Cat Castellanos, Founder of Sidestep Strategies, a therapeutic crisis management firm
Kosher Sea Salt or Pink-Himalayan?
Ah, decisions, decisions. “Too many possibilities” is a wonderful problem to have but one our antiquated brains aren’t always equipped to handle.
Modern life is a war with choice. We are constantly bombarded with options. Decision fatigue, when the quality of our choices declines over time, seems impossible to avoid. As our willpower wanes, our mental bandwidth is zapped and we begin to waffle over even the most inane decisions.
Indecision is actually a result of mental “cross-inhibition,” when one group of neurons sends out a chemical signal to block out the opposing team’s message. In other words, there’s an angel on one shoulder shouting, “Get to work! You can do it!” while the devil on the other whispers “Netflix… Netflix….”
The good news is that our brains are already wired so that one side will win out, preventing us from spending the rest of our lives in paralytic indecision. The bad news? Sometimes the hardwired side is the one wielding the pitchfork. (1)
Whether you’re used to making the “bad” choice or your fear of missing out sends you into a spiral of “what-iffery” here’s how to retrain your brain and become, as former President George W. Bush would say, a “Decider.”
Sweat The Small Stuff: When it comes to minor decisions, give yourself 30 seconds, choose, and then stick to your guns. As the neuroscience poets say, “neurons that fire together, wire together,” meaning the more you practice being decisive, the more decisive you shall be. Often times when we do things like ask our dining counterpart what our own tastebuds would enjoy the most, we’re just looking for someone else to take responsibility. Practice the small stuff and you’ll build your decision-making confidence as you learn that your choice, good or bad, didn’t result in catastrophe.
Consider That You Already Know The Answer: Recent studies have shown that the subconscious mind actually makes decisions quite rapidly, We get stuck, however, when what our unconscious mind actually wants conflicts with our conscious, logical side. Then we spend an inordinate amount of time convincing ourselves and others about our decisions, arguing for what we “should” want. Which is why it can be a great idea to try…
Meditation: If you’re thinking, “Awesome, so glad my subconscious knows but I have no freaking clue,” give meditation a shot. Even just sitting quietly and asking yourself the question at hand will often create enough space for the answer to bubble up. Looking for extra guidance? Try Tim Ferriss’s short but elucidating meditation with Tony Robbins, “How To Resolve Internal Conflict.”
Remember that if you have to rationalize it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. As Ayn Rand said, “Rationalization is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.” Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions. When we act against our highest values (choosing cookie over health, lie over truth), our brains throw on the brakes in attempt to halt the process. It guilt-trips us in an attempt to prevent the action from happening again. Taking a brief second to step back and ask “What’s really more important” will re-establish the significance of your values, making it challenging to act against them. i.e., move away from the refrigerator when you’re hangry.
Know that there really is no wrong option, only the option you choose. Thanks, Buddha. Yes, this requires a bit more woo-woo faith in the universe but take refuge in the fact that all roads do, in fact, lead to Rome.
Decide You’re A Decider. Mental states become neural traits, so stop telling yourself you’re bad at making decisions.
Lean In: We’ve long known that our thoughts influence our actions, but new research shows just how much the opposite is true: Our actions shape our thoughts. “Embodied Cognition” suggests that, “leaning toward a reward increases the brain’s response to it, and that your facial expressions, posture, etc, all influence your experience and behavior.” (2) Simply put, your brain is not the only resource you have to make decisions, so stand tall and get your body in on the action.
Realize You Don’t Have Control Anyway (And That’s Okay): We will never know the things we may have “missed out on;” if returning to the coffee shop 5 minutes later would result in meeting the love of your life or if taking that particular job offer would lead to immense wealth. We can only recognize that living in constant what-iffery will not only drive us mad but prevent us from living our lives to the fullest. Remember the old adage that refusing to make a decision is a decision in itself, so we might as well be bold, lean in, and embrace the lovely, magical chaos of it all.
(1) Chopra, Deepak. What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul. Harmony, 2013. 50. (2) Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Science of Contentment, Calm And Confidence. Random House, 2013. 115.
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“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”
- MARCUS AURELIUS