Making Better Decisions

As a kid in the 80’s, I loved reading “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, with such captivating titles as “Inside UFO 54-40” and “The Lost Jewels of Nabooti.” As most readers of the series, I always wanted to flip ahead and see what my fate was: would I end up dead if I took a wrong turn, or would I have successfully navigated another adventure and rewarded?

I soon came to see life as a kind of a real-world representation of those books, in that there are myriad choices to make in life, and each decision would take me through a new “portal” and land me in a completely different place in my life. One decision led to another, and another, and soon, my life would be born from a series of interconnected decisions. Would I choose the right adventure for myself? Would I choose poorly, and live in regret for the decisions I made – or didn’t make?

Poor Decision Making Out of Fear

Fear is a powerful negative motivator for decision making. It could be the number one disruptor of making healthy decisions for the  clients I talk with. If you let fear guide your decision making, it’s going to have potentially severe results for your life, and possibly those you love. Dealing with the fear, however, ensures that you make better decisions for you and your life.

Fear can lay dormant until the need for a decision comes up, and then it can grab you – like an giant octopus from the depths of your unconscious – and seize you from being able to push forward and make the right decisions for you. It can make you make other, less wise decisions, ones that create other poor decisions – and then you’ve created a whole new “portal” for yourself that can seem impossible to get out of.

Fear of success, or fear of failure, are two ways that fear can manifest in your making better decisions. Too often, men are just too afraid to make major life decisions that might be best for themselves, such as the decision to marry, or to divorce, to be alone, to jump ship and change careers, to make new friends, to take life risks in general or to do something different. Sometimes, comfort and security are better alternatives than taking the risk to do something different, because the potential consequences (real or imagined) become the fear that hold you back.

Once you face the fear head on, and work through it, you start to allow the right decisions to organically sprout and grow for you without hindrance. Dealing with fear doesn’t mean simply “pushing through it,” as our culture has so many times told people to do. Dealing with fear isn’t like going to the gym and blasting past our resistance to moving; rather, it means journeying through the fear with curiosity, and befriending it in a way that we can assimilate it and have it work for us. It means dealing with the emotional hold it has on you. Just pushing it into the corner and making behavioral “changes” isn’t enough – the fear is still there lurking, and will reappear with future decisions to come.

Not Deciding Is Actually Deciding

The act of forgoing a decision or not dealing with it is – surprise! – a decision you’re still making. If you’re prone to avoidance, or not dealing with hard choices, the decisions usually get made for you anyways. Job possibilities get closed, people act for you, and situations change while you’re still contemplating making the right decision. Life basically makes the decision while you’re stuck in indecision and apprehension.

I find that going with one’s gut instinct is often the right way to go – if you can listen to your gut. Sometimes, the mind actually disrupts clear decision making, and in this mental apprehension and confusion, either poor decisions get made, or no decision gets made (not deciding). Pro-and-con lists sometimes work, but don’t always represent what one truly wants to do – what they’re heart is telling them about making a hard decision. But, there are times where your gut may need some fine tuning, and your instinct has led you to make poor decisions. Your gut would need “new education,” and often times, counseling or therapy can help change around those instinctual messages.

Are You Deciding for Others, or for Yourself?

If your decision making ability rests on passing it through other’s beliefs or expectations of you, your final decision is going to come out compromised. If you care too much about what others think, and they’re not relevant to your decision making, it’s going to leave you with less-than-satisfactory decisions for yourself. You then disempower yourself, and give the power to others who become in control of your decision making. You live life for others, and when you do that, you’re not living it for yourself. You may be people pleasing if you continually make decisions that are in the best interest of others, and not in your best interest.

Our families of origin have indoctrinated us to many ideas about the decisions we make, and we often act on those ideas we’ve learned, from how to take care of ourselves (or not), who to vote for, what kind of parents we become, which careers we choose and how our lifestyles are often dictated. Often times, those ideas become part of our personality, so we don’t challenge those beliefs, because we’ve “always thought this way,” or have only ever known to do things the way we’ve done things. Challenging your family of origin beliefs is important, because the way you might do things may be different from how you were told to do things.

Knowing Your Values

Decisions rest on values, and knowing your values -what will ultimately guide your decisions – is crucial to making the best ones for you. I got to thinking about values, and it led me to this massive list by Steve Pavlina. I wrote down the 20 or 30 values that resonate most with me, and then I boiled those down to the top 5 or 6.

If your decisions rest of your values, you’re going to ensure that the decisions you’re making are the right ones for you, even if they don’t match conventional wisdom or what anyone else is doing or saying about your decision making. They’re going to be good, solid decisions because they’re good for you.

Tough decisions require tough decision making skills. There are many factors involved, and having the right framework to make decisions is critical, because decisions build on top of themselves and end up molding your life – either in ways you expect, or ways you don’t. Challenge the way you make decisions if you’re partial to making poor ones for yourself, because you just might start recreating a better life for yourself.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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