10 min read ⌚
A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions
Having problems making a decision?
Emily P. Freeman has a simple piece of advice:
Just do The Next Right Thing.
Who Should Read “The Next Right Thing”? And Why?
Emily P. Freeman is a devoted Christian, so there’s a good chance that those who are not will find many of her recommendations and suggestions not only inapplicable but also even useless.
However, even they should be able to extract some guidance from this book. Even if merely the importance of the main lesson – doing the next right thing – that may be enough to make them more decisive.
About Emily P. Freeman
Emily P. Freeman is an American writer, creative director, and spiritual mentor.
Co-founder of the hopewriters.com community, Freeman has been writing online for over a decade.
In addition, she has also authored several Christian-themed books, two of which – Simply Tuesday and Grace for the Good Girl – topped the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
Find out more at https://emilypfreeman.com.
“The Next Right Thing PDF Summary”
As Emily P. Freeman notes in the first chapter of The Next Right Thing, “this is a book about making decisions.”
Consequently, it is also a book – as she adds almost instantly – “about making a life”:
What a privilege is to have a choice to make at all. We live in a world where many people don’t have the luxury of choice in certain areas, and this book presupposes you are in position in life where choices are yours to make. We all have a different degree of control over various areas of our lives, depending on our age, our season, our family life, and our degree of privilege because of our race, gender, financial situation – and so on forever.
Freeman invites you, as you read her book, to bring to your mind those areas in life where you do have a choice, no matter how small (Sartre would say that you always have a choice).
And also – to do the next right thing.
Do the Next Right Thing: The Wisdom of Jesus
In Luke 5, Jesus performs two well-known miracles: he cleanses a leper and heals a paralytic at Capernaum; and in Luke 8, he adds an even greater one: he raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
Now, after such miracles, you’d expect Jesus to have some very wise words for the cured (and us, as readers), but the only things he actually says to them are: “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest” (to the leper), “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (to the paralyzed man), and “Give her something to eat” (to Jairus and his wife).
Emily P. Freeman thinks that there’s, in fact, an enormous amount of wisdom in these three very simple pieces of advice.
Because they all boil down to one universal remedy, the advice her book is built upon: do the next right thing.
“Rather than a life plan, a clear vision or a five-year list of goals, the leper, the paralytic, and Jairus and his wife were given clear instructions by Jesus about what to do next – and only next,” writes Freeman.
And then she wonders if Jesus knew something about our “addiction to clarity,” and whether what he wanted to say to these people was something stated in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“We earnestly pray for the right ideal, for guidance in each questionable situation, for sanity, and for the strength to do the right thing.”
In other words, most of us make our present choices based on a plan about the future; and quite a long and clear plan, indeed.
However, clear plans never work out, and none of us is capable of living in the future.
So, why don’t we start making decisions regardless of it?
Become a Soul Minimalist
“Minimalism is not that you should own nothing,” wrote Joshua Becker in The More of Less. “But that nothing should own you.”
Well, Emily P. Freeman notes, this should not be read as merely a motto of minimalism, but also as a decision-making dictum.
No matter what choice you make in life, there’s a good chance that you are not the one making it; in other words, that there are thousands and thousands of distractions which have influenced your decision.
Think of it this way: if you don’t know which brand of tissues you’re going to buy – studies have shown – you buy the one that first pops into your mind. The problem is that this choice has been imprinted in your brain by commercials and Google Ads, and quite a few cheeky psychological tricks the guys who make and place them know by hear.
In other words, you think you’re the one making a choice, but, instead, your choice has been made by you.
How to change this?
Well, it’s not that difficult, in fact: just eliminate all the distractions.
Start with disabling notifications on your phone; that way, you’ll be more present in the actual world, you know, the one happening around you. Next, move on to phase 2: silence.
Unable to recognize the little voice telling you all sorts of things in the silence?
News flash: it’s you!
It was about time!
Name the Narrative
Now, silence and distraction-less surroundings are often not enough; and that voice inside you suggesting choices is not enough either.
Because that voice has been muffled out so very long time that it may be overwhelmed by the fact that it will finally be heard by the one person it should be heard by!
Well, it may not sound clear, but rather like a tuned-out radio station. And we, Westerners, don’t like lack of clarity!
“Our Western minds are trained to go down the path of explaining,” writes Freeman. “We think if we can understand it, then we can control it… We are conditioned to believe the only reason we should do things is if we know why, where we are headed, and for what purpose. No wonder we have trouble making decisions. If we don’t have clear answers or sure things, then taking a big step feels like a risk at best and a wasteful mistake at worst.”
Freeman thinks she knows the problem:
Maybe a reason why a particular decision you are carrying today feels difficult is because there are things beneath the surface that remain unnamed within you, things you either haven’t acknowledged or would rather ignore. Sometimes indecision is the result of a busy schedule or a hesitant personality. Other times it’s because something within us remains unnamed, and we simply don’t have enough information or self-knowledge to move forward.
Fortunately, the solution is rather simple: just name the damn thing!
“There is power in naming the unnamed things,” notes Freeman. “This is an important part of our decision-making practice and key to taking our next right step in love. Remember today is a plot point. See it honestly for what it is, but don’t confuse the moment for the whole story.”
Ask This Question Before Every Hard Decision
“Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires,” wrote William Blake in his Proverbs of Hell, warning everybody of something psychologists would discover much later: unacted desires turn into something bad and ugly, whether frustration, anger or fear.
In time, this results in something strange: your real desires are clouded by these negative feelings, and instead of embracing them, you’re actually running away from them.
That’s why, in the silence of your distraction-less surroundings, you should always ask yourself one crucial question before making any difficult decision: “am I being led by love or pushed by fear?”
