decisions

How People Change

What Is Happiness?

 

If you are thinking about changing your life for the better, one way to start is by identifying your goals. You are probably hoping to find some version of happiness or emotional well-being. That might look like any combination of the following:

 

·    A sense of freedom

·    Self-esteem

·    Self-confidence

·    Happy to get up in the morning

·    Working toward goals

·    A sense of purpose in life

·    Satisfying relationships

 

What Is Unhappiness?

 

If you are thinking about changing your life, you may be experiencing some combination of the following elements:

 

·    Feeling sad, lethargic or depressed

·    Feeling afraid

·    Abusing or being addicted to alcohol or drugs

·    Feeling lonely

·    Anxiety

·    Problems with relationships

·    Not getting what you want in life; feeling frustrated in working toward goals

·    Not caring enough to have goals

 

How Will You Change?

 

When you decide to change your life, try the following ideas.

 

1.    Explore your feelings. Keep a journal, talk to a trusted friend, work with a professional counselor.

2.    Envision your future. Write in a journal, make a collage, do a guided visualization, talk to a friend or counselor, research the possibilities.

3.    Explore wishes and dreams. Keep a journal, talk to a trusted friend, work with a professional counselor.

4.    Be open to new ideas. Take a class, travel, say yes to things you may have avoided in the past.

5.    Look for kindred spirits. Avoid people who make you feel bad about yourself, seek out those who make you blossom, reach out to those with similar interests and dreams.

6.    Try something different. Deliberately buy new items, try different brands, shop at different stores, do the opposite of what you usually do, see different movies, read different kinds of books and magazines.

7.    Set goals and targets. Learn how to set useful goals, follow through, evaluate progress regularly, reward yourself for achievement.

8.    Take one step at a time. Divide your goals into tiny pieces and do one small new thing each day, starting now.

9.    Look for lessons. Remind yourself that experiences are not good or bad; they are simply lessons.

 

How to Overcome Your Resistance to Change

 

Have you ever noticed that when you think about changing your life, you feel resistant? Many people say that they not only feel resistant, but they actually do things to keep their lives familiar. They do things like start a diet and then eat a candy bar on the first day, or quit smoking and then sneak a puff.

 

There are some things you can do to make yourself less resistant. Here are six effective strategies:

 

1.    Eliminate clutter. Clutter can be viewed as a sign of uncertainty. Accumulating "stuff" might be stopping you from committing to an important thing. If you keep a lot of half-started projects around, it makes it difficult to zero in on the really important things.

2.    Start small. Thinking of your overall goal can be overwhelming. So manage your resistance by choosing one small part of it and attacking it today. Let's say your goal is to lose 20 pounds. That can certainly seem like an impossible thing to accomplish. It will seem more doable if you tell yourself, I'm going to lose five pounds by (date).

3.    Disprove your disempowering beliefs. In Reinventing Your Life, authors Young and Klosko suggest that you identify the beliefs that keep you from succeeding. They offer a way to dispute those beliefs by asking, "Is there really an evidence today that this belief is true?" They suggest making a list of the evidence.

4.    Remind yourself of all of your available options. You always have alternatives and the power to choose among them.

5.    Take responsibility for what you want. Look for signs that you are blaming

your situation on others or not admitting past mistakes. Acknowledge them and move on.

6.    Visualize the future. Author Barbara Sher suggests one way to do this: Write an imaginary press release about yourself. The date is today's date, two years in the future. The press release is announcing the most extraordinary event you can think of. It doesn't matter whether this event seems only vaguely possible to you. The important thing is that it is exciting to imagine.

 

When to Seek Professional Help

 

Sometimes it makes sense to find a professional counselor to work with as you work through the change process. Here are some ways to know when that would be appropriate:

 

1.    You've tried several things but you still have the problem.

2.    You want to find a solution sooner rather than later.

3.    You have thoughts of harming yourself or others.

4.    You have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or another disorder that are significantly interfering with your daily functioning and the quality of your life. For example, you have lost time from work, your relationships have been harmed, your health is suffering. These are signs that you may need the help of a trained, licensed professional.

How Do I Make A Decision?

Many people who come to my office say they have a difficult time making decisions. I have developed a process to help my clients master this skill. I recommend that people follow these four steps:

1.    Identify the real issue. For example, you are trying to decide which movie to see, but you are having a hard time agreeing. As you talk about it, you realize that the real issue is that you simply want some time to be together in a quiet place where you can talk. Going to a movie does not address this issue.

2.    Identify the available options. In the above example, the options might include going to a quiet restaurant, taking a drive, or walking on the beach.

3.    Evaluate the available options. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. Evaluate how well each option addresses the real issue.

4.    Implement the decision. Make a choice and carry it out.

Even though most people make dozens of important and complex judgments every day, few of us have actually been trained to make good decisions. We started making basic decisions when we were young children, and we continue to follow the same simple process as we get older, even though the issues have become much more complicated.

We learned to make decisions by watching our parents and learning in school. Mostly we learned by trial and error. Our first decisions were pretty simple-to choose pizza or hamburgers, to play softball or soccer, to wear the pink headband or the blue one. These decisions pretty much boiled down to choosing between X and Y.

According to the authors of Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions, most of us continue to choose between X and Y without making certain that we are addressing the real problem in the first place.

A second common mistake is rushing into a decision, hurrying to get it over with. We rarely step back from the decision and view it in a broader context. While it is more difficult and time-consuming, it is better to take your time and be sure you are seeing the big picture and the key issues.

Strategies for Making Better Decisions

Here are some decision-making tips:

1.    Take your time making important decisions. Some situations require a deliberate and careful decision-making process.

2.    Once the decision has been made, carry it out without hesitation.

3.    If you can, delegate decisions to those who will carry them out. Authors Heller and Hindle (Essential Manager's Man-ual) advise managers always to be on the lookout for ways to push the decision-making process down a level. If you are making decisions for your family, consider how you can involve your kids in the process.

4.    Making decisions requires both intuition and logic. It's important to trust your gut, but be sure you are thinking logically.

5.    Unless the situation is pretty straightforward, it is a good idea to generate as many ideas as you can. Learn the principles of brainstorming (see box) and throw lots of options into the hopper.

6.    Look at the issues from different points of view. How do they look to the different groups they might affect? For example, if a teacher asks his students to wear Native American clothing tomorrow, will the kids' parents have the time to help them prepare on such short notice?

7.    Consider the immediate and long-term implications of each solution, including its impact on other people.

8.    Consider the worst- and best-case scenarios, as well as the possibilities in between.

Deciding Yourself versus Involving Others

Involving others in your decision-making process helps you avoid the tendency to rush into a decision, hurrying to get it over with. When you take the time to consult others, you force yourself to step back from the situation and see it in a broader context. While it is more difficult and time-consuming, getting the advice and support of others can help you produce better decisions.

Consider these points when seeking advice:

1.    Determine whom to involve in the process. If it's a simple, low-risk decision, you may not need to involve any one else.

2.    If you do ask others for advice and suggestions, be prepared to respond to their input.

3.    Determine who will need to approve your decision, and get that approval.

Consider these points when seeking support:

1.    Think about who might resist your decision, and have a plan to manage that resistance. For example, you want to allow your daughter to have her friends sleep over on a weeknight during the summer, but you expect your husband will object because he has to get up for work the next day and doesn't want his sleep disturbed. Think about how you could plan the evening in a way to avoid disturbing your husband.

2.    Identify ways to increase the chances that your decision will be supported. In the sleepover example, you could ask the girls' friends to bring sleeping bags, and set up the basement for them to sleep in.

3.    If your decision presents any risks, look for ways to minimize them.

Make This Work for You

Rules of Brainstorming

    1.    Write down the question you are addressing. For example, "Where shall we go on vacation?"

    2.    Think of as many ideas as you can.

    3.    Write down every idea, no matter how wild it seems.

    4.    No one is allowed to judge or evaluate any of the ideas in any way. This includes making faces, rolling eyes, and sighing.

    5.    The goal is to think of as many ideas as you can. Quantity is more important than quality.

    6.    After everyone is finished suggesting ideas, take a break.

    7.    After the break, discuss the ideas and edit the list. A solution will emerge.

Identify a situation in your life right now. Be sure to choose something important and challenging. Apply the steps we have been exploring to this situation.

    1.    Describe the situation.

    2.    What is the real issue here?

    3.    List the pros and cons of each option.

    4.    What do you need to consider when seeking advice?

    5.    What do you need to consider when seeking support?

    6.    What are the best options?

    7.    Who needs to be involved?

    8.    What should be delegated? To whom?

    9.    What resources would need to be secured?

    10.    What steps need to be planned, and what is their timing?

 

 

 

WHAT MAKES YOU PROCRASTINATE?

Photo by STILLFX/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by STILLFX/iStock / Getty Images

All of us procrastinate on occasion. For some people, it’s a chronic problem; for others, it’s only a problem in certain life areas. Procrastination is always frustrating because it results in wasted time, lost opportunities, disappointing work performance, and generally feeling bad about yourself.

When you procrastinate, you allow less important tasks to take up the time and space that should be devoted to more important things. You do things like hanging out with friends when you know that an important work project is due soon, or going shopping instead of doing your homework. It can also be evident in behavior such as talking about trivial things with your partner to avoid discussing important issues in your relationship.

Most people don’t have a problem finding time for things they want to do. But once they see a task as too difficult, painful, boring, or overwhelming, the procrastination behaviors begin. You are not alone if you have ever made any of the following excuses to yourself:

    1.    It’s too cold to exercise outside today. I’ll wait until tomorrow when it’s warmer.

    2.    I’ve got too many other things to do first.

    3.    I’ll do a better job when I can concentrate on this project.

    4.    I still have lots of time to get this done.

    5.    They don’t pay me enough to do a more complete job. This is good enough.

    6.    This problem is too hard to talk about. I wouldn’t know where to start.

    7.    I work better under pressure.

    8.    It’s too noisy to work while my teenager is at home.

    9.    I should get the shopping down now because the stores will be more crowded later.

    10.    I can eat this pie tonight, because I’m starting my diet tomorrow.

    11.    My tooth doesn’t really hurt that much. The pain will probably go away tomorrow.

Most of the time, these excuses seem fairly innocuous. However, they’re not as innocent as they seem, because they cause us to postpone important duties and projects. Ultimately, these excuses can keep us from accomplishing important goals and make us feel bad about ourselves.

Why People Procrastinate

If you were hoping for a simple answer to this puzzle, you will be disappointed to learn that there are many reasons why people put things off. Here are a few of the most common (check those that apply to you):

   Avoiding discomfort. Wanting to avoid pain makes lots of people shift into procrastination mode. However, the longer we delay, the worse the uncomfortable problem usually becomes. The rash gets bigger, the tooth hurts more, or the brakes squeak even more loudly.

   Perfectionism. Those who believe they must produce the perfect report may obsess about uncovering every last information source and then write draft after draft. Their search for the perfect product takes up so much time that they miss their deadline.

   Laziness. Sometimes people delay tasks that involve fairly slight inconvenience or minor discomfort.

    Thinking you’re not good enough. Some people are certain that they are incompetent. They think that they will fail, and procrastinate to avoid ever putting their skills to the test.

    Self-doubt. If you second-guess yourself, you probably suffer from procrastination. You may avoid new challenges and opportunities unless you are certain that you will succeed. Perhaps you make feeble attempts to begin a project, and you tell yourself that you could do a better job if you put in more effort.

   Workaholism. At the other end of the spectrum, many people who work excessively also fall into this category. They drive themselves ruthlessly, fearing that if they stop working, they will not be able to start again. Most self-doubters are driven by the belief that they must meet strict standards in order to see themselves as successful.

Physics Review

Remember the concept of inertia: a mass at rest tends to stay at rest.

For some reason, it is more difficult for most humans to start change than to keep it going.

Why Don’t We Just Say No?

Since procrastination produces mostly negative outcomes, why don’t we just change our behavior and eliminate these undesirable consequences? The reason for this is that procrastination reinforces itself. For some reason, it is more difficult for most humans to start change than to keep it going. We avoid getting started by cleverly diverting our attention from the things we really should be doing. We do something else instead or make up a story about how we will accomplish the task in the future-when we are inspired, or when we have completed a preliminary step, or some other trick.

Although recognizing how these diversions work won’t automatically cure your procrastination, being aware of it is a good place to start working on the problem. Once you are aware of the ways that you procrastinate, you can start to change your behavior. In my next newsletter, I’ll offer some tips to help you get started. Until then, begin the change process by thinking about which causes apply to you and writing down examples of these behaviors as you observe them.