Are there Good and Bad Decisions?

Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

In short:

  1. The actions you take after making the decision are more important than the decision itself. (More in this in Episode 12)
  2. It’s possible for things to go wrong even when you make a good choice and take all the ‘right’ actions. Not everything is in your control. (More on this in episode 13)
  3. Information is going to come to light after you’ve made the decision. The hindsight bias will make you think you could have predicted the outcome using the information you had available at the time of making the decision. This is a fallacy. Don’t evaluate the quality of your decisions based on the outcomes. Evaluate the quality of your decisions based on the process you undertook to make them.
  4. Encountering problems isn’t an indicator of a poor choice.
  5. Big decisions are not big decisions. They are a series of tiny decisions made over a period of time.

 

In detail:

1. Actions are more important than the decision

Our biggest decisions often push us out of our comfort zones and this can make us fearful so we end up failing to take the necessary actions to make the decision work. We then mistakenly think we’ve made a poor choice when in fact we’ve taken poor quality actions. In Episode 12, we’ll explore how our decisions – and the actions we take afterwards – are affected when primed by fear.

2. Beware the Hindsight Bias

Bad decisions and bad outcomes are not the same thing. The hindsight bias causes us to re-evaluate the information we had available at the time of making the decision and re-shape it using our knowledge of the outcome. We mistakenly think information was “obvious” and that we failed to interpret it correctly. This is rarely the case. At the time of making the decision, multiple outcomes were possible and we had to make the choice on this basis. One an outcome has emerged, there is no longer any doubt. These were not the conditions under which you made the choice.

It is better to evaluate the quality of your decision based on the quality of the process you followed than it is to evaluate based on the outcome.

3. Problems are inevitable

Even when things go perfectly, you’re going to encounter problems. In fact they’re often the first sign that things are going exactly as they should. Even winning the lottery has its downsides! When weighing up your options, consider the problems you’ll face, even if everything goes perfectly.

Use a “yes if” approach when considering the problems. “Yes, I can do that if I do…” This is more powerful than “No, because”, which ultimately shuts off your options without considering whether or not there’s a way you could make them work.

4. Big decisions are really a series of small decisions

This one fits in quite well with 1. Many of us agonise over the big decisions we have to make without realising how many dozens or even hundreds of smaller decisions go into the situation that led to the big decision – or how many more decisions will be made afterwards, determining the outcome of the decision.

For example, Matthew is 29 and hates his office job. He wants to work somewhere funky like a gaming company or Google but he has never studied IT and isn’t up to speed with latest technologies. He goes to work every day, comes home every evening, has dinner and possibly goes out with friends. Every day, without necessarily realising it, he is making tiny decisions to keep himself in the same place. Once he starts thinking about all the tiny decisions he makes each day about how he spends his time, he is in a position to make decisions that will eventually lead him to a place where he has a big decision to make about where he wants to work. The opportunity to make the big decision is unlikely to present itself until he changes his everyday decisions to start moving in that direction.

Related Podcasts:

Where do beliefs come from?

How to challenge a belief

Books mentioned in this week’s podcast:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Start now, Get Perfect Later by Rob Moore

 

 

Decisions and Actions – How are you Motivated?

One of the most common mistakes we make in the decision making process is that we fail to see the connection between our goals, the big decision leading to the goal and the tiny little choices and actions it’ll take to implement the big decision and achieve the goal. One of the best ways to combat this is to identify the goal with enough clarity to think through the actions we have to take and problems we’re likely to face along the way, even if things go perfectly.

In this week’s episode, I explore the difference between being motivated towards a particular goal or away from a particular pain point and how this affects choices and actions as your options unfold. Although on the face of it, the difference between ‘towards’ and ‘away from’ motivation doesn’t look like it should matter that much, our clarity is dramatically affected depending on the motivational direction and this has an enormous impact on our decisions and subsequent actions.

In short:

Motivation away from something means you are motivated to get away from or change some negative aspect of your life. For example, you might change jobs because you don’t get along with your boss.

Motivation towards something means you have a clear goal in mind and you’re making decisions and taking actions to move you closer to that desired outcome. You might still dislike your boss but this time, you get clear about what you’re moving towards if you decide to leave. You envisage a specific future for yourself and start taking the necessary steps to help you move towards that future.

In one case, any decision that takes you away from the problem relationship is a good one. In the other case, only decisions that lead you towards the envisaged future are good ones. Clarity is greater, priorities are clearer and it’s easier to work out what to do.

In detail:

When we’re motivated away from something, we don’t usually spend as much time working out what we want instead and, more importantly, why we want it. This can lead to a lack of clarity so decisions become more difficult to make because we don’t know exactly what we’re trying to achieve.

