Carrie Classon
Carrie Classon

I was eating dinner with my friend, Andrew, at my sister’s house several years ago when my niece, Isabelle, was only three. She asked to be excused from the table (I have always been impressed by Isabelle’s table manners) and went to play in the living room, where we soon heard her having a conversation with her baby doll.

In a clear and reassuring voice Isabelle said, “You are not a bad baby; you just make bad choices.” Andrew laughed so hard, he started to choke.

I never did hear what the baby doll’s poor choices were. I imagine they were horrific: the kind of choices only a truly misguided baby doll might make.

Fortunately, Isabelle was there to set her straight, get her back on the straight and narrow, provide the kindly but firm correction needed to get her back to her best baby doll self.

We all need an Isabelle in our life from time to time, I’m guessing.

Once-in-a-lifetime choices can have profound and life-changing effects that are easy to see. If I hadn’t applied to that particular school, spent that summer in Alaska, written that letter, gone to that concert, struck up a conversation at that bus stop—life is filled with moments that changed my life forever. Everyone has them. Things were going one way and then, suddenly, they went a different way because of a choice we made—good or bad—a choice that forever altered the course of our lives.

But it now seems to me that, every bit as important as these life-altering, one-time choices are the choices I make again and again, the choices that no longer feel like choices because they have become habits.

There is the habit of gratitude, remembering how much I take for granted, how much I’ve been given, how good the people in my life have been, how many opportunities I have had, how much I have not had to endure that others have. Deciding each day to exercise, eating healthy, making my bed, flossing my teeth, keeping a tidy kitchen, having flowers on my desk, telling my husband I love him, drinking enough water, getting plenty of sleep—how boring all these choices are! And yet, so much of my life is happy and productive—not because of that crucial decision I made in 2007—but because I got enough sleep and made my bed.

Having a handful of good habits also makes tackling the bad habits easier.

“Why am I staying up till all hours, eating junk food and watching stupid videos?” I wonder, when everything else is humming along so well. I realize what isn’t working in my life a lot faster when I have other decisions—things as simple as putting fresh flowers on my desk—right in front of me.

“You see?” I say to my baby doll self, “You make a lot of good choices, maybe this isn’t one of them.” The flowers speak to my better baby doll. I go to bed.

Every day I struggle with other, more deeply entrenched habits: the desire to control the future, the tendency to dwell on that one thing I have not mastered (and likely never will), the habit of looking for problems where none exist. These are so much a part of my personality, I hesitate to call them habits—and yet I think they are.

That is when I remember Isabelle’s kind yet curiously stern three-year-old voice and believe I can change, can continue to make better choices. I am not a bad baby, after all.