The average person makes 35,000 decisions per day. An overwhelming number that famously led some Silicon Valley leaders to free up brain power by sticking to a daily uniform, a la Steve Jobs. It’s natural to want to relieve yourself of some of the fatigue that can come with constant decision-making. However, it’s not the sheer volume of choices that we have to make, but the way in which we we go about choosing, that leaves us exhausted. When we get stuck in analysis paralysis, we leave one of our most valuable decision-making assets untapped – our instincts.
When it comes to making intelligent decisions, we value our minds over our emotions. We are taught to analyze our options, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the most logical solution. The problem with making decisions exclusively with our minds is that we leave an entire wealth of knowledge on the table. Undermining our ability to be confident decision makers.
When we encounter a new situation, our unconscious and conscious selves go to work to appraise it. While our thinking mind analyzes, our unconscious is behind the scenes matching patterns and using deep knowledge to assess. This unconscious process happens very quickly and mostly off our radar. The only proof that we have that it happened at all, is the feeling we are left with. A feeling that, when leveraged properly, can result in more straight-forward and satisfying decisions.
This week I was watching an episode of Star Trek that explores this squishier (but important) part of decision making. In the episode, LaVar Burton’s character, Geordi La Forge, tries to explain to Data (an artificial life form), why you cannot make decisions based on facts alone. The episode was shot in the 80s, but 30 years later, most of us would still object to having AI make all of our decisions for us. That’s because, good decision-making requires a mix of logic and instinct.
When we pay attention our emotions and our bodies, we are able to get a better sense of what we really want.
As successful members of society, we’re used to overriding feelings as they come up, suppressing or shaping them into something more convenient or “productive”. This can make it difficult to tune back into what is happening inside. Be patient with yourself. Confident decision-making takes time, but every bit of effort put in now will be payed back with interest when you find yourself able to make quick decisions with ease.
Try this exercise to get a sense of what mindful decision-making feels like:
- Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths.
- Bring to mind a decision that you need to make.
- Picture the first option. If it’s an activity, picture yourself doing the activity. If it’s a change of roles, picture yourself in the new role. Be sure to include the specifics: what it looks like, feels like. As you do this, pay attention to what is happening in your body. Do you notice any sensations? A feeling of opening or closing? Tension? Relaxation. Take note of anything that changes.
- Release option number one.
- Bring to mind option number 2 and repeat the process.
- Open your eyes, and compare how your body felt as you explored these two choices.
Our body gives us clues to how we feel about potential decisions. It may come in the form of an internal sensation or even with something as tangible as a physical change in posture. For those of us new to mindful decision making, it can feel awkward or even uncomfortable at first.
If you aren’t sure where to start, look for expansion or contraction.
I find that contraction is easiest to track. Internally, it can feel like a closing off, a tension, or a sensation of recoiling. Externally, it can look like hunched shoulders, a closed-in posture, or crossing of arms. If we notice any of these things, it’s a sign of resistance to that choice.
Sometimes when we make a mind or logic-based decision, we hesitate to pull the trigger and we aren’t sure why. In those instances, if we tuned into our body, it might tell us, that something is off.
Personally, strengthening my mind-body connection has helped me tremendously with indecision. When I relied on my mind alone, I would regularly get stuck in analysis paralysis, even with decisions as simple as what to have for lunch.
If this is new for you, I suggest that you start practicing with everyday decisions. Come to this technique with a sense of curiosity, and notice what patterns come up. For instance, you may recognize that you always feel a certain way before a decision that turns our badly. Or you may notice that you are overriding your instincts often, in an effort to make the “right” choice – a surefire recipe for burnout.
Our bodies are constantly sending us signals, the only issue is that we haven’t trained ourselves to receive them.
Or, more accurately, we’ve been trained out of noticing them. If you make an effort to tune in, you can start to reconnect with your body, bringing ease and confidence to your decisions and your life.