In my last article “Are you in a difficult situation right now and giving yourself a hard time?” I talked about how it’s necessary when you’re dealing with a problem to clear your mind from as much negativity as possible. This includes negative comparisons with others as well as debilitating inner criticism. I’m focusing on the word ‘debilitating’ here – it is very valuable to reflect on a situation where things haven’t gone right so that you can figure out your part in why that situation went wrong, if there’s anything you can do to make it right, and what you can learn from it so that you will do things differently in similar situations in future.
However often this helpful reflection can turn into severe inner criticism which can then make you feel so bad about yourself and your actions that your brain cannot think of any solutions. Basically your brain goes into a threat state.
Neuroscience studies have shown that when we’re in a threat state, we can’t think clearly, we become blinkered and only focus on the problem, we err on the side of caution, find it hard to make decisions, shrink from opportunities and get a pessimistic outlook on all areas of our lives, not just the one where the problem is. Not a good state of mind to be in when you have to come up with a workable solution!
Once you’ve worked through the why’s and wherefore’s and what-not-to-do-in-the-future of the problem you can then put the situation into perspective, use it as a learning situation and reign in excessive negativity and criticism. When you do that you’re in a much stronger position to come up with solutions and make the best decision. This article provides you with 4 ways to do just that.
1. Treat it like a business problem.
Treating the situation as a business problem will make it easier for you to look at the problem more objectively. I suggest you gather relevant information for your decisions and then carry out a cost-benefit analysis. Draw a table with 3 columns – number one labelled ‘Solution’, number two labeled ‘Benefits’ and number three labeled ‘Costs’. Then add a solution to the first row and fill out the two columns next to it with as many benefits and costs for each solution as you can think off. Then add the next solution and repeat the process until you’ve completed benefits and costs for each solution.
2. Remember that most decisions are reversible
Most decision are reversible and nothing lasts forever. Everything in life is a phase. This will take some pressure off yourself and take you out of that chronic threat state you’re in so that you can be more open to thinking outside the square and freeing up your mental resources to come up with more solutions. For example, if you’re tossing up between two new jobs and you stress over which one is the best, just think that if it turns out that the one you ultimately decide on doesn’t work for you, you are not bound to be a slave and you will not be forced to stay in that chosen job for ever. Do you know anyone who has stayed in the same job for ever? Highly unlikely.
3. Pretend like you’re advising a friend with making a decision
When you pretend that you’re advising a friend with making the decision that you’re agonising over, you are much more likely to be objective and you will be able to think less emotively about the pros and cons of the decision. Not only that, you’ll be much less likely to be overtly critical of yourself and you will also be more reasonable about your fears.
4. Imagine that you’ve already made the decision
This is where you intuition comes into play. I often advise clients who are in a quandary about which course of action to decide on to make a decision one way. Then I ask them how they felt as soon as they made the decision. If they say any of the following: ‘relieved’, ‘like a weight dropped off my shoulders, enthused, motivated, like my horizons just opened up – then that’s most likely the right decision for them to make in the circumstances. If they say: ‘down’, ‘like my world closed in’, ‘my stomach dropped’, ‘disappointed’, then that’s likely not the right decision for them to make. Successful leaders use their gut instincts or intuition to help them make important decisions and they find that the more they use it, the more powerful it is, the more they use it and so on.