Thoughts on Doing the Next Right Thing
By Tova Kreps, LCSW
In a world that challenges the very idea of right and wrong, I propose that most people still have a strong sense of “right”. We long for justice on those who have done evil; we feel angry at those who betray us; we feel guilty when we violate our own standards. Many religions promote doing “right things” to please God. And, while Christians don’t have to “be good” because faith in Jesus is sufficient to cover all of our wrongs, even Christians encourage doing the right things as a response to a loving God. Regardless of our beliefs, doing the “right things” has its rewards.
What are those rewards? Reaching long-term goals is one of them, and most great goals require many faithful steps to reach them. Doing the right thing, instead of the wrong, also protects us from shame, guilt, and negative consequences. Only fools believe that they can avoid natural consequences; the wise accept reality and plan around it.
But doing the right things also has its costs. If we don’t teach our children that it does, when we tell them the right way to behave, we have not prepared them well. We adults also need to accept this reality. Often, the right choice is the harder one. It may take more time, energy and money. It may limit monetary rewards and opportunities. It might take endurance, discipline and patience to see results. It might require faith, courage and trust as we take steps into unknown results, just because it is right.
And let’s not forget how much other people who are making wrong choices will hate us. Truth exposes lies; hard workers make lazy people look bad. Our good choices may make people feel guilty, jealous or possibly thwarted in their plans. Remember, they killed Jesus! In the cost-benefit analysis, doing the next right thing is the best choice by far. Right choices free us from the anxiety of negative consequences, they give us confidence in ourselves in any situation, and over time, they create a stable, fruitful life.
“What is the next right thing?” you ask. For daily disciplines of health and hygiene, obedience to authorities, or productive work, the answers are obvious. But for some harder questions, the answer is only found in the stillness of your heart. There is a time for almost all things to be right or wrong (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), so beware of rationalizations. The question is not what is easy, but what is right for you and your loved ones right now? Listen to wise counsel, but ignore the voices of your critics, manipulators, and abusers. Imagine yourself alone with God, with your choices on either side of you. What would give you peace? If you look down the road some years, what would satisfy you? Then choose what you know is right
. A few hints on how to make these good choices easier:
1. Decide to do the right thing before the choice is in front of you. If you know you will pay your bills, exercise, abstain, tell the truth, fulfill your vows, etc, you won’t really feel like you are making a choice at all. It’s easier if there is no question at hand.
2. Develop habits of right choices. It takes 30 days to make a habit, something our bodies and brains get so used to doing that we no longer have to think about it. So make right choices habitually, and they get easier.
3. Surround yourself with other people who make the same right choices that you want to make.
4. Create a mental image of yourself as a person who makes those choices. For example, if you are on a diet, put a picture up on your mirror of yourself at your ideal weight.
5. If you blow it, look your wrong choice square in the eye, admit it, acknowledge it, fix what you can and make a plan for next time. Then, forgive yourself so you can move on.
Do the next right things today, and live well tomorrow. Happy New Year!