A few weeks ago I put myself in a situation in which I made a decision that was not aligned with my authentic self. It went totally against how I try to conduct myself on a daily basis, my morals, virtues, and beliefs. I let myself become influenced by outside sources, my environment, and proceeded to CHOOSE to behave in a manner that I feel was not a representation of the person I am or want to be.
I realize that this was a choice I made and I only have myself to blame. The choice was not necessarily good or bad it simply was a choice that does not represent me. I pride myself in always making the right decision but somehow, this time I slipped up. It really got me thinking…
Why exactly did I make this decision? What did I do exactly to ignore my true self and act in a manner that I know would disappoint me?
HOW DO WE MAKE DECISIONS?
It’s said that the average person makes up to 217 food related choices alone each day. YIKES! Add on top of that all of the other choices you have to make related to family, work, and relationships you may be talking about thousands of choices to process every day. It’s probably conceivable to think that you might be making decisions at every moment of the day.
Some of these decisions probably don’t even feel like decisions anymore and are more like habits.
- Getting out of bed
- Tying your shoes
- Driving to work
- Brushing your teeth
These are considered those unconscious decisions. The ones that are easiest on us because they do not require much effort or thinking. I mean, when was the last time you thought about whether or not you should tie your shoes right? It probably didn’t cause you to have an anxiety attack.
However, there are also those BIG decisions. You know, the ones that do cause you to have a panic attack.
- What should I do with my life
- What career path should I follow
- Should I hold on to this relationship or not
- Should I go to school
- Should I take this big trip
- Do I quite my job
- Should I get married
- Should I have kids
According to Barry Schwartz when making a decision it should go something like this.
- Determine your goal
- What is the perceived value of achieving that goal
- What are your options for achieving that goal
- What is the likelihood of each option for achieving that goal
- Choose the option that is most likely going to produce the outcome that you want
- After the outcome, analyze and make necessary adjustments for future decisions and outcomes that you want.
Seems easy enough right? So then why do so many f*ck it up?… Including myself.
HOW DECISION MAKING GETS ALL MESSED UP
The reason that simple process in decision-making gets all fouled up and the proverbial sh*t hits the fan (or decisions hit the fan in this case) is typically due to one of a few reasons.
1. Feelings, biases, peers, emotions, and memories get in the way and cloud our instincts. For the majority, if most of us did more acting and less reacting then bad decisions would be severely limited. Most of us already know what we should be doing. You probably know what foods you should and should not be eating, that you need to exercise, that you shouldn’t cheat on your wife or husband, that it’s not appropriate to hit your kids, and that you shouldn’t steal or lie.
Instead of letting our natural instincts take over that would allow us to make the decisions we know we should be making our judgement is clouded, we panic, and screw it all up.
2. The paradox of possibilities and missed opportunities. When we make one decisions it can feel like the door on other opportunities is closing. For example, marriage. Choosing a career field or what to major in while at college are other examples. The decisions seem to be final and definitive, that once you choose one path all others are closed off and no longer an option.
What makes it worse is that the possibilities and potential with one decision like getting married are extremely wonderful. You could choose a certain partner or career path and be happy beyond your wildest imagination. So on one end of the spectrum you are enticed by the ability for all your dreams to come true and yet at the other end you are scared off by the worst case scenario’s of choosing the wrong partner or a line of work that makes you miserable and leads to nowhere.
We become afraid of regret. Because you decide to choose one thing, you can longer choose or have another and that’s scary. You’re afraid you’ll regret that decision forever and possibly end up never making a decision and thus, end up missing out on both possibilities.
3. Often one decision is made for one thing when you really are making it for another. For example you may say you want to earn more money because you think it will give you the time and resources to do the things you really want to do. In actuality you may really want more freedom and autonomy to do those things.
Another example might be with fat loss. You might have a goal of losing weight or getting to a certain body fat percentage but in reality it’s what you think comes with accomplishing that goal, more confidence for example.
4. To many choices. I was at BevMo the other day with a friend. She had recently turned 21 and was excited to use her I.D. for the first time. The goal was to be in and out with a bottle of red wine in a few short minutes. Well, if you’ve ever been in BevMo before than you know there are thousands of bottles of red wine to choose from. Red wines from Spain, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and a host of other places.
Together we picked up bottle after bottle, analyzing which label was the coolest, our experiences with reds from each country, cost, and a host of other things. Long story short, we left about an hour later and she chose a bottle of Seagram’s 7. To many choices available leads to no choice at all or in this case something familiar and the complete opposite of our intention.
I’m sure you’ve probably done this before at a restaurant. You walk in thinking you want a steak and potato. You soon realize there are eight different steak and potato options you can choose from, then there’s how do you want it cooked, and what type of sauce do you want for your steak…. you end up getting soup and salad 😀
5. I have to be right. The belief that every decision you make has to be the right decision can be paralyzing. I’ve been guilty of this on quite a few occasions. This is the all-or-nothing thought. I am 100% committed to my diet and one single M&M ruins the entire thing. If I eat that M&M I might as well give up and start all over again (say it with me, loud and proud) on MONDAY!
Everything is black and white, right or wrong, good versus bad, fight or flight, pretty or ugly, you get me right. There is no in between. It either is or isn’t.
No wonder you never make a decision or make the wrong one. Everything is life or death, anxiety is higher than Snoop Dogg back in his LBC days.
6. First things first. I’d like you to close your eyes for a minute (actually don’t do that, than you wouldn’t be able to read the rest of this. Just keep reading).
Visualize yourself at work, the email notification goes off, that little red (1) pops up on your dash-board…. but you’re working hard on a project and need to meet a deadline. What do you do?
