Your Life, Your Way, Your Choices

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Decision Making in democracy, overwhelmed by choice.

I have to make some tough decisions. Two job offers, other potential jobs, and at least one offer means a move, which means more choices and changes. I’m weighing salaries, versus writing time, versus friends and family proximity, and even the location of my favorite yoga studio. It’s a bit of a churning mess honestly.

What a concept – that so many of us on this planet, unprecedented numbers have choices about how we spend at least some of our money, how we spend at least some of our time, and even who we spend that time with it. In much of the world, these are still radical ideas and you might be severely punished for having a cup of sweet dark coffee with a person of the wrong gender.

In much of the democratic world we have these freedoms, these choices. And democracy is spreading around the world like honey on a peanut butter sandwich. In 1941, there were 11 democracies worldwide, and today 123 of 192 recognized countries are democracies with more sprouting month by month. People want to make choices, to have self-determined opportunities, and to have a say in how things are decided in their corner of the planet.

So we come to that first world angst; making choices.

For nearly all of us, we carry plenty of stress about choices. There is no definitive manual (though there are plenty of options to choose from on the shelves – ugh, more choices) to give guidance on minute by minute parenting choices for example, like ‘how much screen time’ and ‘will my 5 year old be harmed if I let him wear his tutu to kindergarten or if I don’t’ or even ‘organic or non-organic’. Some people naturally find it easier to make choices and simply use the Richard Carlson’s method of ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’.

Some of us, do sweat over, replay, reconsider, mull over, and even become self-critical or absolutely stuck, with the choices of daily life.

Which shoes to buy, which phone plan, red wine or white? And when it comes to the larger choices of changing jobs, choosing education majors, selecting mates or hair styles, the pressure cooker starts to warm up.

If choice making were on a continuum, where would you stand on the line, the very sweaty having a meltdown end or with the cool and calculated 1-2% of sociopaths? Thankfully, most of us live somewhere in the middle, bumbling through life semi-decisively, and ‘gosh, is it getting warm in here, or is that just me’ at times. 

I favor list making and journaling. Get it all down on paper, a list of what needs to be done, what the options are. And then in meandering journaling explore how it all feels, what are the potential repercussions, the imaginary benefits, and maybe something new emerges.

If possible, top this off with a good chat with someone who is better at listening than advice giving. Have a thought about who this might be: counsellor, friend, or maybe a family member. Also, consider who would not be good to discuss this with – who is likely to be scornful, or opinionated, or long winded? Hopefully, that still leaves someone to talk with! Strangers can sometimes be the best listeners, but a bit hit and miss chatting in the bleachers or to your seatmate on an overseas flight. And you might not want to be THAT person. The where-is-the-exit-inducing seatmate oversharing on the longhaul flight to hell.

I’m curious, what does research tell us about making choices?

Internationally respected neuroscientist, and author of Descartes Error, Dr. Antonio Damasio advises that along with rational choice, we need to include emotion and gut feeling in decision making. Or we risk making poor choices, or chronic dithering, unable to take action.

Dr. Adam Grant, author of bestseller Give and Take, counter-intuitively suggests that small choices with few variables be made using logic, weighing up the costs and benefits. Weighty and complex problems need to be handled by intuition, our gut feeling. He writes ‘when you ask the prefrontal cortex to make (complex) decisions, it makes consistent mistakes…It might sound ridiculous, but it makes scientific sense: Think less about those items that you care a lot about. Don’t be afraid to let your emotions choose.’

Still stuck? I often ask my clients (and myself) this million dollar question, ‘What advice would you give to a friend?’ It’s a simple strategy that moves me one step distant from the problem, and frees me to consider the issues in a loving and rational way.

OK. Decision made. Big move on my horizon, and more writing time. Whew, I thought I’d be done with decisions for a while. Now, I’m inundated with further decisions. Which moving company? Keep it or donate? Box or bin?

First world decisions. Grateful to have them.

Some Useful Links (Adam Grant on collaborative, compassionate leadership and decisions)     (Antonio Damasio, big thinker, author of Descartes’ Error, Emotion and the Human Brain and The Strange Order of Things) (Psychotherapist and author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and it’s all small stuff) (my news on democracy from a children’s education news provider J)  (article by Emily Holland on values-based decision making)  (a cool poem a day in your inbox service)

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