Small Choices Lead to Big Decisions

Ajahn Yatiko

Ajahn Yatiko

A lot of big decisions we make in life are dictated by the many small decisions we make on a daily basis. That can be a very powerful reflection, and one to keep in mind.

In the book Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, the main character offhandedly fantasizes about killing a certain woman and stealing her money. He’s not really serious about it, but he asks himself, “What if I were serious?” He plays around with the idea, but realizes that he’s certainly not committed to the idea, and decides not to proceed any further.

But then, without even being aware of it, through a host of minor decisions, he manages to put into place various minor conditions that make the murder a real possibility. He goes from thinking that murdering the woman is ridiculous to feeling like he has no choice in the matter. He has to commit the act and so he does. It’s like setting in motion an avalanche: a little movement here, a little there, doing this, doing that—then all of a sudden those seemingly minor conditions come together and produce a catastrophic result.

So it behooves us to reflect on the little choices we make, the small, moment-by-moment decisions triggered throughout the day by the various situations we find ourselves in. This reflection is intended to encourage us to be more circumspect about all those small choices. We need to remember the causative potential of a choice we make in a moment of heedlessness. It might seem like a small matter—and it might indeed be a small matter—but when coupled with other small matters, the cumulative effect can have a great impact.

We can feel that external circumstances have trapped us into making a big decision in which we have no choice. But external circumstances aren’t the culprits. We are. It was all those little, heedless choices we made along the way.

This reflection by Ajahn Yatiko is from the book, Beginning Our Day, Volume Two, (pdf) pp. 99-100.

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