Author: Joe Still
As we pass through the tunnel of time, we inevitably come to our change moments. A breakup. A death. A public embarrassment. It’s these unexpected incidents that push us to the times when we find ourselves standing egoless at the alter of our own humility. These are the moments when we step back, examine, and make difficult decisions. When they’ve happened for me, I’ve left knowing that the story of my life is a book of pages written about moments, memories, and decisions. While all three are interdependent, it’s our decisions that have the most influence over our story. So I made a decision today to unpack the notion of decisions – their speed, their battle, and offer a few tips that might just help you deal with yours. Decisions are a huge topic that I could parse a million ways and write volumes. But it’s Sunday, it’s summer, and you probably have better things to do.
So today let’s begin by juxtaposing two aspects of decisions you may have never considered: the speed and the battle.
The Speed of Decision
Some people make decisions slowly; it’s just how they are. Let me say that one more time for you hurry it up types in the room: it’s just how they are. You’re not going to change them, and they usually can’t change it even if they wanted to. Think about software for a minute: you can’t do number calculations with Word and you can’t edit photos in Excel. But maybe you want to break the glass ceiling. Maybe you think you’re the one who can change it all and get them to do what you think they should. So you start. And you really, really, really try. But it doesn’t work so well. So you try harder, because you know you’re right. Eventually your relationship just becomes a lot of fighting and hurt feelings. You curse and you swear at them and you might even talk about them behind their back. You might even threaten to leave them if they don’t conform to your desires. But still, they don’t change. Word is for words and Excel is for numbers. They’re really good at what they do, but it’s who they are, and they can’t be and do something they’re not. The truth is, if you’re trying to get a slow decision maker to make a quick decision it probably isn’t going to work. Lean into it as hard as you can, but in the end you’ll probably just end up fighting, being frustrated, and maybe even breaking up. I know it’s happened to me and maybe it has to you too. But when I was in one of my own serendipitous moments, I realized something that changed everything. And that was the battle.
Making a decision, especially a quick one, is really a kind of battle we have inside ourselves. It’s the battle of our two selves: our mental self and our emotional self. You’ve fought the battle, we all have, but what you may not have noticed is that the mental self decides much faster than the emotional one. Give your mental self some sound advice, back it up with some simple data, add a dose of common sense, and in a matter of seconds – poof. The jury of your mental self has deliberated and rendered its verdict. You have your answer and you know what to do next.
But you don’t.
Examples of this are all around us. You’re fat and you now you should eat less, but you don’t. You really should jump on the bike, but the idea of exercise tires you. Quitting smoking? You can a list all of the obvious reasons, but also come up with just as many to keep lighting up those delicious little seducers. And that toxic relationship you’re in? You know you should run fast and far, but there you are and there you stay. You have all of the information, all of the data, and all of the reasons you could possibly ever need. You know what you need to do.
But still, you don’t.
Weird, right? Maybe this has happened to you, and maybe you’ve found yourself in a conversation with a trusted friend who asks you “why” but all you can say is, “I don’t know”. Well, here’s the deal and it’s actually pretty simple: it’s not your mental self that does the deciding, it’s your emotional one, and the reason you haven’t done what you know you should do is that your emotional self isn’t there yet. It’s still processing, or making excuses, or it just hasn’t felt enough pain yet (which is usually the case). If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a moment with a trusted friend who calls you on your shit, your emotional self usually replies by rolling out the excuses and justifiers. “Just one more.” “I’ll start tomorrow.” “Maybe it’s not really that bad.” This works for a while, but it usually just taps the brakes on the inevitable. Eventually the hangover of self-hate comes. And then the cycle begins again.
If all of this “two self” stuff has you feeling a bit schizophrenic, you’re probably not (at least not because of this), but you should find peace is knowing that this is just what goes on in humans and we all deal with it in varying degrees. If you feel stuck, my suggestion would be to start with something called the “Law of Results” which simply states that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. And of course, there’s its corollary, the “Definition of Crazy”. But whichever manash you prefer, if you want something different, you must first be open to a new strategy.
Let’s finish this up with a few thoughts on how to get your emotional self on the giddyup.
1. Get Support
If you’re reading this right now chances are very, very good that you’re human. And as humans we need each other. Get support. Pick people you trust and listen to what they say. Your mental self probably already knows most of it, but sometimes we just need to hear what we already know from someone else.
Imagination is the realm of change agents in our world from Ghandi to Lennon and Jobs to Bezos. Imagination has created everything around you right now – all of it. But imagination is akin to a muscle. It doesn’t just “exist”. You have to exercise it. Work it out. Make it hurt a little. Imagine what your life will be like in your future if actually make the decision you need to make. And then imagine what it will be like if you don’t.
3. Embrace your Pain
Most of us run away from pain. We shouldn’t. Pain is the domain of the emotional self and harnessed correctly, it’s the only mechanism we can use to affect change. As I’ve told audiences over and over (and over and over and over), we humans will do more to avoid pain than seek pleasure. If you want to kick your emotional self in the ass so that you can actually make the decision you know you need to make, go deep and associate a lot of pain to your current situation. If you hate yourself enough, you’ll do something about it. I know it sounds weird, but it really does work.
4. Limit Your Data
Slow decision makers often dive deep into the pool of data. Data matters, but not as a form of camouflage. Approach data with a Goldilocks mentality: not too much, not too little, just right. Learn to limit your data set. It will eliminate the procrastination excuse. And that alone is a huge victory.
5. Look Up
For thousands of years humans have looked up for guidance in their most personal and difficult moments. I did some research on this. Apparently 84% of us have some kind of religion, Deity, or belief in a universal consciousness that’s bigger than we are. I can tell you for myself that it’s helped me move beyond my own moments of self-doubt, anxiety, fear, and stuckness. If this isn’t for you that’s fine, but it might be worth a try. The barriers to membership are low, there are no annual fees, and no pesky passwords to remember. It works for me and it might work for you too. I highly recommend it.