“Say yes to everything!” According to colorful motivational posters, a popular book, and even the hit movie Yes Man, this is best way to live life to its fullest. However, it’s more important to establish your moral compass — to know when to say “no.”

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

During our formative years, we have an inclination to explore our rapidly developing selves. The journey to adulthood (which I am currently stumbling through) is full of temptations that beckon to us. So enticed are we by the pleasurable effects of illegal substances, explicit sexual acts, and other “nefarious” deeds that our peers and the media boast about. Most of us do succumb to curiosity or social pressure, perhaps discovering an escape from pain, a euphoric haven, or simply something enjoyable.

In midst of your active experimentation, it is imperative to determine your moral compass beforehand and to stick to it. To do this, you should reflect on what your guiding principles are. Here are some questions you should consider asking yourself:

  • What do I want to experience?
  • What are the possible consequences this may entail?
  • What am I not willing to risk?
  • What am I comfortable/uncomfortable with?
  • When should I stop?

The answers to these questions are very personal — there isn’t a right or a wrong. While you can look to others for guidelines, your moral standards should very much be self-constructed.

The biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass.

-Barack Obama

Why is having a strong moral compass so important? Let me illustrate this point with a personal anecdote.

A Quick Fix

While currently studying abroad in Australia, I’ve been exposed to a fair share of “recreational activities” — like any cliché exchange student. Fortunately, I had time before my exchange to reflect and determine my personal limits. One thing I decided was that I wanted to stay substance free (unless you count alcohol and coffee.) I can’t deny that I sometimes was tempted to break this rule, especially when I was the only one in a social setting not under the influence, or when it would be a quick fix to my sadness or stress.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have suffered any serious consequences from trying drugs. However, I would have lost a sense of my moral compass. I drew this line, and I still allowed myself to cross it. Where would I stop then?

What’s right and wrong is a very much self-determined — as long as you are not harming anyone. However, it does take experience to know exactly what your morals are. Experimentation will allow you to get a sense of direction with what sort of actions feel right to you. Following my moral compass was challenging. But, it paid off because I realized that for me the temporary relief would have resulted in feelings of regret and confusion that frankly, weren’t worth it. As a result, I now have a strong confirmation of where my line is drawn. And — as a bonus, I now also have a reputation among my friends for having good self-control! (Pretty funny considering all of it escapes when I am in the presence of delicious food.)

Calibrate your moral compass. Follow it. Adjust it as you learn more about yourself. If you follow these steps, you will be less vulnerable to making a decision you may regret later.

Not even a single letter?

Originally published at medium.com