In the case of changing jobs to get away from your boss, you might end up taking a less satisfying job because your main objective was to get away from him/her. You’re so relieved to get out of that situation that you don’t think as clearly about the long term prospects of the new job and potentially end up equally dissatisfied after a few months.

When we’re motivated towards something, we’re more likely to consider exactly what we want and why we want it. This makes decisions easier to make because options can be more easily ruled out or prioritised based on how well they fit with the vision.

The direction of our motivation also plays a part in determining the emotions that drive or ‘prime’ our choices.

Priming

Priming basically determines how you perceive information, what you pay attention to and what you decide to do. In psychological experiments, the researcher often primes the participant to feel a particular emotion and then assesses how this priming changes the course of their decisions and actions.

Primed for Fear or Primed for Hope?

‘Away from’ motivation tends to prime us in different ways than ‘towards’ motivation does. Imagine a footballer having to take a penalty, thinking ‘don’t fail!’ versus thinking “score an amazing goal!” As the ‘don’t fail’ footballer steps forward, he is likely to imagine previous years’ failures, the scathing tabloid headlines if he misses and the crowd’s agonising disappointment. None of these thought processes prime his mind or body to deliver their best performance. His focus is reduced and the chances of success are also reduced.

The “score an amazing goal” footballer might envisage the post-match interviews, the cheering crowds and the glowing headlines the following day. He stands a much better chance of performing at his best and although there are other factors that contribute to his chances of success or failure, performing at his best is vital if he wishes to maximise his chances of scoring a goal.

Since ‘Away from’ motivation is almost always driven by more negative emotions such as fear or anger, taking the right actions and performing at your peak becomes much more challenging. These emotions cloud judgement and can also cause you to second-guess the original decision and avoid taking the necessary actions to implement it.

Emotions associated with ‘towards’ motivation often include, hope, pride, excitement and other emotions associated with happiness. There may still be fear involved but the clarity of goal and the presence of the other, more positive emotions means you’re often able to power through and take a leap out of your comfort zone.

So What?

When you’re taking big leaps, it’s useful to have as many things going for you as possible. Making a conscious decision to gain clarity around your goal and motivate yourself to move towards it means you options are clearer as you go along and you have a greater chance of staying focused and feeling resilient in the face of challenge.

 

Planning for Action

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

When most of us think about planning for success, we think about to-do lists and task lists. What we often fail to plan for is our change in mindset and the natural ebb and flow of motivation and energy.

This podcast episode is about planning for those things so that you’re motivated enough to keep working through your to-do list and get the necessary tasks completed.

In Short

The goals associated with big decisions are often difficult to achieve. Taking the actions necessary to to achieve these goals requires stamina and resilience. If we plan our path so that we can build those things in – or make things a little easier for ourselves along the way – we’re more likely to succeed.

We can do this by:

  1. Minimising Decision Fatigue – The more decisions you make each day, the more tired your brain becomes. If you reduce the number of decisions you have to make, you conserve energy for the decisions that matter most. Planning reduces the number of “on-the-spot” decisions you have to make so you’re more likely to be at “full capacity” when those out-of-the-blue situations arise and you have to decide how to proceed.
  2. Shaping your environment so that it primes your mind to take the right actions. Everything around you has an impact on your thoughts. Deliberate and conscious shaping of your environment allows you to remove things that will take you off-track and add things that will keep you on-track. It also allows you to recognise when your environment is sapping your energy or derailing your progress.

In Detail

When you first make a decision to do something, you’re full of hope, positive feelings and positive intentions. It feels absolutely possible to achieve the goal you’ve decided to achieve. What many of us fail to plan for is the fading of these feelings, the re-emergence of our old habits and the surfacing of our fears, doubts and insecurities. These feelings and the beliefs behind them can derail us quickly and cause us to make poor choices in our efforts to achieve the original goal. They can also cause us to prioritise the wrong things and take actions that ultimately lead us away from the goal we set out to achieve.

It is natural for motivation to wax and wane in the process of achieving a big goal. One of the things that causes motivation to wane is fatigue. When you’re tired, it’s hard to feel motivated. Most of us notice the signs of physical tiredness quite easily but we often fail to notice the signs of mental fatigue until it’s too late.

Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is a form of mental tiredness. Every time you make a choice, you use a little bit of mental energy. The more decisions you make, the faster you use this energy and the more likely you are to experience decision fatigue.

Once decision fatigue sets in, your conscious mind ‘outsources’ decisions to the subconscious/ unconscious mind – where your habits reside. So if your goal requires you to break an old habit, you’re less likely to succeed in the face of decision fatigue.

