When to change, why to change, and who the only person is you actually can change.
Episode I: When, and Why that When, and How many times I can use the word When until it starts sounding really weird. When.
Let’s get the easy answer out of the way:
Alright good talk y’all.
I’m kidding. A bit. In all seriousness, though, let’s treat this like a well-thought-out thoroughly researched super helpful insight for a second.
Why we should be in the habit of making changes “now” has less to do with timing and more to do with self-awareness.
Certainly this doesn’t discount the ideas of sunk costs, opportunity costs, life-cycle analysis, and etc. We’ll get into the more nuts and bolts issues like that soon.
For now let’s focus more on the inherent cause and effect of the “now” declaration.
Giving ourselves an impending deadline increases the stakes not only of making decisions, but also serves to clarify the implications of whichever path we see ourselves taking. Now it’s no secret that we tend to exaggerate the potential negatives and downplay the potential positives of our decisions, but that’s a second-step issue which we’ll get to. First we must admit that when we’re faced with a decision of incredible importance but no timeline, we as risk-averse humans tend to focus much of our mental bandwidth not on discerning the correct course of action, but rather on devising the most effective delay tactics. We postpone important decisions as long as possible, even if rationally the answer is obvious to us. Even if we feel ourselves drowning in our current state we find ways to justify tolerating the status quo because the unknown is what we fear most.
Fight, Flight, or Get Steamrolled by Ray Lewis
I’m a big believer in the intrinsic intelligence of humanity – the complexity of our subconscious, the ways we understand things without learning them and the astonishing reliability of many of our “funny feelings”. I’m also a big believer in the complete ineptitude of our frontal lobe under the constant overwhelm of information in our age.
Reason is one of the main functions that separates humans from other animals, so don’t get me wrong and believe I’m saying it isn’t important or even impressive. What I’m saying is that it takes development and training, and the way I see it we’re getting progressively worse at that training.
How many times have you found yourself faced with a decision, immediately known which choice you “want” to make, and then became overwhelmed by all of the factors involved? Pros & cons. Potential unknowns. Self doubt. After our gut reaction states its case a flood of extraneous information bull-rushes in to muddy the waters and make us second-guess our instincts. And we’re left paralyzed with no thought for the opportunities presented to us, only the fear that we’ll make the wrong decision and bring some previously-unknowable pain upon ourselves or others.
Sometimes our intelligence makes us stupid.
Oversimplified Sports Analogy Time:
What’s better than a good sports analogy? Most things, probably. This’ll get the point across though, so put on a helmet and some shoulder pads and let’s get into decision mode.
I’m a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I’m still not convinced that we was a franchise actually employ a defense (self-burn), so I have to go somewhere else in the league to find a notable defensive player to use for this example. Actually while we’re here I’m going to milk this creative license and go back in time a hot minute – I choose you, Ray Lewis.
I just handed you the football and you’re running up-field when the Jaws theme starts playing. You turn your head and see Ray Lewis, who -mind you – probably killed a person and definitely got away with it, directly in your path.
You have two primary options:
- “I’m the Juggernaut, b*%ch!” Run straight at him, duck the shoulder, and prepare for impact. Fight.
- Misdirection. Juke move. The type of thing that makes Chris Berman go “WHOOP!” when narrating the replay. Flight.
And you technically have a third option:
- Carefully consider the potential outcomes of each option above while you traipse down the field so you can be ABSOLUTELY SURE you’re making the right choice. Pull a whiteboard out of your back pocket and begin writing down the pros and cons of each potential outcome. Take out your cell phone and call your mother and three closest friends to get their input. Ask your agent to pull together a focus group for further data. Have someone grab that day’s paper to see what your zodiac tells you to – oh shit – Ray Lewis just broke every bone in your unsuspecting body.
Freeze. AKA Get Steamrolled by Ray Lewis.
There are potential ramifications to each of the primary options. Fighting doesn’t go so well when you’re far overmatched. Flight isn’t helpful if you have no way out, or if you have others depending on you.
There is no perfect decision. The best choices still have unknown and unknowable ramifications.
Of the options presented, though, there is a clear “worst” one, and that is the option of indecision. Being caught between fight and flight makes you ill-prepared for either. Your body won’t be braced to take an impact which, sure, will likely be painful but will in all likelihood just be two padded humans colliding, hitting the ground, and then getting back up for the next play. You’re not prepared for flight either. Your mind and body won’t be focused enough to plant your foot and redirect your momentum out of the line of Ray Lewis’s path. You’re up against an unstoppable force and you’re making yourself a quite movable object.
You’re somewhere in limbo trying not to make the “wrong” decision instead of actually avoiding the worst decision – indecision. And you’re likely getting carted off the field to the sound of a sympathy clap from the fans. The type of clap that says “We’re glad you’re still alive, idiot.”
This phenomenon of overthinking causing immobility has been termed “analysis paralysis” and the results, as we just discovered, are often disastrous.
Analysis paralysis is not the only form of “freezing” as we’re addressing it. It’s a prevalent and growing one, though.
Indecision is the disease, which makes firm decision-making the natural remedy.
Firm decision-making as we’re addressing it doesn’t hinge on being correct. It hinges on being self-aware enough to make adjustments when necessary and to maintain course when most beneficial.
