We make decisions every day, throughout the day. In fact, we make so many decisions we often don’t even see them as decisions. Decisions we’ve made over and over eventually turn into habits. Although we often think of habits as bad, it’s important to see them as a set of decisions that simply don’t need much, if any, conscious thought to perform them. Brush our teeth. Put on our shoes. Eat breakfast or skip it. All of these mundane tasks are still choices, still decisions we make.
All too often, we make decisions based on faulty information, peer pressure, and impulsivity. In this article, I’d like to highlight some red-flag behaviors that increase our chances of feeling regret about our decisions. I’ll also offer some suggestions on how to avoid these red flags.
Red Flag: Decisions Based on Other People’s Wishes
Literally from birth, we find ourselves surrounded by other people and their wants, expectations, and fears. We come into this world already shadowed by built-up beliefs about how we should be, according to cultural and socioeconomic factors, parental expectations, our gender, and on and on. It’s no wonder we often feel pressured to be and do other than what resonates with our truth.
Because of the pressure to fit in and to please, we can find ourselves making decisions that don’t align with our highest good. From small decisions, like drinking at the party, to life-altering decisions, like getting married, our surroundings impact what we choose to pursue. When we make decisions from the fear of being judged and/or rejected, we doom ourselves to this people-pleasing brand of decision making.
So apart from moving to the woods and shunning society, how do we combat this monstrous impact on our decision making? We begin by reframing the nature of making decisions. At their core, decisions express our humanness. They express the gift of our free will. Although we are definitely animals, we are a unique form of animal with the option to move beyond our limitations.
Moving into a place where we make decisions based on our own wants and wishes requires us to know ourselves. Not possessing intimate knowledge of our core value system inevitably leads to a “follow the herd” mentality. This ultimately leads to frustration and resentment.
A simple exercise to acquaint yourself with your values is to simply ask the following questions about everything you choose. (Yes, everything.)
- What do I like about this?
- Does this thing support my growth?
- If no one were around to influence me, would I still want to do this?
These questions will be answered by your bodymind through other thoughts, images, and emotions. Listening to them will steer you straight.
Red Flag: Making Impulsive Decisions
Impulsive decision making often gets viewed as wrong or bad because impulsive behavior is seen as “emotional.” Once again, we have society’s misunderstandings about emotion dismissing the importance of emotion in our lives. We can view impulsive decision making from two angles.
We must learn to fully connect with our emotions. Feeling them fully without comment allows the energetic charge to run its course. After the intensity of the emotion subsides, calm, creative problem-solving can occur.
The first angle involves making a decision while feeling an intense emotion. When we are intensely feeling emotions, we don’t have access to our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain designed for effective problem solving. When we make decisions from an emotionally intense place, we basically tell ourselves whatever emotion we currently feel has complete sway over our wants and needs.
The second angle surprisingly encompasses the exact opposite—not feeling our emotions at all. When we suppress our true emotions, we cut off access to our self-appraisal regarding a particular situation. Put differently, we sever a relationship to our values. Being disconnected in this way leaves us vulnerable to making those impulsive decisions that don’t align with our growth and truth.
The solution to both of these predicaments involves the same process. We must learn to fully connect with our emotions. Feeling them fully without comment allows the energetic charge to run its course. After the intensity of the emotion subsides, calm, creative problem-solving can occur. We can learn to regulate our emotions through numerous ways. Dialectical behavior therapy works wonders here, as do mind-body exercises such as tai chi, qigong, yoga, and other breathwork practices.
Red Flag: Believing Our Mental Stories
I could write volumes about this issue alone. Most of us, most of the time, are thinking. That wouldn’t be so bad if our thoughts were grounded in reality. Sadly, our thoughts, especially intense and obsessive thinking, rarely are. We make bad decisions all the time simply because we believe something to be true that isn’t.
I call this habit “storytelling.” It’s a handy way of looking at our string of thoughts. Storytelling occurs as we “once upon a time” our lives, filling in loads of made-up information to fill in the gaps between aspects of reality we really don’t know or don’t have access to. Storytelling occurs most frequently in relation to the future. So many of us hate uncertainty. Rather than learning to accept the limits of our knowing, we tell stories in an attempt to self-soothe. Anxiety is usually the result.
Reality testing is a tried-and-true cognitive behavioral technique used in therapy to help us break away from acting upon our untrue but intensely believed thoughts. In reality testing, we ask the simple question, “How do I know this thought is true?” We are then tasked with the quest of seeking external proof that our thoughts accurately reflect reality. This involves behaving differently, taking risks, and assertively communicating our thoughts, needs, and desires to others.
Being mindful of the red flags mentioned above, as well as practicing the steps discussed, can lead to an increased sense of ease and confidence in your decision-making and problem-solving capabilities.
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