‘Just Do The Next Right Thing’

‘Just do the next right thing,’ she said.

How had I forgotten it; this powerful phrase. One of my favorite therapeutic expressions ever. More useful even than ‘this too shall pass’, or ‘is it true?’:

Apparently, it is used in AA recovery programs. I can see why – it makes things manageable.

I don’t have to handle all of this shit, all at once. I don’t need to have the day figured out, the week, or how exactly I will overcome the obstacles in my path.

As long as I can identify the next right thing to do, and do that, then everything is going to be okay.

We all tend to chunk up when it comes to life. Chunking up is scary.

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‘Just do the next right thing.’

It insists that you inhabit the present moment. For a person whose consciousness mostly resides around three hours from now, it helps me to be where I am. A lot can happen in three hours. A lot can be brought into existence.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

It betrays a universal truth, often unrecognized: that each moment is a new moment, and we get to make a fresh choice about how we will face the challenges of our lives.

Whether that’s a big challenge like getting through another day of grief, or a small challenge like overcoming procrastination. There is so much possibility in the simple recognition that every moment is a new moment. We aren’t obliged to be who we were before, doing what we did.

‘What is the next right thing?’

It is the perfect question to ask when I am feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, distracted, excited or sad. It asks only that I name the best use of my time, care and attention for the next half an hour. 20 minutes. Even 5 minutes can be enough to change everything. If I, say, used that 5 minutes to meditate or hug a friend, instead of ruminating.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

It makes time my mate again. I must have wasted millions of hours of time just fretting, or ignoring that I am fretting, about what I know I need to do. Time isn’t your mate when you do that.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

Most choices are small and simple. But our lives are determined by the quality of those small choices. It is Darren Hardy’s Compound Effect; Jeff Olson’s Slight Edge.

And so for me, small choices have long since stopped feeling insignificant. Things like what to eat for dinner, how to respond when I get texts like that; what to spend the first hour of the day on. It sounds silly to say they’re just as important as the larger-scale decisions, like where to live for the next six months. But they are. They are paving the future.

Every decision, no matter how small, does that. Each choice helps form the foundation upon which we stand. Each choice adds up to who we are.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

It could be taking a bath. Or, it could be starting a blog post; dropping my dad a text. It could really be anything; the point is, sometimes I only know once I ask myself the question. Otherwise, my mind will just spin on all of the things I know I need to do, guaranteeing I don’t make headway with any of them.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

It is a microcosm of a values-led life.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

Sometimes, it’s about choosing to put something down. Letting go. Other times, it is about listening, or taking someone’s hand.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

When you think about it, the Buddha’s The Eightfold Noble Path boils down to ‘just do the next right thing’.

Right:

…view
…intention
…speech
…action
…livelihood
…effort
…mindfulness
…concentration

They are all practices. To recognize the right thing to do next, we need to advance our capacity to choose wisely (right view). And we need to take care in the things we say and do (right speech and action). We need to choose a way of earning our living and spending our time that is reasonably moral (right livelihood). And we need to apply ourselves with clear intention (right effort). Finally, we must be awake and we need to grow our capacity to hold our focus (mindfulness and concentration). It is ‘just do the next right thing’ mastery. But mastery is a long process.

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‘Just do the next right thing.’

Want to know when it saves me the most?

When I am so exhausted that I can barely focus on anything, but I need to.

Also, when I am disappointed or upset about something. At that moment, doing the next right thing almost always involves some self-soothing and self compassion. ‘Don’t worry darling; you won’t be upset about this forever.’ Something like that.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

The good news is, even if I forgot to ask for a while, there is always a second chance. Life is kind to us like that. There are endless opportunities to make better decisions.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

The heart needs to be asked, too; not just the head.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

There are some things that are hardly ever the next right thing. Silently suffering, for example.

‘Just do the next right thing.’

Do you know what I love about it the most? It’s so full of promise.

Every moment we are alive holds the same possibility as that other moment ten years ago. Each breath taken, every thought that passes, every time we turn this way or that way, carries with it the intrinsic ability to change everything.

Just do the next right thing.

If there is a more hopeful statement, then please tell me.

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