How to Choose Your Battles and Win the Big War
A while back, I met this guy who was weirdly negative and filled with contempt for others. Even though he is highly successful by conventional terms — he has built successful businesses and is a multi-millionaire — he kept putting people down with every other statement made.
For example, after knowing that I coach and blog, he began to put down my profession, saying that it could never be as lucrative as running a large company like him. He constantly bragged about his accomplishments with every statement he made, including bragging about the attention he got from women. He would indirectly insult me with every other comment. And then when he wasn’t throwing shade or complimenting himself, he was putting others down by speaking ill of them — people he knew personally and was associated with.
Thrown off by his behavior, I didn’t retaliate but acted normally.
After the encounter, I promptly let go of his judgments. After all, this is someone I’m never going to meet again. I figured I have more important things to do, and if I want to get to my big rocks in life, I need to choose my battles and let go of petty things like this. And choosing your battles is precisely what I want to talk about today.
Choose Your Battles
“Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn’t measured by how many times you stood up to fight. It’s not winning battles that makes you happy, but it’s how many times you turned away and chose to look into a better direction. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go.” – C. JoyBell C.
Choose your battles means to be selective of the problems, arguments, and confrontations that you engage with. Instead of getting involved with everything, you save your time only for the important arguments, the ones give you the best payoff, and the ones where there is a good chance of success. This applies to your work, relationships, and life.
When you choose your battles, you
- Evaluate the problem you are facing,
- Assess if the benefits of tackling it outweighs the costs, and
- Decide if you should fight this problem or abandon it.
Why is it important to choose your battles?
- Not all problems are important. Some simply don’t matter, especially in the long run. My example above with the judgmental guy is one. Encounters with rude people are another. While not ideal, I choose not to be weighed down by letting them go. After all, there are many other things worth worrying about. Likewise, you want to concern yourself with your big rocks and Quadrant 2 goals, not petty problems with no place in your life.
- Some problems may seem pressing, but the payoff from addressing them doesn’t outweigh the costs. Battling such problems will only waste your time and energy since the costs outweigh the benefits. You want to choose battles where the benefits outweigh the costs.
- Your time and energy are limited. Ideally you want to solve everything. But as humans, we have limited time and energy on Earth. Choosing your battles helps you conserve your resources for the things that matter.
- It’s about winning the big war. In life, you are going to face countless problems. Do you want to spend your life battling petty problems that don’t make a difference in the long run? Or do you want to battle the big rocks, like carving out your dream career, building your ideal relationship, being financially free, and living the life of your dreams? You need to choose your battles and focus on the big rocks to win the big war of life.
How to Choose Your Battles and Win the Big War
So how do you know when to fight a battle and when to move on? And for the battles you fight, what’s the best way to fight and secure victory? I have seven tips for you. 🙂
1) Fight the battle if it has serious, long-term implications. Let go if it has little consequences.
Before you fight the battle, consider if there is a need to do so. Most of the time, the things we get upset about are small, petty issues with no impact in the long run. Concern yourself only with the most important problems with long-term implications, not petty problems.
- Is this problem going to recur or balloon out of control if left undealt with?
- Is this problem going to cause significant negative impact if left undealt with?
- Can you live without addressing it?
If you answered “yes” to questions #1 and #2 and “no” to the third one, that means the problem is consequential and worth addressing. Otherwise, let it go. In general, most problems we face don’t require our attention. For more on prioritization:
- Get Your Big Rocks In First
- Put First Things First
- Achieve More With Less In Life Using 80/20 Principle
2) Do a cost-benefit analysis
Cost-benefit analysis is used in the business world to assess if a project or investment is sound before proceeding with it. That’s because if you randomly invest in projects only to fail each time, you will incur significant losses in the long run and go bust.
Similarly before taking on a problem, you should do a cost-benefit analysis. Assess the costs of tackling the problem, be it monetary or non-monetary (such as time, effort, and emotional drain). Then assess the benefits. Weigh out them out, and proceed only if the benefits outweigh the costs.
One time I worked with a company that breached our contract. Despite agreeing to deliver on X, they didn’t and later became unresponsive.
After following up a few times, I chose not to pursue the matter. That’s because when I weighed the costs vs. the benefits, it wasn’t worth it. Cost-wise, not only would it take up my time and energy to pursue the matter, but it would also burn bridges. While I wasn’t impressed by their attitude, I didn’t want to burn this bridge as they are a sizable company whereas I’m just a one-person team. They were also very unlikely to respond even if I pursued the matter, given their track record in dealing with correspondences. Benefits-wise, even if they had honored the arrangement, the deal would increase my revenue by a single-digit percentage, which to me could be better achieved through other plans.