You want an example?
Here’s one from the author’s life.
In 2011, Freeman was supposed to travel with the Christian aid organization Compassion International to the Philippines.
Now, she had a few valid excuses to turn down the offer: she was, for example, drafting two books at the time, and they weren’t going to write themselves.
However, there was something that bugged her: it seemed that these valid excuses were not the real reason why she wanted to turn down the offer.
And then, through a long and meaningful discussion, the trip leader from Compassion International helped Emily realize what was really happening: she had masked her love to participate in the mission with her fear of flying.
But merely naming it and realizing that it was a “fear vs. love situation,” gave Emily the necessary strength to do the next right thing.
“Desire often lives next door to grief inside the soul,” she concludes. “Access the grief, and you wake up the longing as well.”
Make the Most Important List
If “am I being led by love or pushed by fear?” is the most important decision-making question you should learn, then making a Life Energy List is certainly the most important decision-making activity you should start doing.
What is a Life Energy List, you ask?
Simply put, a Life Energy List is a review of the past quarter of your life, which should help you organize the next one.
It consists of asking yourself two questions:
• What gave you energy during the past three months?
• What left you without it during the same period?
You can use “the problem solving 101” technique of criteria and evaluation to not only list the things you did in the appropriate columns, but also grade them accordingly (how much energy did each of one gave or took out of you).
Now, that you know – and in order to really know, you must be completely and utterly honest to yourself – you have more than a vague idea what to do and what not to during the next three months of your life.
Well, then it’s time for another Life Energy List.
Some Other Pieces of Advice
The Next Right Thing abounds with practical pieces of advice such as the five illustrated above.
The book has 24 short chapters, and almost each of them offers a different type of guidance (regularly coupled with a clarifying experience taken from the author’s life), with all of them pointing in the same direction: how to do the next right thing.
For the purposes of our summary, we chose to recap the five that seemed most interesting and applicable to us.
However, it would be a wrong idea to ignore the rest.
Here are a few of them:
• Stop collecting gurus: enough with the self-help books and the mentors: paradoxically, your decision-making capacities are crippled by the plethora of instructions; even if they are good, they prevent you from actually doing something; look at it this way: if most of your mentors are good, then there’s a better way than finding new ones: just choose one and follow him.
•Gather co-listeners: even better, gather co-listeners rather than gurus; people who listen are a rarity nowadays, so when you find them, be sure to never lose them (and, of course, to consult them whenever possible).
• Don’t rush clarity: as we said above, sometimes things aren’t clear enough; however, rushing clarity is the wrong way to get out of these quandaries; be patient and contemplate things until they become clearer; and, if you are religious like Emily, wait for God’s signs (or arrows, as she calls them);
• Expect to be surprised: even if you’re not religious, sometimes clarity comes in all sorts of unexpected ways; some call them signs, others surprises; be that as it may, they are helpful; much more than going over the same things again and again.
Key Lessons from “The Next Right Thing”
1. Everybody Makes a Lot of Decisions (on a Daily Basis)
2. Decision-Making 101: Do the Next Right Thing
3. The One Question You Should Ask Yourself Before Making a Difficult Decision
Everybody Makes a Lot of Decisions (on a Daily Basis)
We don’t need to tell you that you make an abundance of decisions throughout your life.
However, have you ever wondered how much?
Well, according to conservative estimations, no less than 35,000.
A Cornell University study discovered something even more fascinating: the average American makes 200 daily decisions on food alone.
Decision-Making 101: Do the Next Right Thing
Now, even though most of these 35,000 decisions are mindless, at least a few of them are life-changing; and, unfortunately, just too, too difficult.
What should you do?
Well, according to Emily P. Freeman – not to mention Jesus, the AA, or everybody from Mother Teresa to Martin Luther King Jr., from Theodore Roosevelt to Anne Lamott – it’s quite simple: just do the next right thing.
What does this mean in practice?
Quite simply, instead of putting things in perspective and deciding what you should do next in relation to your desired future in five or ten years, just do the next thing based on your present situation.
What if it is not clear enough, you ask?
Well, wait for it to clear!
The One Question You Should Ask Yourself Before Making a Difficult Decision
It’s quite simple, really: “am I being led by love or pushed by fear?”
In the silence of your room, shielded away from distractions such as Facebook notifications and mobile phones, this question is the right place to start thinking over every important decision.
You know why?
Because, more often than not, we mask our desires with negative emotions and don’t really know what we want on the go.
This way, you can find out.
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“The Next Right Thing Quotes”Unmade decisions hold power. They pull, they push, they interrupt where they aren’t wanted and poke us awake at night. They can turn us into strange versions of ourselves. Click To Tweet It’s estimated that adults make 35,000 decisions every day. Click To Tweet After Jesus performed miracles, he made the next right thing unmistakably clear. Click To Tweet Let’s take our cues from Jesus and the recovering alcoholics by considering what it means for us to do the next right thing now. Not the next big thing. Not the next impressive thing. Just the next right thing in front of us. Click To Tweet Regardless of your own degree of personal choice, you have a God who walks and talks with you, who moves in and through you, who sings over you. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Even though, as Kendra Adachi (founder of The Lazy Genius Collective) has justly noted, “Emily P. Freeman’s voice is gentle yet mighty,” most of her advices are either too Christian for the non-Christians or too well-known for the readers of other decision-making books.
Even so, The Next Right Thing “is a book you can go back to again and again” (Crystal Paine), for the simple reason that, sometimes, the most sensible piece of advice is the most commonly accepted one.
And “do the next right thing” is precisely that kind of advice.