Holly Richardson: Decisions are hard to make, so just do ‘The next right thing’

(Image courtesy Disney) Queen Elsa (left, voiced by Idina Menzel), Anna (center, voiced by Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) are back for more adventure in Disney's "Frozen II," to be released Nov. 22, 2019.

Last weekend, my husband and I took five of our grandchildren to see “Frozen II.” We loved it! I cried more than once at the sweet messages in this movie. I won’t give any spoilers except to talk about one song: “The Next Right Thing,” sung by Kristen Bell, the actor who gives voice to Anna.

The middle of the song goes like this:

"I won’t look too far ahead

It’s too much for me to take

But break it down to this next breath, this next step

This next choice

Is one that I can make

So I’ll walk through this night

Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing.”

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Just do the next right thing.

How many of us are stuck, not able to make any decisions because we can’t see down the road five or 10 or 20 years? I have young adult children who struggle to pick a major in college because they don’t know if they will love it in 20 years. While I understand the desire to have a degree match a career path, that’s not a prerequisite for a 20-year-old.

I, myself, struggle with charting a path longer than a year or two ahead. I once had a business coach ask me where I saw myself in 20 years. I had (and still have) absolutely no idea.

As we approach the end of another decade, it’s kind of fun to look back and see the journey of the last decade. In Jan 2010, I had no married children, had not served in the Utah Legislature (nor did I have plans to), had “only” an associate’s degree and read my books by holding them in my hands. So many things happened during the last decade I really could not have anticipated. That is, until I made the next right decision. And then the next one and the next one.

Wayne Dyer said “Our lives are the sum total of the choices we have made.” So how do we make the next right decision? We get moving. We take a step towards a goal or a big decision before we get to the jumping off point. We act consistently, even our actions seem small. Limit your options. While a vast sea of theoretical possibilities to choose from may seem appealing, we know that too many choices makes it harder to make choices than just a few possible choices.

We need to be aware of other factors that affect our ability to make decisions, including how late in the day we are deciding. One study of judicial decisions found that, all other things being equal, prisoners who appeared on parole hearings were granted parole about 70% of the time if they appeared in the morning, but only 10% of the time if they appeared late in the day. That, and a number of other studies appear in one of the best books I “read” (listened to) last year: “When: The Scientific Secret of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink.

Then there are all the decisions we make but don’t consciously think about. Cornell researchers found that people estimate they make 15 food choices a day but the reality is that they make more than 200 food-related decisions each day. Not wanting to re-decide every day what to wear is ostensibly what made Steve Jobs dress in a black turtleneck and blue jeans every day.

We can get bogged down by unmade decisions that niggle at us, over and over, while we spin our wheels stewing about making the right decision. We can feel too overwhelmed to even make a decision. (Hello, Christmas time!) The truth is, we arrive at the big decisions through a series of small decisions. We achieve the big goals through a series of small, consistent actions.

Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that we can take a step, even when we can’t see the whole staircase. So be like Anna and just do the next right thing.

Holly Richardson (2019)

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, thinks the next right thing for her is to sit in front of a fire and read a book that has nothing to do with school.