Given the unfavorable costs, low payoff, and the low odds of the situation moving in my favor, I decided that it was best to let go and move on.
This doesn’t mean that we should avoid battles every time when dealing with a bigger entity. In a case where there’s a lot at stake (such as workplace molestation, medical negligence, or bullying), you should pursue the battle if there isn’t a serious downside like heavy financial costs. I have stood up against school bullying before, and same for workplace harassment. Benefits don’t always have to be monetary — they can be intangible, like sending a positive message to others or protecting our rights.
Every situation is different, so assess it on a case-by-case basis. Only take up a battle if there is a positive payoff.
3) Think win-win
So you decide to fight this battle. Can you think of a win-win scenario where both of you will emerge victorious?
Now some of you may be surprised by my suggestion of win-win. “Why ‘win-win’ and not ‘win-lose’?” you may ask. “Isn’t this supposed to be a battle? Why should I help my opponent win?”
Right. Despite using “battle” as the analogy in this post, I encourage you to think about your “opponent” as your friend, your ally. The reason is simple: When you have a mindset of squashing and eliminating others, you adopt a scarcity mindset that’s rooted in lack —one where there must always be a winner and a loser, where there will be one who gains and one who loses, and where everything is zero sum. While this mindset may seem normal in today’s material-driven and low-consciousness world, it isn’t. We live in a world of oneness and abundance, where opportunities are everywhere and everyone can achieve abundance together. By thinking in scarcity, we’ll only attract more scarcity since like attracts like.
So think win-win where everyone wins vs. win-lose where there can only be a winner. The battle here isn’t against your opponent, but against the conflict. Sometimes your opponent may be a victim of the circumstance like you. Meaning…
- If you are having a conflict with your partner, work out a scenario where both of you will be happy without compromising on each other’s needs, as opposed to one where one has to compromise for the other. Read: How to Manage Between Your Goals and Your Partner
- If you are having a disagreement with your boss, find a way to match his/her needs without compromising yours, as opposed to allowing yourself pushed over.
- If you are displeased with your staff’s performance, don’t shame or punish as your first instinct. Instead, coach them and provide constructive feedback. This way, they can recognize their issue areas more effectively and also be more motivated to work for you an inspiring leader. Your staff should feel like a winner, not a loser, working for you. Read: Stop Shaming, Start Praising and How to Give Constructive Criticism in 6 Steps
Adopt this same win-win mindset for any conflict with friends, family, and colleagues. Ask yourself: “What is the scenario where everyone will be happy? What is the scenario where everyone will win?” Then work toward that outcome.
4) Have an open discussion
An important part of achieving a win-win outcome is to have an open discussion. When we act based on our vision and project all our views onto the other person, it’s the same as shutting them out. Respect that the other party has their views and goals that may be entirely different from ours. To truly achieve a win-win, it’s important to hear them out and discuss the best outcome.
During one of my coaching calls with my client P, she revealed that she felt a hidden resentment for her husband as she had been giving so much the family all these years: working, taking care of the kids, and housework. She felt that she had put her ideal life on hold in caring for the family, without much help from her husband. This was a surprising revelation as she had not consciously thought this way; it just came out from our call. She still loves him and they are sweethearts who have been married for over 10 years; this was an issue that had been brewing on the side.
So then I asked my client, “Does he know? Have you ever talked to him about this?” She said, “No.” I encouraged her to talk to her husband and let him know, and she did. By our next call, she shared that they had a very in-depth discussion in a way they don’t usually have, and that her husband was surprised to learn what she had been feeling. He reaffirmed his support for her and they agreed to find more ways to earn money and to share the responsibility for the household income and household chores together, rather than letting her take all the burden. The talk subsequently brought them closer together.
On the other hand, if she hadn’t had an open talk with her husband, perhaps she might have reacted passive aggressively, such as picking fights, being argumentative, and doing things her own way. This would create even more conflicts, make her husband unhappy, and most of all, create a negative household for everyone and her kids. Her husband would still be clueless on what was going on, and the original conflict would still be unresolved. In the end, everyone loses in such a scenario.
How can you have an open discussion?
- Seek to understand, not override others’ opinions
- Share your views and let others have their chance to share theirs
- Be supportive as others are sharing
- Focus on the positives at every step
- Discuss and exchange ideas to build the best outcome for everyone
5) Ground yourself in high consciousness
When engaging in a conflict, emotions can sometimes run high. In asserting your stance, both of you may lose your temper and act out of fear rather than love.
