the past few years, more and more conversation has been popping up surrounding this idea of mindfulness. Apps like Calm or Headspace all function to make people more mindful of their lives through meditation. Plato, the Buddha, and St. Ignatius have all espoused the power of being mindful.

Here at Boston College, we are taught about the uselessness of an unexamined life for Socrates and shown how magis, doing more for Christ, requires a deeper reflection and mindfulness into one’s own embodiments of Jesuit values. Choice is power, but often this power is forgotten. In college especially, one can easily feel powerless—one can feel as if their life is on a path and they’re just mindlessly walking it, that everything is set into motion, and they can only watch it unfold. Starting a semester can feel like a pseudo-beginning, as if everything is already completed, as if one is stuck in a rut that will become their routine. Making every decision, even the insignificant ones, with care helps one remember their own constant power of choice. Just as I can choose to buy pens instead of pencils, I can choose to stay in school and get my Ph.D. instead of dropping out to write a mix-tape—either way, it’s always up to me to decide. Mindfulness, even when considering something as stupidly basic as coffee, is more than just over-thinking the simple. It’s an earnest consideration of what could easily become a life-long, thoughtless monotony.

So as I start the year, as I make choices that will shape the rest of my life, it doesn’t feel as scary. The more decisions I make and the more thought I place into my considerations, the more comfortable I feel about making them. As crazy as it sounds, reflecting on a choice as simple as my desktop background makes me feel reassured about my larger decisions, simply because I feel active in the details of my life. Even the tiniest parts of living are worthy of a thoughtful consideration.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor