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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

How to Make a Damn Decision

The Minimalists, photo by Adam Dressler

Day One. The first step in any journey is often the most difficult. This was true for our journey into minimalism: our first step had nothing to do with a task we had to complete—our first step was deciding. Or, rather, deciding we wanted to make a significant change in our lives.

Change is difficult, and procrastination is easy—at least for the moment. But there is no reward in procrastination.

The most difficult part of creating a lasting change is deciding to make that change a reality—deciding to take action.

Two Kinds of Decisions

Fundamentally, there are two kinds of decisions: intellectual and emotional.

Intellectually, we knew we wanted a change in our lives. We knew we were unhappy, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled. We knew we didn’t have freedom—not real freedom. The problem was we knew these things intellectually, but not emotionally: We didn’t have the feeling in our guts that things must change. We knew they should change, but that change wasn’t a must.

Should vs. Must

It’s like anything else you tell yourself…

I should change.
I should stop wasting my money.
I should work fewer hours.
I should get rid of all this junk.
I should eat healthier food.
I should exercise.
I should write more.
I should read more.
I should watch less TV.
I should, I should, I should.

After a while, you end up shoulding all over yourself, which is an apt analogy because you really do feel like shit after you’ve put everything off for so long—after you’ve procrastinated over and over and over.

Once you understand the necessity for change on an emotional level, you are able to turn your shoulds into musts. To accomplish this, we must begin to associate enough pain with our current circumstances and then equate immense pleasure with our new outcome. A mixture of enough pain combined with enough pleasure—this is how we change our shoulds into musts.

This is the pivotal point.
This is when you get leverage.
This is when you are compelled to take action.
This is how you make a damn decision.

A decision is not a real decision until it is a must; it is not a real decision until you feel it on your nerve endings. Once your shoulds have turned into musts, only then you have made a real decision.

I must change.
I must stop wasting my money.
I must work fewer hours.
I must get rid of all this junk.
I must eat healthier food.
I must exercise.
I must write more.
I must read more.
I must watch less TV.
I must, I must, I must!

Your only exercise today is simple: make your Must List. What are your musts? What must change? What has brought pain into your life? What will bring great pleasure? Take as much time as you need and write down all your musts.

I must…
I must…
I must…

Say your musts aloud. Do you feel how much more powerful the musts feel compared to your shoulds? The Should List is weak, passive, lethargic. The Must List is strong, vigorous, energetic. The musts are alive—you must take action!

Of course, this first day isn’t even about taking action (we’ll take action every day after today), and yet Day 1 is the most difficult. Today is the day you must decide things must change. You know, at least intellectually, you are not happy with how things are in your life. But you can’t have it both ways: you can’t want it to be one way, when your actions are the other way; if your actions are not congruent with your desires, then you will never feel happy, never feel fulfilled, never feel content.

Take a look at your Must List. Put that list somewhere you will see frequently. Now stop everything you are doing and make a damn decision: make the decision to change your life—to live the life you want to live. Don’t just think about the change intellectually, feel it in your gut. (By the way, you can read our Must List when you get to Day 2.)

Today is the best day of your life, because today is the day everything changes: Today is the day your shoulds turn into musts. Today is the day you decide to take action. Today is the first day of the rest of your new, simplified life.

“How to Make a Damn Decision” is Day 1 of Our 21-Day Journey. Move on to Day 2. Read Ryan’s journal entries from this journey in Everything That Remains. You can also subscribe to The Minimalists via email.