However, know that when you lose your temper, you have lost your footing. Not only will you be unable to think rationally, you’ll also not be able to act and convey yourself calmly, much less achieve an ideal outcome for yourself and others. You don’t want that. You want to be calm and collected and handle the situation in the best way possible… and not look back three months down the road and wonder, Why did I even say/do that???
Rene Descartes’s quote comes to mind:
Ground yourself in high consciousness — this will help you stay composed, think consciously, and act in everyone’s best interest. Some tips to do so:
- Think about the people who inspire you and how they would handle this situation. Get ideas fromhow they would behave.
- Stay constructive. Remember, you’re battling against the conflict, not the person. Critique the issue, not the person. Read: How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Helpful Tips
- Keep your sights on a win-win for everyone (tip #3). Work on moving toward that outcome throughout the discussion.
- Detach yourself from the negative emotions and hurtful words exchanged (if any); people tend to say things they don’t mean to when they are angry.
Read: How to Let Go of Anger Forever (series)
6) Have an exit point
In theory, all battles can be won if you have unlimited resources. The reality though is that we don’t have unlimited resources. We have other priorities to tend to. We can’t spend forever dealing with a problem if it’s not progressing despite our efforts.
Hence, you need a cut-loss point that tells you, “Okay, that’s it. Time to cut my losses and move on.” This is the point where you need to exit regardless of what’s happening, because you have incurred your maximum loss and you can’t afford to lose anymore.
One time Ken and I got ripped off by a cab driver in Bali. The amount in question was 400,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about 40 USD then), which, while not a lot in the U.S. or Singapore, goes a long way in Bali. We were also miffed not just about the money itself, but that it was our celebration after our wedding and we couldn’t believe that we had to deal with such a dishonest man. Our hotel staff was very helpful and tried to track down the driver, from reviewing the CCTV footage to calling cab companies to even calling a suspect back to our hotel, but to no avail.
After an hour, I told Ken that we should let this go since (1) there was no way for us to locate the guy given that the CCTV footage was too blurry, and (2) the driver was unlikely to step forward even if we did an open call through his cab company, something that our hotel staff suggested. Moreover, the amount in question was 40 USD — as working adults, it was easier for us to focus on earning it back, rather than locating a crook on a foreign land.
So we let go of the incident and focused on enjoying the rest of our trip. I was glad to have done that as it would have been very draining otherwise. Maybe we could have found the driver if we had requested for a zoom-in analysis of the CCTV footage and what not, but for the low probability of success, it was easier to just move on and focus on the big things.
7) Let go of unresolved problems
If the problem remains unresolved despite your best efforts, let it go. Success comes not from not winning every battle, but learning to let go when it’s time to do so. While tip #6 is about knowing when to exit when things aren’t going your way, this tip is about letting go. Just because one has stopped fighting a problem doesn’t mean that he/she has let go of it mentally.
For example, once my friend was having conflicts with her boss and co-workers. They kept talking behind her back, backstabbing her, and giving her issues. The environment was overall very cliquish and she didn’t fit in.
While she felt deeply troubled by the situation and even cried in the office at one point, after that she focused on planning her career next steps instead. She worked on her resume, and then started looking for jobs after she got her year-end bonus. Eventually she secured a job with a new company with a better pay and workplace conditions. She has since been working there for two years and is enjoying her job and her boss and co-workers.
How can you let go?
- Acknowledge your feelings. So things didn’t go the way you want. How do you feel? Sad? Angry? Disappointed? Write down your feelings — use my brain dumping exercise to release your emotions. Read: Increase Your Mental Clarity in Just 15 Minutes
- Understand why you are feeling this way. There’s a reason why you feel aggrieved. Why do you feel this way? What do you feel unjust about? Dig into the root issue: perhaps it’s because you feel disrespected, because the situation confronts one of your fears, or because it deals with something that matters a lot to you.
- Work on new paths forward. Since the conflict can’t be resolved to your satisfaction, what can you do moving forward? Identify new ways forward. For example with my friend, she couldn’t resolve the conflict with her boss and co-workers, and hence the next best step was to look for a new job — which worked out great for her. How can you stay on track in your own plan in life, despite the battle outcome not working out the way you want?
- Is It Possible To Let Go of Unhappy Past Forever?
- How to Stay Positive All the Time [Video]
- My 30-Day Character Building Program Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program
Are You Facing Any Battle Right Now?
Are you facing any battle right now? Should you fight or let it go? If you choose to fight it, how can you apply the tips above?
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