This is the real meat of this post. I don’t have some well of knowledge or secret sauce for knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no”. What I do have is a mental trigger to get you a much clearer read on the answer for yourself.
Engage immediately. When faced with a decision of notable importance, give your attention to it. Begin the process before information overwhelm and analysis paralysis can make a foothold.
Next, lean against your nature. I have a proclivity to favoring flight over fight as a risk-avoiding response. In practical, non-running-away-from-Ray-Lewis terms I simply mean that I tend to default to a “no” if I’m not certain about something. With that being the case, to get the most out of this decision making process I force my my initial inclination to be a “yes”. This is not the final decision. It’s only the starting point.
The next step is to listen. Listen to yourself. What is your body telling you? What about your mind? Do you have fears about this “yes”? Are they substantiated by past experience, or are they shallow feelings flowing from your insecurities? Take stock of your reactions to the assumption that you will follow through with this “yes” you’ve started from.
The next step is simple, but is among the hardest things to do.
When I find myself at this point I’ve already been processing the information long enough (even if it’s only been a few seconds in reality) to where I can tend toward overthinking. That’s why developing and training yourself to go through this process efficiently and effectively is vital.
When I’ve declared an initial “yes” my mind and body will give me plenty of signals to support and oppose that “yes”. It’s important for me, given my nature to favor risk-avoidance, to sort out which of those signals are most credible. If I’m looking at buying a new car and have “yes’d” my way to talking to a dealer about a specific car, but the conversation with that dealer is setting off alarm bells in my head about their trustworthiness, then the right decision is for me to trust that feeling, land on “no”, and walk away. The “yes” I started on was adequately rebutted and I’ve landed on a decision I can stand by.
When I declared a “yes” and my mind and body are putting up a strong and confident fight against my natural insecurities, then it’s important for me to act boldly and solidify that “yes”. We don’t give our subconscious near enough credit for its understanding of ourselves, our surroundings, and the ramifications of each decision we make. My subconscious is not perfectly attuned to the modern world, the ulterior motives of the people I interact with, or my own intellectual shortcomings to the point where this method will be bulletproof. I’m not looking for infallibility. I’m looking for a dependable methodology.
After all, even if this ends up being completely asinine and I make the “right” decision only 50% of the time using this method just because of statistics, that’s still better than the 0% of the time that clamming up and making no decision is the right move.
The level of self-awareness necessary to become proficient at using this method of decision-making is difficult to develop. It’s easy to let yourself slip into overthinking, or analysis paralysis. It’s easier still to simply have your insecurities tell you this isn’t a skill you’re capable of developing.
Becoming a confident an dependable decision-maker is hard. And guess what – we’ve barely involved any third parties in this post. What if you have a family who is involved in many of the major decisions you make in life? Talk about an added variable.
In the end involving third parties will actually make this whole practice easier for you, so stick with me. We’re going to get there. For the time being let’s keep it simple and work our way up. Most of the decisions we’re talking about are between apples and apples anyway, so who cares if you get it wrong? Will you end up going on a date to the second best restaurant idea you had for that night? Take a breath, allow yourself some perspective, and give yourself some patience as you begin to explore the benefits of becoming a stronger decision-maker.
Get to Work: Action Items
- Practice Makes Possible.
Alright so that’s worded to be a little more catchy than it is accurate, but here’s the point: You’re never going to feel like you’re capable of being a decisive and confident decision-maker until you just do it (phrase cred Dan Weiden). So find simple ways to practice.
If you’re trying to find something to watch on Netflix then just choose something. Will it be everything you ever hoped and dreamed, and the pinnacle of cinematic experience? I mean, no, probably not. But will it be life-altering in how horrible it is? No. Even if it turns out to be that bad, guess what you can do: DECIDE TO TURN IT OFF AND CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE.
So you gave it a go and you didn’t like it. Sweet, you’ve got one less icon on the menu screen to wonder about next time you’re deciding what to watch. What would be worse is to find yourself a half hour later still scrolling through Netflix (or Amazon Prime or Disney+ by that point) still finding nothing that jumps out to you and eventually being defeated and just turning off the TV and going to bed.
You didn’t even give any of the shows or movies a chance, so you didn’t even land on an inconsequential bad choice. You just got the snot kicked out of you by the freaking menu. Come on now.
- Know Thyself.
I’ve given the “Temet Nosce” spiel before, but it’s going to be a recurring theme so get excited.
This week’s Temet Nosce is brought to you by the letter “B”, which stands for “Billions of years of evolutionary biology leading up to the development of the frontal lobe and the prefrontal cortex which gives our species a distinct advantage in information processing but can also be super annoying and just gets in the way a lot.”
We have the survival instincts of fight and flight left over from ye olde sabretooth tiger days (bearing in mind that “freeze” is not a survival instinct, it’s a faulty program override which would lead to a very fine dinner for the aforementioned sabretooth). It’s important that we know what our default is between fight and flight, and to begin exploring in what ways that instinct can be advantageous to us and in what ways it can be detrimental. For now, let’s take a hard look at our stories and put a pin in what we believe our default survival instinct to be. This will help us to begin training to refine that instinct and to develop the other.
Having both fight and flight in our repertoire and knowing when and how to use them effectively will give us a decided advantage moving forward. And giving attention to either of them and their potential benefits will begin to lessen the “freeze” occurrences we experience.