Decision holds the key to massive impact, fulfilment and living a life of inspiration and purpose, yet it remains one of our least understood and most underused superpowers.
I’ve been experiencing a bit of the back-to-work-blues this week. I took about a month off in late December/early January and had a lovely, productive, family-oriented, spontaneous time. I got heaps done within my creative sphere (this blog, most of a book written and first draft complete, an online course created, an eBook published) AND we created some amazing moments together as a family.
It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you, then, that heading back to work – even though I love my job – was seeming a bit like the poor cousin to the life I had created and habitualised over that month.
Now I’ve got some pretty ambitious goals for this year – across all aspects of my life – and I know that I can only achieve them if I’m focused, productive, kind-to-myself, and organised… 40 hours of time at the office doing ‘other’ things just didn’t fit with that plan…
This week, I made a decision that changed everything…
What is a decision?
'The future is fluid. Each act, each decision, and each development creates new possibilities and eliminates others. The future is ours to direct.' ~ Jacque FrescoClick To Tweet
You make many decisions every day – many of which you are unaware of. Some are small and some are big. What to have for breakfast… which way to drive to work… Whether to wear the white one or the blue one…
As I have learned more about the brain, and how it works, I have come to the view that there are two primary types of decision:
- Conscious decisions – the sort where you knowingly think about the choice you have between two or more options; and
- Unconscious decisions – where you are not aware that a choice is available or required
Conscious decisions are pretty straightforward. I don’t mean that they are easy to make – they can be some of the most complicated decisions in your life… Like whether or not to see your home and move across the country to pursue a new career.
They are easier because you can knowingly analyse them. You can weigh up the costs and benefits, you can apply all sorts of fancy decision-making tools. You can invoke the assistance of trusted other people. You can research.
You can also use these tools to procrastinate and avoid making a decision… but remember that not-making a decision is itself a decision!
Unconscious decisions, on the other hand, are a lot more complicated. Because you aren’t aware of them, you cannot articulate them in your frontal cortex, and therefore you cannot analyse them or evaluate them using logical tools.
Unconscious decisions tend to stem from two main areas of your mind’s inner workings:
- Emotions; or
Unconscious Emotional Decisions
Emotions, particularly negative emotions like anger, fear and jealousy, tend to drive reactive responses without bringing the choice to act into our rational brains first. In other words, an entire step of the process between emotional response and reactive action is skipped, removing the opportunity for rationality and logic to ‘intervene’. It’s like the emotion high-jacks our brain and bypasses our judgment. These are the sorts of ‘decisions’ we tend to regret later.
Unconscious Belief-based Decisions
Beliefs might well be things that we can articulate in words in our logical brain, but the belief is so strong we don’t question it… so we don’t recognise there is a choice involved. We accept it as a fact.
If you were raised in a family where a strong work ethic was valued, and having a safe secure job was seen as the only way to provide for your family, chances are you aren’t going to actively engage in a decision between finding a job and creating a business.
'To change a habit, make a conscious decision, then act out the new behavior.' ~ Maxwell MaltzClick To Tweet
I think it’s important to quickly mention habits here. It would be tempting to think of habits as another type of unconscious decision. After all, something that is truly a habit is something you do without thinking about it. And anyone who has tried to give up smoking or nail-biting or any of a number of ‘mindless’ habits will attest that it is very hard to find the point at which you even become aware you are about to do the thing in question.
However, I would suggest that a habit is a conscious decision that you made so many times that it became an unconscious action, rather than a decision.
Why does it matter?
The goal, then, is to try and actively move your unconscious decisions into your conscious brain, so that you can apply the same tools and techniques to them as you do to your conscious decisions.
Your emotional brain bases its decisions on very primitive interpretations of the world. Dangerous predators around every corner… absolute dependence on a tribe of trusted people for survival… the consequences of this is that – without a logical intervention – we see change as a threat, embarrassment as life-threatening, and conflict as a life-or-death situation.
Usually, none of these things are true.
But basing our decisions on these prehistoric ‘truths’ can lead to some pretty unhelpful consequences in the modern world. Crimes of passion, avoidance of new opportunities, self-doubt, even mental health issues.
How can I make the unconscious, conscious?
Gain mastery of your emotions…
'Mindfulness helps us freeze the frame so that we can become aware of our sensations and experiences as they are, without the distorting coloration of socially conditioned responses or habitual reactions.' ~ Henepola GunaratanaClick To Tweet
By practicing meditation, you can become more mindful of the here and now. This moment.
Being more mindful enables you to become aware of your emotions as they emerge. It doesn’t make them go away, but it allows you to ‘see’ them. To witness them. And in so doing as you become aware of them in the conscious part of the brain, you also become aware that you can choose how to respond.
I’m not suggesting you can choose your emotions: I’m saying you can become aware of them (instead of ‘being’ them) and then decide how to react.
You are not your emotions.
Get to know your beliefs – especially the limiting ones
'Remember, we see the world not as it is but as we are. Most of us see through the eyes of our fears and our limiting beliefs and our false assumptions.' ~ Robin S. SharmaClick To Tweet
I’m not going to teach you how to identify and combat limiting beliefs here today – this article is long enough. Instead I’d suggest you read Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins or Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt.
Just be aware that you have some. These are things that made sense when you were younger, or in a different context, but now… not so much.
Limiting beliefs often stem from our parents or from a traumatic experience, where the stories we built around accepting the hand we’d been dealt inadvertently created a new barrier to future success.
Kids raised by parents who lived through the depression often encourage their own kids to eat everything on their plate, even if they aren’t hungry… fast forward to adult overeating and worrying about not having enough (food, money, love).
Kids raised by parents who didn’t have enough money often find that they believe that people with money aren’t happy – or worse, are evil and mean snobs. Cue forward to adults who unconsciously resist money to the extent they stop themselves doing things that will generate more wealth and financial freedom.
I think you get the point.
There’s also a great article on the Psychology Today website that tackles how to overcome limiting beliefs… check it out.
So what did you decide?
'Remember, a real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken new action. If there's no action, you haven't truly decided.' ~ Tony RobbinsClick To Tweet
So up until Thursday this week, I had been seeing my day-job as something that was getting in the way of pursuing these creative and family activities that I was deliberately and actively associating with the way I want my ideal life to be… The consequence was that I was unconsciously resisting being at work.
This made everything about being at work harder. Frustrations seemed bigger. Challenges seemed less surmountable. Tasks seemed longer and more onerous…
But then I had a breakthrough
What if, instead of seeing my job as an interruption to what I wanted to be doing, I chose to see my job as complementing and supporting what I want to be doing?
What if I started to see my employer as my biggest and highest value client?
What if I started to see my work as a testing ground for the skills and expertise I need to hone to be successful in these other facets of my life?
What if I could integrate my work life, my family life, and my intellectual/creative life as all being one life?
So I did.
I decided to.
And the resistance is gone.
I’m still crazy busy, the workload hasn’t changed, the challenges haven’t become smaller, the frustrations haven’t gone away…
But my attitude towards them and the energy and emotion I bring to the table has shifted radically.
I’m back in control of it – not all of it – but most of it. At least the bits that matter – like what’s going on inside my own head!
If you think you’re ready to make this kind of radical mindset shift, and would like to chat, please book in for a complementary consultation. I’d be honoured to help.
This is my 100th article!
Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Thanks for commenting. Thanks for connecting. Thanks for supporting me.
By the way, at about 1,000 words per article that’s 100,000 words… I could write a book!