De­cid­ing to be more de­ci­sive

Lis­ten to your gut in­stinct when you need to take ac­tion, says lifestyle coach Anna Geary

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Column -

LIFE is a num­bers game: 24 hours in a day, 52 weeks in a year, your weight on a scales, how many fol­low­ers you have on so­cial me­dia, how many emails you have in your in­box. The list goes on.

Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers, the av­er­age num­ber of re­motely con­scious de­ci­sions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000. Let’s just sit with that statis­tic for a mo­ment — 35,000 de­ci­sions to make daily and yet many of us are guilty of pro­cras­ti­na­tion or in­de­ci­sive­ness when it comes to mak­ing the sim­plest of choices.

In fact, we make 226.7 de­ci­sions each day on food alone, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at Cor­nell Univer­sity.

As our lev­els of re­spon­si­bil­ity in­crease, so does the moun­tain of choices we are faced with.

We have free-will to take con­trol of many dif­fer­ent as­pects of life such as what to eat, what to wear, what to pur­chase, what we be­lieve, what jobs and ca­reer choices we will pur­sue, how we vote, who to spend our time with, what we say and how we say it, whether or not we would like to have chil­dren, what we will name our chil­dren, who our chil­dren spend their time with, what they will eat, and so on. Each choice car­ries cer­tain con­se­quences, good and bad.

This abil­ity to choose is an in­cred­i­ble and ex­cit­ing power, but daunt­ing for so many. In her best­selling book Flour­ish, psy­chol­o­gist Mau­reen Gaffney be­lieves we are un­der pres­sure to put in­creas­ing time into de­ci­sions, even about triv­ial things. This cre­ates worry — in case we make the wrong de­ci­sion.

Gaffney be­lieves too much choice can di­min­ish well­be­ing. When faced with a de­ci­sion, hes­i­ta­tion is some­thing that holds us back.

We often wait for more in­for­ma­tion, for more in­put from oth­ers, even for a ‘sign’, be­fore we fi­nally set­tle on a choice. This is some­times called anal­y­sis paral­y­sis and is also used as a tac­tic to de­lay de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Set your­self a dead­line by which you have to make the de­ci­sion, share the dead­line with other rel­e­vant peo­ple, so they will come look­ing for the an­swer when the time is up.

Sport taught me the art of us­ing my gut in­stinct to make de­ci­sions. In the thick of the ac­tion you have to make im­me­di­ate de­ci­sions. ‘Fire in the belly, but ice in the mind’, is a quote that stuck with me when play­ing camo­gie. Yes, you need pas­sion in the belly, but the com­po­sure and calm­ness of thought when you are play­ing is as im­por­tant.

In sport, you must be fully present and en­gaged in or­der to make the best de­ci­sion in that given mo­ment. You can’t think about your missed goal at­tempt a few min­utes pre­vi­ously, or if you are go­ing to be taken off at half time.You have to fo­cus on the here and now.

Yes, it is good to have one eye on the fu­ture, but ul­ti­mately there is no point wor­ry­ing about what might hap­pen next if you need to de­cide right now.

A word of cau­tion though on gut in­stinct. Al­though peo­ple talk about it as if it was a mag­i­cal sense, gut in­stinct, or in­tu­ition, is ac­tu­ally a com­bi­na­tion of past ex­pe­ri­ence and your per­sonal val­ues. I trust my in­tu­ition — it has served me well. How­ever, I am aware that it is based only on my per­cep­tions, which may not al­ways be 100% ac­cu­rate. So, while it will guide me, I also need other facts to re­in­force it.

It is there­fore worth ex­am­in­ing your gut feel­ing closely, es­pe­cially if you have a very strong feel­ing for or against a course of ac­tion, to see if you can work out why, and whether, it’s jus­ti­fied.

There are a few de­ci­sion-mak­ing tools you can use. The most com­mon — and often the most ef­fec­tive — is the pros-and-cons list, which was pop­u­larised by Ben­jamin Franklin and is nearly 250 years old.

Chip Heath, au­thor of De­ci­sive:

How To Make Bet­ter De­ci­sions, sug­gests that a sim­ple yet highly ef­fec­tive way to think about a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion is to con­sider what you would rec­om­mend to your best friend. Often, emo­tions can play too large a role in our de­ci­sion mak­ing. If you are ad­vis­ing some­one else, you don’t have the same emo­tional at­tach­ment to their de­ci­sion and are there­fore more ra­tio­nal and log­i­cal in your thought process. So next time, step out of your own sit­u­a­tion and imag­ine you are ad­vis­ing some­one else. Heath be­lieves that when we step back and sim­u­late some­one else, it’s a clar­i­fy­ing move.

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