I have just been asked to move half way around the world to follow my ‘boyfriend’ and his new job. It’s a decision like any other, but in my head, it’s a biggie.
The complex machines we call human brains/beings are in a constant state of decision-making. And there are as many ways of making a decision as there are people who make them. Do we make a list, consult someone, follow our gut? Is a rational decision better than an emotional one (or is it even possible)? What are the histories we may not even be aware of that are working behind the scenes of our option picking?
This choice has given me an opportunity to look at how the mind processes information and emotions to come to a final call when asked.
Different Strokes for Different Folk
I’ve discovered in the decision making process, there are many different approaches. Some make decisions after going through a stringent series of information gathering forays – research, trials etc. Others go to their circles of personal experts or friends, and responds to what they feel is most appropriate. Others are inspired by the moment and feeling, immediately honing in on something or anything for the decision-making stress to be over, while some can wait, and wait until a decision is often made for them, by others or by a last-minute, what’s left elimination of options.
What’s your style and does it change from category to category or from situation to situation, or is it consistent throughout? There are many ways we learn to deal with decisions – often contributed by those who were making decisions for us in our past, and their views on the decision-making course of action.
Why would we even want to know what style we take in making a decision? Because sometimes we chose wisely and sometimes we don’t, sometimes decision-making works for us, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Are there historic implications to making a bad decision? Sometimes when a decision, even a minor one, made in our childhood is seen as a very bad decision, one that is talked about or used as a warning; it can make every decision seem of very great consequence. Were decisions made quickly, in the past, resulted in negative outcomes? Then more of a wait and see attitude might be your tendency.
By understanding the influences that may be affecting us, it’s easier to see what may be clouding our process for choice, even excluding the choices that need to be decided on.
En“Gage” your Emotional Decision Making
Many people have the idea that a “Spock-like”, completely rational approach to making decisions is usually the best. In history, however, this has been proven false.
During the building of the railway in the USA, a worker, Phineis Gage, experienced a work accident where a steel bar penetrated part of his brain. After this happened, he became increasingly unstable in his daily life, and found it almost impossible to make very simple and straightforward decisions. As it turns out, the accident wrecked a part of the brain where emotions were stored. Which may indicate that a combination of rational contribution and emotional feedback may both be essential in making decisions.
Our ‘gut’ reaction, is not just an over-the-top affected input, but a subconsciously-processed response constructed out of information that may be running below our awareness. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink”, showed that card players working with a negatively-loaded deck showed physiological discomfort long before their rational minds realized that the game wasn’t to their advantage. So there’s something in our underlying system that can add fodder to the decision-making case.
How do we balance our head, heart and stomach in making a decision? I guess the easiest answer is – it depends.
What’s Really Important (now and in the future)
One interesting process that I use when making a decision included self-hypnosis. Once I am in a receptive state, I ‘walk’ into two futures – with one decision, or the other (if there are only two) – and I get a feel for the outcome of each. What may have been affected by the shift, how I feel about either of them, how it alters those around me. Of course I realize that these may be a restricted or completely false view of a time to come, but often when I take the time to really search into the future, I can find some important aspects that need to be considered (which I may not have highly ranked in making the decision), or a reaction to an outcome that makes the choice much simpler.
I aim to consider what I feel is important in my life, and sometimes I am correct that it will continue to be key in my future, yet at other times I realize that, down the road, my priorities are bound to change. Often taking time within will open you to greater insight into the clockworks of decision making that might be running for you without you even knowing it.
Would you rather be right or happy?
There’s a book, “A Course in Miracles” that asks this question. When looking at the list of pros and cons, there may be a plethora of items on one side and only one on the other… yet how do they weigh in? When looking at our work life, our network, our community responsibility, our home, our friends, our intimate relationships… some are ‘heavier’ than others. Is there a right answer to the directions of our lives in foresight or are we just making the best choices we can, based on the information we have at the time. Often people come to me with regrets from the past or mistakes in their history that they want to move past, and the first thing each one needs is a compassion and understanding that we weren’t working with 20/20 hindsight, that we probably learned a lot from the ‘wrong’ choices, that we might have chosen differently if we could do it all again, but we (for the most part) can’t, so we need to move on making the best decisions we can – wiser but unaffected by our choices in the past.
Is there a decision you’d love a ‘redo’ on? Take a moment and look on yourself as though you were a child learning things – give yourself love, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. You may still not like the situation that transpired, but you’re giving yourself a gift of more energy to participate in the decisions of your ‘now’.
The choice is yours…
Full disclosure: When asked whether I would go with him or not, my “wow, yeah, sure” happened within a span of two minutes. We’ll see… As Theodore Roosevelt is quoted, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, the worst thing you can do is nothing.”