Life is full of shortcuts. When you are at Master’s swim practice and the coach gives you a backstroke set, and someone is closing in on your heels, it’s easy to simply grab and pull the lane line underwater to give yourself a boost. It is also sometimes tempting to stop swimming at the end of your lane in the middle of a hard set — “just for a couple of laps” — while the people that are doing the full workout splash you with their flip turn.

“Lingering factors” may have also kept you on the pool deck before the workout for “just a few minutes longer,” cutting your training session even shorter. There will always be shortcuts you can take during your workout because you can too easily recalibrate your objective, and workouts are often self-defined. On my long run last week, I heard this obnoxious little voice inside my head say, “You should stop early, cut 20 minutes off the run and make it up tomorrow.” After consideration, I laughed and tried to remember a good song to get motivated.

There are shortcuts that cheat you and shortcuts that cheat others. There are also shortcuts that save time, money and energy. The goal is to know the difference. When someone uses the word cheating, I vividly remember two things — first, looking down at the typewriter keys in my high school typing class, and, second, a phone call I received in 1994.

I raced in the Windward Triathlon in Hawaii in 1994, and I left the island of Oahu one finisher’s place shy of a qualifying spot for the big show in Kona. I was in the top rankings, had raced so hard and was surprised to have missed a spot because I could see the race leader for much of the race. I landed on a United Airlines flight in San Diego Airport the next morning sore, discouraged and exhausted. Then, several days after the race, my mobile phone rang, and the voice of an angel from the Ironman organization let me know that the person in front of me had been disqualified, and that I was now invited to race in the big show in Kona.

Mr. Lickety Split perhaps stopped to tie his shoes and forgot which direction he was headed, or maybe it was the heat. In any case, the spotters at both out-and-back turnaround points never sighted his number, and when they approached him about his blistering pace in world-record-breaking time, he gave up his slot. Apparently, he took the wrong shortcut.

Shortcuts surround you — from the desktop of your computer, where you’ve likely created shortcuts, to financial shortcuts like the lottery. Anything we do can give us a shortcut to pleasure. You can take a shortcut to happiness via a big hunk of chocolate mud pie, or you can take the shortcut to forget about your challenges by pouring some high-class booze into your bloodstream. Or you can just take the shortcut to bed and get a solid night’s sleep.

They are your shortcuts. The race of life is often not a straight line, and the course is not always marked clearly. But if you look in your soul, there are indelible course markers pointing you in the right direction. Just as you honestly know when you are illegally drafting in a race, you also know when you are taking the wrong direction in life. To this day, I’m not sure if it’s legal to avoid a traffic light by cutting through a gas station, and everyone I ask always says yes (as long as they are in the passenger seat).

Life is full of shortcuts. Be sure you only choose the ones you know are right.

Mitch Thrower is a Financier, Entrepreneur, Author and 22x Ironman Triathlete. More…