When you plan, you’re able to make decisions while you feel alert and strong. Then, when it comes to taking the necessary actions, part of the thinking is already done. For example, if you’ve decided to eat healthily and you have a fridge full of food but you haven’t planned for how to use it, you’re less likely to stick to the healthy regime because every time you open the fridge, you have multiple decisions to make. If you have a plan, you open the fridge, take out the food you planned to eat for that meal and prepare it accordingly. It’s much easier and you spend less time questioning yourself or talking yourself out of the original decision.

(Decision fatigue is the subject of Episode 15 – release date 20 December)

Planning for Mistakes

When you’re in new territory or your goal involves breaking an old habit, there are likely to be setbacks along the way. It is a good idea to plan how you intend to handle those.

One of the most common mistakes we make in the pursuit of achieving our goals is that we label our mistakes as failures or see them as signs that we “can’t change”. Instead, it’s wise to prepare for how you intend to keep going in the face of mistakes. How do you plan to make the most of the learning opportunity? What does it show you about yourself, how you think and what keeps you going or stops you in your tracks? How can you use that information next time?

These moments give us incredibly valuable data and it’s worth using them wisely. More on this in Episode 14 – out next week.

Planning to use your network

We become like the 5 people we spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn

When you’re doing big things, it’s worth having people by your side who believe in you and who are also doing big things. They can help you take the right actions, stay resilient when you experience set backs and keep you moving towards your goal.

Shape your Environment

Few of us realise the effect our surroundings have on our thinking. For a clear head, have a clear work space. If you find yourself unable to think clearly and focus on the task, change your environment to see if that unlocks something – head to a different room or different location or change something about the space you’re using – tidy up, move the furniture so things feel more spacious or more compact – any change that allows you to experience the space differently  – and see what that does to your thinking.

You can also shape your environment by including helpful things and removing unhelpful things. For example, if you’re planning to eat more healthily, remove unhealthy foods and avoid buying those foods so you don’t have to keep fighting against yourself to stay away from them. If you’ve got goals you’re working towards, put visual reminders in your environment to keep you on track and motivated. When you stop noticing them, change them so you’re interested in looking at them again.

Learn about yourself

When you know yourself well you’re better able to plan your route to success. What are your core values? How do you feel rewarded? What makes you feel good? How do you experience enjoyment? What makes you feel stronger and more resilient?

Knowing the answers to these questions helps you plan a path towards your goal that will be easier and more enjoyable than the path you’d take without a plan.

One of the best ways to learn about yourself and prepare to achieve your big goals is to ask yourself some great questions. Click here for a list of questions to help get you started.

Join the Big Happy Life Facebook group here if you’d like help answering the questions or you’d like any tips or advice for achieving your big goals.

 

 

 

 

Gaining Value from Experiences

Photo by Joanjo Pavon on Unsplash

This episode is the final instalment in the “Planning and Decision Making” Series. Links to earlier podcasts can be found at the bottom of the page.

In Short:

Big decision are rarely big decisions. They’re a series of micro-decisions leading you towards a big one, followed by a series of micro-decisions leading you to achieve the goal associated with the ‘big’ decision.

Every time you make a micro-decision and take the actions associated with it, something happens and every time something happens, you get more information. Learning how to use that information to make future decisions easier is a great way to move towards creating your ‘big happy life’

In this episode, we explore 3 ‘rules’ for using this information.

  1. Pay attention
  2. Never let a mistake go unused
  3. Be honest with yourself (but put down the stick)

In Detail:

Every little decision makes a difference on the way to making big things happen in our lives. Some make a big difference, others make very little difference but they all have some effect. Our ability to use each experience as productively as possible increases the likelihood of success but, possibly more importantly, makes the actual process more interesting, valuable and enjoyable.

In this episode, I explore 3 ways to use your experiences as well as possible.

  1. Pay Attention

Most of us think we pay attention to all the information available to us but we simply haven’t got the capacity to pay attention to everything so we pay selective attention.

When we’re making decisions that alter the course of our lives in some way (arguably, all decisions do this but let’s not get too philosophical!) the things we notice will be determined by our beliefs, fears, hopes – things generated within us – but we’re often charting new territory when we make big decisions so we have to learn to pay attention to things that challenge our beliefs, help us move past our fears and help us work out how best to proceed.

The most valuable trait to develop at this stage is curiosity. Since curiosity and judgement can’t direct your thoughts simultaneously, being curious helps you ask great questions instead of passing judgement on what/who is good or bad. Curiosity allows you to explore things as they are and question what to do with that information.

