Cornell University research suggests, and most experts agree, adults make an average of 35,000 decisions every day. However, especially in our professions, we try to make our decisions rationally, equating rational decisions to empowered decisions. However, that portion of our brain only represents 10% of our thought processes. It gets fatigued trying to keep up throughout a decision-filled day.
The other 90% of our decision process is subconscious, emotional and non-linear. When the part of our brain that controls our subconscious is damaged, even simple choices become impossible, such as what to eat – although the conscious mind may be functioning perfectly. Although we try to make mostly rational decisions, we actually make up our mind 10 seconds before we are conscious of our choice. So, our attempt to be rational about our decisions is denial of the full process.
When we understand what science is now teaching us our decisions, we can make effective shifts for making more empowered decisions faster, and easier. In fact, individuals who have been taught how to leverage their non-linear, intuitive mind, are more productive, fulfilled, have better relationships, and feel more successful. Here’s what that looks like:
Mindset Shift #1: Get Curious
Asking yourself powerful questions can transform the decision process. Simple questions such as…
What do I want to happen here?
How does success look in this situation?
…are true game-changers.
Successful, satisfying decisions almost always originate from an internal (not external) desire. When we know what we actually want, we are more vested in the outcome. When we spend a great deal of time checking with others for their opinion of what we ought to do, or elect to take an action because we feel we “should,” we experience less motivation to succeed. Certainly leaders who understand the impact of their decisions are well served to inquire what others who are affected by it would like to happen, but ultimately, the decision is guided from within.
When we know what we want, and why we want that outcome, it amplifies our passion, motivation and commitment. It also frees us up from enslavement to our external circumstances. Therefore, if you are considering starting a business, ask yourself what you want the result to be, and why you want that. Those answers will be your constant, no matter what’s going on in the economy or with the competition.
Mindset Shift #2: Check Your Assumptions
We all have hidden biases. They are beliefs we have about what will happen and why. These actually help us make mental shortcuts in our decision processes. For example, we may have bias that we should be married by a certain age. This moves selecting a partner up in our focus as we approach that age. Alternately, we might watch a lot about burglary on the news, and therefore are biased to constantly monitor anything that puts us at risk. There is nothing about biases that is definitively good or bad, unless they are causing us, or someone else, harm. The important thing to note about biases is that they are at work in our decision process, and the more we can raise our awareness about them, the more options present themselves in every decision.
By their nature, biases – or hidden assumptions – are difficult for us to see until they become a real problem, causing us pain. When we find ourselves stuck in a decision, or repeatedly making decisions that seem to restrict us instead of empowering us, then a bias is likely at work. A coach can help us uncover hidden biases and free us up to make more effective decisions.
Mindset Shift #3: Feel Your Way
Given our cultural emphasis on analytical decision-making, a majority of people have a difficult time attributing an emotion to their decisions. However, the less emotion we have around a choice, the less our body releases the feel-good chemical, dopamine, that reinforces it was a good choice, and the more we become trapped in analysis paralysis.
Actually checking in with yourself first about how an action makes you feel is a healthy practice. Of course, some decisions can seem impossible if all decisions seem to lead to loss, however, returning to the original inner wants can help prioritize which option is preferable. If you are at a loss for the right words, here’s a list of emotion words and their level of intensity, courtesy of PositivePsychology.com:
Mindset Shift #4: Measure Against Your Values
Measuring decisions against your core values is one of the most powerful decision tools. It is also greatly underutilized. First, it is important to know what your personal values are. They are wildly different from person to person. To do that work, I have created a Values Worksheet, so you can get clear, and see whether you are in alignment with them.
Once you know your values, it becomes relatively simple (with practice) to measure decisions against them. For instance, if you value respect, and face a decision where it appears you must disrespect yourself or another person, then you will be challenged to find another option, which is in alignment with respecting both. This will keep you in integrity with your true self, and what is most important to you, whatever decision you choose.
Mindset Shift #5: Befriend Your Fear
The bigger the decision, the more fear we are likely to have about it. In fact, it is often our fears that make the decision feel larger. This is where we tend to get stuck, for fear we might cause ourselves or others a lot of pain. We don’t want to risk losing what we have, or not getting something we want.