You’re in a conversation with your best friend, significant other, or helping your kids with their homework… your phone rings (scratch that, it’s 2013) your iPhone text alert goes off… what do you do?
You’re doing your homework, studying for a test, or reading a good book but you just posted a sweet status from your recent weekend adventures on Facebook, you’ve got to check if anyone has commented or liked it… what do you do? (PS: Totally guilty here.)
As humans we it is engrained in us to make decisions based on the latest and greatest. It’s not so much what is interesting, important, or factual anymore. It’s about what’s new, shiny, and right now. This is one reason so many of us exercise hop from one routine to another and never give anything a fair shake. Same goes with a nutritional approach, or even relationships. There is always something new that’s working or greener on the other side.
“What have you done for me lately syndrome.” I forget where I heard this (I think from Barry Schwartz again) but “urgent gets chosen over important.”
THE SCIENCE OF DECISION MAKING
Behind our foreheads is a region known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (lets call it the DPC). It helps to control our decisions and emotions… I bet that you can already see this being a bad situation. The more information, the more emotion, fear, peer pressure, options, belief that every decision is final, has to be right, or confusion in what it is you really want the least likely you are to make a decision or screw it up. This is when mistakes happen.
According to Angelika Dimoka, of Neural Decision Making at Temple University, the DPC gets bombarded, too much info is trying to be processed, the DPC says F*ck it, I’m out and that’s when anxiety, depression, emotions out of whack, and stupid mistakes occur. The brain adjusts by looking towards habits or another way it can make a decision with the least amount of effort. This is one reason dieting for many is so hard. When you get stressed out or feel like to much is going on and on top of that have to think about what to eat when you get home you just resort to the easiest option possible.
This is all made so much worse now because there are so many ways to consume, process information, get opinions, and to be influence. You’ve got Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, television with a million channels, the radio, Netflix, and god only knows what other ways to consume.
HOW TO MAKE BETTER DECISIONS
I’m not going to pretend that I make the right decisions all the time. As I admitted at the top of this post I recently committed a blunder. But that is exactly what motivated me to research and learn about why and how we make decisions.
I could not have possible covered it all in this post but I am hoping you have found some value in it. If you would like more info or resources give me a shout and I’ll point you in the right direction.
Now what with this post be without some strategies for coping with bad decisions (note: I hate calling it that. It’s not necessarily a good, bad, right, or wrong decisions. It’s just a choice.)
- Admit it and own it. Simply stated, recognize the choice that was made.
- Don’t try to justify, minimalize, or rationalize it. I caught myself doing this. Because of this, because of that, this person did this, I was influenced by… you get me. Stop it. You, me, and the neighbor made a choice. Simple as that.
Watch our for trying to convince yourself that it’s not that bad, or I deserve this because…
- It’s a choice. It bares repeating because it’s so important. It’s a choice you made. You either could have chosen to or not to.
- Ask yourself why you made the choice. I covered habits and willpower and those posts definitely come into play here. We’re human so we do get influenced and revert to habits subconsciously. What triggered the choice? Did you eat that chocolate chip cookie in the break room because you were bored, tired, just needed a break from work? Or maybe you’re always around certain people when specific decisions are made.
In order to figure out your queue, routine, and reward system I suggest picking up a notebook and writing the following things down with regards to a habit you are trying to change.
- Location/where specifically you are
- The time of day.
- Emotions, thoughts, feelings
- People around you
- The preceding action after you partake in the routine
Taking notice of these five things will easily help you to identify cues, routines, and rewards.
- Don’t beat yourself up but don’t brush it off either. There’s no sense in punishing yourself harshly for making a bad decision but make sure not to simply brush it off either. Be solutions focused See below…
- Plan for next time. How can you be ready if this situations pops its head up again or a similar situation presents itself. What steps can you take to be ready? Plan and prepare. Remember that developing coping strategies is one of the traits associated with happiness.
- The best version of you. Picture the best version of yourself. The healthiest, happiest, wealthiest, and smartest version of you. What would that person do or have done? What decision would they have made?
- Pay attention to the warning signs. When your heart rate goes up, tightness in your jaw occurs, rapid breathing or a slight pain in your forehead occurs you can be sure you might be prone to making a bad decision. Become aware of these warning signs and learn to step back to breath.
- Leave others alone. Sometimes when we make bad decisions we might try to encourage others to do so as well. This can be done on purpose to try to validate the decision we have made or subconsciously. Leave them alone and let them make their own choices.
TO SIMPLY PUT IT
Every decision you make or will make provide you with the opportunity to grow, learn about yourself, and experience life. Not everyone will be a fan of the decisions you make… hell, you might not even be a fan of the decisions you make.
Each of us have a different prescription when it comes to our lives. Differences in opinion, goals, morals, and virtues. These things don’t necessarily validate a decision as right or wrong. They make them unique to the individual. A lot of people spend an awful to of time judging situations and coming to decisions of what is good or bad when none of us really know. For the most part most things are open to interpretation, subjective, and unique to the individual.
We’re easily distracted and our judgement is easily clouded and influenced. More often than not trust your intuition. You’ll find that most decisions you will have to make relate some how. Find familiarity in them and trust your gut. If you’re still uncertain ask. If your knowledge or experience is lacking ask a trusted resource for help.
In his Ted talk, Schwartz gives a great analogy.
If we’re given only one choice to make and we get it wrong than it’s the worlds faults for not providing us with any other options. But if we’re given multiple choices (which we are now) than it’s our own damn fault… no body to blame.
What decisions have you been struggling with lately?