Over the years, in the work I do, I meet people who are going through changes in their lives, which often require, sometimes simple and sometimes tough, decisions. Often the perception of the difficulty of a decision changes over time, once we gain more mental and emotional resources to handle them, which is a neat little ‘trick’ of the mind. Recently not only my clients but also close friends, family and myself are considering or making big changes and big decisions in aspects of life, including relationships, ‘home’, and business choices and changes.
While I often say “with change you have a choice – you can do what you’ve been doing, or you can do something else”, I realise that I wanted to look into the ‘deciding mind’ (usually the conscious mind) and its inextricable link to the deeper parts of mind.
No decision is still a decision
Sometimes I talk to people who have decided, in a relationship or work situation, not to rock the boat. Just float along and see what happens – not to make a decision on it just yet. I often mention that their inaction is also an ‘action’ – that in continuing in the way they have been may be a default but is still a choice. And I can understand that the compelling reason why this lack of choice is a choice taken by many people – ‘same old’ is a known entity. As Hamlet pondered about our fear of the unknown he mused that it “makes us rather bear those ills we have; Than fly to others that we know not of…” Familiar, even when not ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘working’ is still possibly a more comfortable option to the outcomes of other options. However, once people realize that they are still making a decision in spite of not making a decision, it often encourages people to become more active in the decision making process.
Decision is Opportunity
Every decision we make can be an opportunity to be thankful that we are literally surrounded with choices (even while some may be more desirable than others). A friend of mine is considering a possible change with his company. While the best, easiest option would be keep doing the same thing for the length of the next contract, he has also looked at the opportunities and benefits of the less ‘easy’ options – taking into account the perks of a new place, the impact on his family, the (welcome) challenge of one of the alternative options… Even unemployment, which many people may see as least desirable, has been taken into account to juice it for its possible opportunities; possibly a chance to start in another line of work and expand on untapped skills. While he’s aware of the financial and logistical setbacks or challenges of each position, his perspective on being able to handle all of the options has been fortified by his focus on the benefits and possibilities each option holds. When we send signals to the mind in this way, firstly our ‘fight/flight’ stress response doesn’t seem to kick in so we can feel better and think in broader terms rather than just survival. Secondly, we start creating a positive tally, rather than a negative tally – so that we build on strengths, opportunities and rejuvenation rather than focus on lack and what isn’t there. As people tend to draw to them what they focus on, the idea of expansion rather than contraction seems to be a better word to guide you through the current global environment.
Figure Ground Decisions
There is a Gestalt theory of Figure-ground which comes into the decision making process. Have you ever seen one of those ‘mind game’ pictures that has an old and a young woman in the same picture, or a rabbit or duck that can be seen depending on how you look at it? When we focus on one picture – such as the young woman, the other picture – the old woman – disappears, or becomes ‘ground’ – it’s not noticed. When we make decisions, or consider making decisions, there tends to be a lot of ‘ground’ that we don’t (or can’t – because it’s below consciousness) consider. Our history, the priorities and beliefs, the traditional/familial mindset all contribute to our processing of the focused decision at hand. This is sometimes why couples or families have some difficulties in making mutual decisions – it’s because their basis or viewing, or back-ground, is different. That’s why it’s sometimes a good idea to talk out an idea with someone you trust, while still understanding that they, too, are working with their own invisible ‘ground’ of experience. While they may be basing reactions to decisions on their own fears or biases, this different perspective may still give you an opportunity to switch focus and see a different perspective on your decision at hand.
What’s in Control?
When we make decisions, just as when we deal with any situation, it’s a good time to do a reality check on what’s within our control and what’s not. Often we worry about a decision someone else may make that we have no control over. That worry doesn’t actually help the person make the decision we prefer and also tends to put us in a pre-stress position that stops us from sleeping, focusing on the here and now, or finding joy in the current situation. It also affects the way we interact with that other person who may be making the decision, and while we may not be aware of the impact of our feelings on our actions and reactions, our worry and stress tends to show through – sometimes even tipping the decision away from our favour. Instead of spending time and energy on those things and people we can’t control, spending a bit of time figuring out and working on those areas we CAN control, not only tends to better the situation, but we are also inclined to see ourselves as more resilient and capable (it’s how the mind seems to work over and over again).
Decision Practice – Good, Bad and Ugly
I have another friend who was working on a move that might affect the company he owns in some, very major, ways. He was concerned about his staff, his family, even his peers in the industry (what they would think if he changed his direction or fails or mismanages his new focus). Some of the components of the change were in his control, some weren’t. When I met up with him he mentioned that he was much more comfortable with each of the possibilities even though he was no closer to knowing which path he would be taking into the future. When I asked what he had done differently, he mentioned that he had just run over the different possibilities in his mind, felt them through and did some adjustments in this ‘pretend’ world he had created. The mind loves to imagine, emote and get involved with mental options – and because the mind can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, then our imagining exercises are test-runs to reality. So, in fact, my friend had already lived through each of these options and had come out the other side with the experience of someone who’s already gone through it all – his comfort level was increased merely because, in his mind, each of the situations had already happened so none of them would be that much of an unexpected, or unwelcomed, surprise.
What about Making the Wrong Decision?
Have you ever made a ‘wrong’ decision in your life? Probably at some point in time, right? Besides life and death options gone wrong, we are all living proof that we’ve made it through all of our errors and gaffs. Donald Trump has been reported as saying something like ‘if you haven’t filed for bankruptcy, you haven’t tried hard enough’ – the big leaps often offer the greatest falls. The great thing is that if you’re reading this, you’re still going, growing and learning, so there’s an unknown quantity of opportunities for ‘right’ decisions now that you’ve learned what you’ve learned to this point. My latest favourite saying is “the best time to have planted a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today.” Whatever mistakes we’ve made, we can start in positively contributing to a better life for ourselves and the people we love from this moment on. So make a decision to start in creating your best life today.