For example:

When do you do your best thinking? When are you most productive? What makes it possible for you to do that? How are your hopes and fears impacting your choices? Which is stronger – hopes or fears? What actions get the best results? What actions get the worst results? What are the differences?

More curiosity = more questions = better quality information = stronger basis for next decision on the road towards your goal.

What effect do emotions have on attention?

Emotions play an enormous role in our ability to pay attention – so much so that a podcast series devoted to this subject will follow early next year. Two main things happen to attention when strong emotions are at play.

They reduce our ability to pay attention and they change our perception of those things we pay attention to.

Our ability to pay attention – in such a way that we can make conscious use of the information available to us – is reduced. Imagine a car alarm going off outside your house at 3am. All you notice is the car alarm. You don’t notice the dog barking a few houses away or the sound of your footsteps on the floor as you make your way to the window. The same happens with big emotions. They create so much noise they drown out a lot of what’s happening around you. When you’re taking actions that heighten your fear, cause you stress or make you euphoric or excited, be aware that your attention will be narrowed. In these cases, it’s a good idea to make a conscious effort to notice as much of what’s happening as possible – without judgement. Avoid making decisions during these times, just observe. When the emotion has passed, consider your observations and how you might interpret this information.

It is useful to record your observations on a video or in a journal so you can refer back to them as your memory of the events may change as time passes.

Simply observing and recording information allows you to review it from a different vantage point later and notice how your perception has changed. This often helps inform the next decision you need to make.

2. Never let a mistake go unused

We’re hard-wired to feel the effects of our mistakes more dramatically than we feel the effects of our successes. As a result, we tend to protect ourselves against making mistakes and, when things inevitably go wrong, our instinct is to work out a way to avoid such a thing ever happening again.

Rarely do we sit down, completely open minded and think, “Huh. That’s really interesting. What part did I play in ending up here? What part did others play? What were the ‘good intentions’ behind our actions? (Every action is achieving something – even though it may be counter-intuitive) What’s the best way for me to use this experience to shape my next choice?

This is particularly important in situations where you’ve risked something important to you and it hasn’t worked out. The ability to make sense of the whole situation in all its messy glory provides much more value than taking a protective stance or getting stuck in loops where revisit the old situation and berate yourself or others for the outcome.

3. Be honest with yourself but put down the stick

Most big goals are a lot more difficult to achieve than we originally think they will be and it’s easy to judge ourselves when we lose momentum, get stuck or do something that doesn’t work in our favour.

In much the same way as we explore our mistakes, it’s useful to take a reflective approach to understanding ourselves and our motivations for doing certain things.

As an example, I am currently working to turn Big Happy Life into a business offering amazing content to people who want to take their lives to the next level. To get this kind of business off the ground, many would argue I need to work 20 hour days and, even then, I’m looking at years to get it moving. Yet I often find myself sitting in front of the TV by 9pm and going to bed by 10pm. If I start saying “I’m so lazy. I procrastinate all the time” and other similar things, I gain very little. Instead I could benefit from considering:

  • Do I want to change this behaviour?
  • If yes, what is the reason?
  • If no, what is the reason?
  • What am I gaining by sitting in front of the TV for the last hour of the evening?
  • What am I losing by sitting in front of the TV for the last hour of the evening?

Once we realise there aren’t “right” and “wrong” answers and that the most important thing is to figure out what works for us and why, we end up creating habits and practices that serve us really well and make the process of achieving our goals far more enjoyable.

So What?

Better quality thinking leads to better quality actions. Our actions shape our habits and outcomes so there’s massive benefit to be had from using every experience as productively as possible to inform your next choice and action.

It’s also massively freeing to accept that things go wrong and you can still move forward.

An Opportunity

If you’re someone with big ambitions and a desire to take your life to the next level but you’re not always sure how to do that, read on.

In preparation for the launch of the Big Happy Life 2019 Masterclass launch, I’m offering 8 people the opportunity to have one-to-one calls with me to discuss your goals and aspirations, the challenges your experiencing and what you’d love advice or help with. From there, I’ll create the 2019 Masterclass content and enlist experts to share their advice with you.

To be considered for one of the 8 places, click here to leave your details.

Everyone who applies will receive a voucher for a free Masterclass in 2019. You’ll be able to select any one of the 12 courses (a new course launches each month) and access all the amazing content within it for free!

The window of opportunity is short on this one – you only have until 31 December to apply so do it now if you’d like the chance to have a free coaching call, a masterclass created especially to answer your questions and a chance to access that masterclass for free. Here’s that link again: Make me a Masterclass.

Earlier Podcasts in the Decision and Planning Series:

Episode 11 – Are there good and bad decisions?

Episode 12 – How your motivation determines your actions

Episode 13 – Planning for Success