The great news is we take countless risks every day. Getting behind the wheel of a car is a risk. And, as our current pandemic and economic landscape demonstrate, however effectively we might plan our decisions, life can, and often will, intervene in ways we could never predict. That’s great news because it takes off the pressure on us to be perfect – or even right – about every decision.
When we recognize what we are most afraid of, inevitably we also recognize the places where we have the most opportunity to grow. When we can name our fears, they typically lose most of their power. Our fears are rarely born out fully, and if they are, most of us are adaptable and resilient out of necessity – in ways we never imagined possible.
Mindset Shift #6: Notice Your Decision Style
We all have a primary approach out of six universal decision styles. See which one is most familiar to you. All of them are neutral, but when you know your tendencies, you can balance them out for better results:
Avoidance/Deflection – Delay or inability to decide avoids responsibility for making a choice, and is often a response to overwhelm
Balancing – Considering as many sides of an issue as possible, and weighing them together
Compliance – Choosing the most universally pleasing and popular option for those who are affected
Delegating – Turning decision over to others, either through trust, or some perceived limiting circumstance
Impulsiveness – Choosing the first apparently viable option presented in an expedited manner
Prioritizing & Reflecting – Focusing energy and time on decisions that appear most important first, consulting with others and assessing internal motivators. Can lead to analysis paralysis.
Mindset Shift #7: Focus on Solution
When we are faced with a big decision it is tempting to focus on the problem first. For instance, if financial resources are limited, we tend to focus on the smallness of our current resources, how to cut costs, and what it would take to survive. Our language reflects this focus, with phrases such as: “We just don’t have enough income.” Or “Where are we going to find the resources to make it through this rough patch.”
These seem like realistic and proactive statements. However, as is attributed to Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve the problem from the same level of thinking that created it.” That means, even if we didn’t create the circumstances, continuing to focus on them does little to dispel them. We must shift our focus altogether.
“We cannot solve the problem from the same level of thinking that created it.” ~ Albert Einstein
In the financial situation, we might say, “What would having ample resources look like? How might we begin generating those? What could we change right now to do that?” The focus is now on the future, with a firm awareness of what is.
Mindset Shift #8: Get Creative
Based on our biases, our track record in certain areas and our desires, we quickly tend to narrow our decision focus to a finite number of options. This perspective limits what’s possible by what we believe to be probable. One of the exercises I do with my clients is the Ten Options Exercise. When they are at an impasse on what choices are available to them, and they only see one or two, I encourage them to begin free-forming other possibilities, without pre-judging the viability.
As they free up their creative thinking and begin considering options that might well land them in jail, they begin to laugh at the absurdity – and then other ideas pop into their mind that actually might work. This freedom of choice without attachment empowers them to choose without feeling like a victim.
Another creativity exercise is simply solving riddles. There are no logical solutions to riddles without making the intuitive leap.
Mindset Shift #9: Monitor the Inner Dialog
There are two sources of inner dialog. One is our ego and the other is our intuition. Ego, the seat of our personality, is vested in protecting us from harm, and so it often speaks to us as an inner critic, judge, or parent. It puts up rules, guidelines and protective barriers, making it typically intense, and often anxious.
By contrast, the intuitive dialog is quiet, tends to speak through the body, signs, symbols, dreams, and sensations. Since this dialog in non-verbal, for the most part, and frequently subtle, we tend to dismiss it and mistrust it. However, as science has recently validated the real presence of intuition, and the higher likelihood of its accuracy over egoic dialog, we owe it to ourselves to practice paying attention.
I provide my clients with various exercises for strengthening intuition, but one of the easiest by far is to practice following it to the nearest parking space. Monitor how you feel led, and when you do find a space, where you obeyed and disobeyed the intuitive guidance. This low-consequence exercise begins to establish a channel for intuitive guidance to come through.
Mindset Shift #10: Be Willing to Learn/Adapt
Not every decision turns out the way we wish. Some cars are lemons, marriages end in divorce, homes foundation issues, flights get cancelled, businesses go bankrupt, and politicians create legislation we find personally and professionally devastating.
The common trait of great leaders is not that they made all the right decisions. Rather it is that they took the time with each decision that did not go as planned, exploring what they learned – about themselves and about the world – as a result. Then they put that new insight back into play for the next decision. It is true that when we have a series of positive outcomes from numerous decisions we are more empowered with future decisions. However, it is our trust in ourselves to learn and grow from each one that is the most empowering.