A Wrench, Six Bricks & 915,103,765 Choices


The starter went out in the Land Cruiser today. If you follow this site you might be having a moment of deja vu, sensing that I’ve already written this, at a different time. You are kind of right. Except this is a different starter in a different Land Cruiser, so while the circumstances are the same the pieces are a little bit different.

It seems like a simple fix – just get a new starter – but it is raising the same questions I had before – bigger questions – when the other starter went out, on the other Land Cruiser. I’m a relatively smart guy and I would like to believe that I have a process – a successful one, I might add – for working through the ups and downs of this adventure we are on. Yet I have been down this exact same path before and, when faced with the same conflict, I chose the same answer. Which, like before, didn’t work. There are meme’s out there that remind me how effective this line of thinking is: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein. So it is not surprising to me at all to feel like I have come full circle and ended up back at the very same place, with the very same question defined by the very same problem, as before. It is frustrating.

Cruiserheadsan affectionate term used to define Land Cruiser enthusiasts – say that, when having a starter issue (which is apparently common: I’m 2 for 2 with mine) the simplest fix is to open the hood, smack the starter with a hammer or a wrench, and get back on your merry way. I did that with Jenny, my other Land Cruiser, for a bit and I have gone that route for a couple of months with this one. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. More importantly, and to the heart of the issue, is the bigger question:

How long do you stay with something that you know is not working before you choose to make a change?

 In researching this idea it seems I am not alone. It is not just bad car parts in question, either.   Marriage. Jobs. Religion. Politics. Education. Parenting. You name it, it no longer seems to be a life of easy answers but more a life of complex questions. Answers do not come simply anymore; each piece of our lives is inter-connected to the other, every relationship tied and bound through our social and private choices. Like a boat ride, we struggle for our journey to be smooth, striving for a perceived “seamlessness” to our lives. But if you are like me you are finding that life’s blanket doesn’t feel seamless. Everything is inter-connected: we don’t exist in a void. We are a whole, and that whole extends beyond self which, at times, makes those seams feel a lot like scars.

Decision making – or more importantly the lack of clear decision making – isn’t new and isn’t going away. If you are close to me you have had me ask you this question, directly, at some point: How long do you stay with something you know is not working?   I have had hours upon hours of conversations about it, read book after book to see different perspectives on it, and applied all manner of processes to it within my own life. Every time I watch someone struggle with choice, or find myself within the battle, I say it again. How long? My own survival is a direct result of it, but we’ll get to that. Every difficult choice. Every time. Along the way I have learned a few things. I have outlined the following critical decision making characteristics in an effort to make the process easier for me. It is now a guideline that I follow. Let’s face it: some decisions are really hard. Some decisions are so hard to make that we put off making them even when we know something needs to be done. But they need to be made. Here are the steps I use in making them.

1. Be Grounded

Every day is a new day and, like most, while I’m experiencing this journey one day at a time, I am at a place in my life where I have a good idea of who I am. I know what makes Matt work and (probably) more importantly I know what makes Matt not work. To make me work, I strive to be as grounded as I can. Definitions and interpretations abound but for me being grounded – being balanced – is being present and connected to the who and the what and the where of life as it is happening. It is being present: in the now, not in the then. There is nothing that I can do to change the past and there is no guarantee that I will make it to the future: life is happening now and I make the choice – each and every moment – to be present for it. Plugged in. Conscious. To be an active participant within the fabric of the story that is being written and the lines on the map of my journey. Being grounded reinforces my ability to make the decisions that need to be made. There is a comfort in knowing that, when faced with a decision, I am in the best place – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – that I can be. From that comfort comes a very resolute confidence.

