Welcome to stren #93, the process of making decisions right. How much better could we make our lives if we removed the stress of making decisions? Today’s stren offers a way to do just that, along with additional important benefits. Think how many choices we are confronted with every day. Are you among the majority of persons who waste time and energy obsessing over making the right decision? Here is the simple solution:
Make your decision right instead of demanding that you make the right decision.
We have no difficulty deciding between a favorite food and garbage. Choices are easy when the benefits of one side clearly exceed the benefits of the alternative, but we hesitate when we have done our due diligence investigation and the benefits and risks of alternative choices are still equally balanced. This dilemma can lead to the common sense conclusion that there is no “right” and “wrong” alternative. We have the freedom to wisely deal with such uncertainty by focusing our energy to make our choice work. The more energy we can apply to the task, the greater the likelihood that we will make our choice successful. Instead, we are prone to procrastinate, glorify the benefits of the alternate choice, and waste our energy fantasizing that “the grass was greener on the other side.” We chastise ourselves and deflate our spirits, “Stupid me, I should have ....” The more energy we waste dwelling on the alternative and “what iffing” the less energy remains to make our choice successful. Even though working to make our choice right makes sense, we still tend to inappropriately obsess.
We act in accordance with the assumptions we hold to be true. When we believe we must choose “right” or “good” to avoid punishment, and that we must succeed to receive others’ approval and be worthy of love, we are motivated to avoid making decisions. We act on our self-deception until we become consciously aware that our false assumptions are the source of harmful behavior. Understanding the phenomena of universal cause and effect, i.e. knowledge, motivates us to replace faulty assumptions with newer ones that are supported more by personal knowledge than mindless authority. The more we make our self aware of our self-deception, the more likely we are to change the way we think and thereby wisely manage our feelings and actions. Consider these sources of self-deception to motivate you to upgrade your thinking with common sense wisdom.
Dealing with uncertainty: Our childhood is called the “magic years” because things just happen. We are provided with food and shelter and we are told what is “right” and what is “wrong.” We need not be concerned about making decisions because authorities, i.e. instinct and our nurturers have determined what is “right” and we only need to follow orders. We have been programmed that to do the right thing is rewarded by approval, love, and usually material benefits. If we do the wrong thing, we may be punished and even worse, considered unlovable. Time after time, we learn that our decisions get us into trouble when they differ from those in authority.
Our needs change as we mature. The clothes we wear as a child no longer “fit,” so we change our wardrobe as we grow. The need to upgrade is obvious with clothes, but less so with our early beliefs. We need to become aware of our self-deception before we can take action to selectively update our language to the new realities we face. Each revelation of the source of your self-deception will strengthen your skills in creating a joyous meaningful life.
Our world, once full of certainty, no longer provides the clear directions that a child’s mind can follow. Dealing with uncertainty is a specialized skill that must be acquired; otherwise the certain uncertainty in our lives becomes a major source of anxiety and inappropriate behavior. Conscious awareness of uncertainty is normal, and is the trigger to replacing our early faulty assumptions. We become effective managers of our life experience when we realize that difficult decisions are not “right” or “wrong.” They simply “are” and then we proceed to succeed by applying our energy to do our reasonable best with whatever choice we have made. We accept that we have limits on time, energy, and knowledge and have limited control of circumstances. We skillfully make our choices work. Using a “reasonable best” input measure (see strens 23-24) of our self-worth instead of an outcome measure enables us to maintain 100% per cent mastery of our well-being.
Two-category “dichotomous” thinking: The most common source of self-deception is rooted in the two-category way of thinking we all first learn. We all learn to divide the world into either/or categories because that is what an immature, unschooled mind can understand. Two-category thinking distorts the world into opposing sides that must be resolved by confrontation to establish superiority. We perceive choices only as good or bad, right or wrong. Naturally, we will feel compelled to seek the “good” and confront or avoid the “bad.” Education in a newer way of common sense thinking (ANWOT) that accurately perceives the positives and negatives of each alternative requires that we learn a series of mental skills over time. Then we rely on wisdom to make our choice and then make it right instead of demanding a sign of “rightness” before we can proceed.
“Red alert” biology: The hard-wiring of our instinct prior to our birth has been programmed over millions of years by trial-and-error to rapidly create a “red alert” response to any perceived danger. Our ancestor’s life in their savage environment was always subject to peril without warning. The emergency fight or flight response encoded in our genes was immensely successful in preserving our species. In today’s relatively civilized world, however, physical flight no longer works given today’s technology. Running and hiding is replaced by symbolically avoiding danger – we procrastinate, lie, deny, use drugs and substitute mental running. Today’s mental stress results in a sustained “pink alert” stage of emergency response leading to chronic tension and the many consequences of exaggerated muscle contraction and changes in our physiology. Teaching ourselves to maintain our “calm” is among the most beneficial skills we can add to our survival behaviors.
The Doomsday sentence – “My (our) way, the only way.”: This simple sentence that characterizes our early belief system is related to our early dichotomous way of thinking and our “red alert” biology. The animal portion of our brain guides our thinking until our cerebral cortex can become physically and mentally mature. It has the narrow-minded perspective that our family and tribe must survive at all costs. Our side counts; others are there to serve our wants. The power of knowledge has suddenly made this simple sentence, formerly required to survive, the source of our most imminent danger – our immense knowledge has led to weapons that cause unprecedented catastrophe, perhaps even annihilation, owned by multiple tribes who all believe their way is the only way.
Perfectionism: Our formative years are characterized by an inability to feed, protect, and think for ourselves. We learn early on that it is necessary to make the “right” decision – our very survival depends on mindlessly following the prescriptions of authority. Perfectionists learn this too well. They are likely the most miserable people in the world, because they consistently demand more of themselves than is reasonable. There can be no “right” decision or acceptable level of performance because the perfectionist’s imagination can always picture something better. No matter how excellent the outcome of a decision, or how tiny the shortcoming, the perfectionist focuses on the shortcoming, the hole in the donut, the empty part of the glass. We can understand why depression, self-flagellation, and even suicide are predictable if deciding and not deciding are equally unacceptable. The treatment of perfectionism is corruption while learning to laugh at mistakes! From my professional experience, I believe that it’s possible in most cases to soften the rigid standards of the perfectionist without overshooting the mark and leading to an abyss of degradation.
Self-endorsement and the Reasonable Best measure of self-worth: If you want to sharpen your skills in decision making and dealing with uncertainty, review the strens on self-endorsement. The Reasonable Best strens (#23-24) are especially relevant.
Until we teach ourselves to deal with uncertainty, we will sustain childhood beliefs based on authority, such as the Doomsday sentence that are no longer adaptive to us as mature adults. Established beliefs, no matter how unsupported by common sense wisdom, require skill in dealing with uncertainty before we can challenge and change them.