Some stuff that doesn’t matter and some stuff that does

Graphic: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I was just thinking about what matters and what doesn’t matter, because, being human, we get it wrong a lot.

It doesn’t matter whether the new Yahoo/AOL product from Verizon is called “Oath.” What matters is if Verizon can take a bunch of lame and aging properties and make them relevant again. If they don’t, calling the result “Oath” won’t have made any difference. If they somehow manage to pull together a success, we’ll call it “Oath” and like it.

It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump bombed an airstrip in Syria. What matters is if he gets a taste for bombing and decides to bomb some other countries. Or if he decides to get further involved in Syria without a plan to actually accomplish something. Or if it turns out to be easy for other countries to emotionally provoke and manipulate Trump. Or if Trump changes his conciliatory attitude toward Russia. Or of Congress sets and enforces rules about his use of military force. Those things matter. A single bombing run doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter whether there are 30 or 400 people in the audience for your talk. What matters is if you move some of those people, and if some of them decide to do something about it. And what also matters is whether they are the kind of people with the power to get things done, or the kind of people who are afraid or incapable of doing anything.

It doesn’t matter that you wrote a sentence with passive voice or used a jargon word. It matters whether what you write is shot through with passive voice, and whether there is so much jargon that figuring out what you mean is a chore. And it matters whether you notice those things or are oblivious to them.

It doesn’t matter that you go on Facebook at lunch. It matters if you go on Facebook all the time when you should be doing your job.

It doesn’t matter if your boss says something that embarrasses or frustrates you. It matters whether they’re always saying stuff like that, or if it’s the first and only time. And it matters a lot how you choose to react — skulking in a corner, lashing out, whining, scheming revenge, or dispassionately planning how you will solve the substantive problem and deal with your own emotional responses next time.

It doesn’t matter that your child fell and skinned their knee and starting crying. What matters is how you react — with panic, hostility, indifference, or calm and caring concern.

It doesn’t matter that you “liked” an article about how hypocritical a politician is. It matters whether you learned something that will change your behavior. It matters whether you’ve gotten together with others to make a difference. It matters whether you contribute money, knock on doors, make calls, or vote.

It doesn’t matter that you ate too much at dinner. It doesn’t matter that you had bacon on that hamburger. It matters if you order a sweetened Venti latte every morning or eat mindlessly in front of the TV after dinner every night. It matters whether you take the stairs or the elevator every day.

A single action doesn’t usually matter. A habitual set of behaviors does. And even when a single action does matter, what you do springs from what you’re habitually used to doing. Spend effort on changing habits, not regrets.

Observe constantly. Think long term. Be thoughtful about the consequences of each action, and the consequences of the consequences — for yourself, your family, your department, your company, your future. When an opportunity for positive change arises, seize it and stick with it. Find ways to keep yourself honest. Forgive yourself, but don’t forget the changes you want to make.

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One Comment

  1. I get the point you’re trying to make. But it does matter that only one airfield is bombed IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE IS INJURED OR KILLED in the bombing.

    Let’s keep everything in perspective please. If you believe life is sacred, or special, or even just important to some people at some time, then even one meaningless death or injury is significant. It’s meaningless if the only point was to score some negotiating cred with Syria or Russia or North Korea.

    People are not game pieces.


    Carman C. Curton