 2. Know The True Cost

I was talking with a close friend about this question over lunch and, having posed it to him, was anxious to hear his answer. “It depends on the cost,” he said, continuing, asking “is my decision going to cost someone their life or just a few extra dollars? The cost of a decision changes things.” So very true. Find the cost of your decision. When we take time to find the true cost of the decision we can understand the variables – the good and the bad – better. The flip side of that coin is when we don’t take the time to find the true cost of a decision oftentimes we make things out to be bigger than they really are. Take a second and think back to a decision you were dreading yet, once made, you realized wasn’t so bad. Like you, I’ve done this countless times, and can use the simple analogy of shopping to illustrate something we have all done: have you ever been in a store and picked up something you wanted to buy but struggled with the idea of spending money only to find the greatest words ever printed on a tag – ON SALE? So you bought it. You bought it because you finally learned the true cost, and realized that it was lower than what you had believed. A lot of times we put off making a decision because we believe the costs are too high, only to realize once the decision was made that it wasn’t as bad as we feared. Take the time to learn the true cost so you can be true to the choice.

 3. Make Your Choice

There is a really great demonstration I have started to use while teaching the concept of choices and options. I love toys and one of the toys I love the most are Legos. Legos rock. Playing with Legos goes to the core of who a person is and how they think. When I was growing up, my older brother and I would get Lego sets for birthdays and holidays and, now that I am a parent, I have continued the tradition with my kids. I was fascinated then – and more so now – as to the stark choice that a Lego kit represents: my brother always followed the directions and made the kit as designed while I just put stuff together. A kit for a race car would become a knight on a horse or an airplane kit would become a hospital. Rules or no rules. Options. And here is an interesting set of facts about options, using an example from one of the original basic pieces of Lego, the 2×4 block.

If you hold two of Lego’s basic 2×4 bricks in your hand you can combine those two bricks in 24 different ways. Rules or no rules gives you 24 different options. If you increase the number of bricks to three – adding just one brick – increases your options to 1,060. That’s a lot of options. But here is where this little example of toys + math + options really makes a difference. Make another stack of three, so you have three in your right hand and three in your left. Do you know what happens to your options when you bring your hands together? You now have 915,103,765 different choices. A billion options from six bricks. A billion. Just six pieces of a kids toy gives you a staggering number of choices. A lot of times when we’re faced with decision making we become overwhelmed and we can’t see the forest for the trees: we start to confuse the number of options with the number of choices. We are only making one choice. Recognize the difference: you are not making a billion decisions, you’re just making one. Be confident in how you got to this place: you are making a choice because you were present enough to understand the true cost. Yes, it is a big forest. But it’s also just six bricks. Don’t make more of it than it is.

 4.  Let Go

At times we are faced with decisions that have no good options. Decisions where we have to choose between bad and worse. It is at those times that I like to take a look again the map of this journey and see what brought me to this place: I made a choice grounded in who I am and knowledgeable of the true cost. Knowing that gives me the confidence to conquer what is often the hardest part of this whole process: it is time to let go. Whether I made a good decision or a bad one I rejoice in the fact that I made it, and recognize that it is now in the past. There is nothing I can do about it: the ship has sailed, the bubble has burst, the balloon has floated away. Here’s an example of a decision that I can share from my own life: I made a decision to save someone’s life – to literally rescue them from death – KNOWING that if I rescued them it would cause another person to die. A life and death decision or, more accurately, a life causes death decision. A truly horrible set of choices and the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make. The burden of the choice of condemning someone to die through my actions was heavy. In the moments leading up to the decision – seconds and fractions of seconds that seemed an eternity at the time – felt unbearable. The Reaper loomed, present, waiting. Years later this is what I know: in a moment of frantic calmness I made a choice, grounded in who I was and knowledgeable of the cost, and I let go. Oftentimes after slogging through the struggle and trials of making the decision we don’t let go. We keep the burden, we second guess. Worse than making a mountain out of a molehill we make it a martyr. Doubt. Regret. Fear. Put whatever label you want on it – but put that label on it and then let go. Take comfort in the confidence of being grounded enough to know the cost of the decision and let go.


I’m thankful for the knowledge that I could just hit the starter with my small pipe wrench and get back on the road. It worked. But I’m rejoicing in my decision to be present enough that, knowing the cost, I chose to replace it. I’m driving away from the place of indecision and recognizing that replacing the starter has a lot more to do with me than it does the part.

I am keeping the wrench, though.

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