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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!

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

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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