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How To Make Good Decisions All The Time

How To Make Good Decisions All The Time

Decisions can be really tough.

They can change the course of a career, of a life, forever. The thing is, when you’re faced with making a decision, you often only have a limited amount of information and a limited field of experience to draw upon. But the consequences of your decision are huge. They could potentially be really good…or really, really bad!

There’s no reference book where you can just look up the correct decision you need to make and discover what the best course of action is. There are hundreds of variables. Each variable must be weighed differently, and each one comes with a tangle of emotions and worries attached to it.

Making good decisions is one of the hardest but most important things we do as human beings. In fact, anything that happens down the line can be seen as a direct consequence of earlier decisions. Learning to make good ones and having an effective methodology is vital.

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The reason that decisions can be so tricky is because we get caught up in trying to make an evaluation by thinking about it, but all the while each thought is a tangled mess of emotion as well.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

How to Make Better Decisions: Take Out The Trash

Remember the old wire scourer your mother used to use to scrub the pans after cooking a roast? Perhaps you recall how tangled the wire of that scourer would become after a few uses. Then you probably remember how difficult it was to wash it out as well. No matter how much you rinsed it you could still find pieces of debris and grease trapped in amongst the layers of wire. This is exactly how it is with your thoughts and feelings when you are trying to make a decision. Your thoughts are like the wire, and the emotions are like the discarded food that gets caught up in the wires. As you start eliminating the mind trash and dropping the thoughts around the issue, everything gets untangled.

Imagine the wires are akin to your thoughts. Taking out just one wire at a time reduces the messy knot of wires. Bit by bit it becomes easier and easier to take out individual wires, and the corresponding emotions or sensations that go along with them.

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Once you’ve reduced the mass of wire and debris, your thinking becomes much clearer. You start to see the forest and the trees.

You gain a balanced perspective and we find that instead of running the same thought patterns and worries again and again, the anxieties give way to more creative ideas about how you can tackle the problem and give yourself better alternatives than the options you originally thought you had. All this is a result of pulling out the individual thoughts, and allowing your mind to get really quiet. It means dropping the thinking and letting go of trying to hold every consideration in mind.
“The key to good decision making is being able to drop the thoughts that are keeping your brain so busy.” ReTweet This

How To Drop The Mind Trash

In the beginning this is easier said than done. In fact, if you’re reading this and thinking, “How on earth do I just drop thoughts, I can’t help what I’m thinking!”, then that’s OK. There is a process that can help you…

  1. Let’s imagine you have a decision to make. It could be important, it could be charged with emotion, or it could be really simple and you’ve pretty much already decided which way you’re going to go. Pick something to use as an example as you read this.
  2. Now, as you think of that decision, you probably have lots of thoughts around each possible course of action. Let’s assume for simplicity that there are two possible things you could do. You may want to jot these two options down on a piece of paper.
  3. For each option there are going to be advantages and disadvantages. So beneath those two options, start two columns labeled positive and negative.
  4. Now empty out every thought you have around each of those points – paying attention to, and allocating to a column, every single thought that comes up. If you have a thought that doesn’t easily fit into one of the four columns, then you can jot this down elsewhere on the piece of paper.
  5. Now go through each column, completely emptying out every thought you can possibly come up with. Once you’ve got them out of your head and on to paper, you are then free to make a decision without trying to hold everything in mind.

Advanced:

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If this is resonating with you, you can take this one step further. For each thought you put onto the page, see if you can pay attention to any sensation you get in your body and then observe it until it leaves. You’ll be surprised at how suddenly you can’t even remember what that original thought was!

Don’t worry: you won’t forget anything that it is important to remember. Your brain will allow you to let go of the thoughts, live in the moment and still function effectively without having to hold everything in your mind the whole time.

Once you get to this stage, you’ll be completely free of the mind trash and the emotional charge around your decision. You’ll be able to make a decision from a place of balance and complete freedom.

How To Test Drive Your New Skills

You’ve got the method. Now to test it out and make it second nature before you need to use it on something that puts you into a tailspin.

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It’s like learning to drive. If you know how to pull out of a skid during a test drive, then when the time comes that you need to do it for real, you don’t have to remember the mechanics of it, you just do it.

It’s the same thing with this letting-go technique. If you practice it and get used to it, you will find it all the more powerful when you have a real situation where it will be helpful.

So over to you now: pick a decision, even if it’s not that big a deal right now, even if you think you’ve got it under control for the time being, and test the method out. Remember: write down each option, draw up your positive and negative columns, start filling them out and then feel the sensation associated with each thought until it leaves.

Leave me a comment and share what decision you’re going to test it out on!

And as always – I’m here to help if you need clarification, or if you get stuck…

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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