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Healthy Decision Making

During this time of the year, students often face many choices— which internship to accept over the summer, plans for the following year, and even career choices for some seniors. Often, these decisions are difficult to make. However, everyone can take steps to become decision-makers. If you want to become a feel more confident in your choices, consider incorporating these tips into your life:

  1. Is it Expansive or Contractive? People often tell you to trust your gut when you make decisions. However, it can often be difficult to know what your intuition is saying. One way that helps life coach Marie Forleo is labeling her options as expansive or contractive. Expansiveness feels light, powerful, exciting. When you can’t wait to get started on something, there’s a good chance you’re feeling expansive. Contractive feels heavy and tight, maybe even limiting. You may feel dread, secrecy, or even physical anxiety while considering this choice. If one option makes you feel more expansive, this may be your intuition helping you make a better decision.

  2. Frame Your Problems In a Different Way The way you pose a question or a problem plays a major role in how you’ll respond and how you’ll perceive your chances of success. Imagine two surgeons. One surgeon tells his patients, “Ninety percent of people who undergo this procedure live.” The other surgeon says, “Ten percent of people who undergo this procedure die.” The facts are the same. But research shows people who hear “10 percent of people die” perceive their risk to be much greater. So when you’re faced with a decision, frame the issue differently. Take a minute to think about whether the slight change in wording affects how you view the problem.

  3. Stop Thinking About the Problem When you’re faced with a tough choice, like whether to move to a new city or change careers, you might spend a lot of time thinking about the pros and cons or the potential risks and rewards. And while science shows there is plenty of value in thinking about your options, overthinking your choices can actually be a problem. Weighing the pros and cons for too long may increase your stress level to the point that you struggle to make a decision. Studies show there’s a lot of value in letting an idea “incubate.” Non-conscious thinking is surprisingly astute. So consider sleeping on a problem. Or get yourself involved in an activity that takes your mind off a problem. Let your brain work through things in the background and you’re likely to develop clear answers.

  4. Set Aside Time to Reflect on Your Mistakes Whether you left the house without an umbrella and got drenched on the way to work, or you blew your budget because you couldn’t resist an impulse purchase, set aside time to reflect on your mistakes. Make it a daily habit to review the choices you made throughout the day. When your decisions don’t turn out well, ask yourself what went wrong. Look for the lessons that can be gained from each mistake you make. Just make sure you don’t dwell on your mistakes for too long. Keep your reflection time limited—perhaps 10 minutes per day is enough to help you think about what you can do better tomorrow. Then take the information you've gained and commit to making better decisions moving forward.

  5. Consider the Opposite Once you’ve decided something is true, you’re likely to cling to that belief. It’s a psychological principle known as belief perseverance. It takes more compelling evidence to change a belief than it did to create it, and there’s a good chance you’ve developed some beliefs that don’t serve you well. For example, you might assume you’re a bad public speaker, so you avoid speaking up in meetings. Or you might believe you are bad at relationships, so you stop going on dates. You’ve also developed beliefs about certain groups of people. Those beliefs that you assume are always true or 100 percent accurate can lead you astray. The best way to challenge your beliefs is to argue the opposite. If you’re convinced you shouldn’t speak up in a meeting, argue all the reasons why you should. Or if you’re convinced rich people are bad, list reasons why wealthy people may be kind or helpful. Considering the opposite will help breakdown unhelpful beliefs so you can look at situations in another light and decide to act differently.

  6. Label Your Emotions People are often more inclined to say things like, “I have butterflies in my stomach,” or “I had a lump in my throat,” rather than use feeling words, like sad or nervous, to describe their emotional state. Many adults just aren’t comfortable talking about their feelings. But labeling your emotions can be the key to making better decisions. Studies consistently show anxiety makes people play it safe. And anxiety spills over from one area of someone’s life to another. So if you’re nervous about the mortgage application you just filed, you might be less likely to ask someone out on a date because you’ll think it sounds too risky. Excitement, on the other hand, can make you overestimate your chances of success. Even if there’s only a small likelihood you’ll succeed, you might be willing to take a big risk if you’re excited about the potential payoffs (this is often the case with gambling). Make it a daily habit to label your feelings. Note whether you’re feeling sad, angry, embarrassed, anxious, or disappointed. Then take a minute to consider how those emotions may be influencing your decisions.

  7. Talk to Yourself Like a Trusted Friend When faced with a tough choice, ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” You’ll likely find the answer comes to you more readily when you’re imagining yourself offering wisdom to someone else. Talking to yourself like a trusted friend takes some of the emotion out of the equation. It will help you gain some distance from the decision and will give you an opportunity to be a little more objective. It will also help you to be a little kinder to yourself.While you may be likely to say negative things to yourself like, “This will never work. You can’t do anything right,” there’s a good chance you wouldn’t say that to your friend. Perhaps you’d say something more like, “You’ve got this. I know you can do it,” if you were talking to a friend. Developing a kinder inner dialogue takes practice. But when you make self compassion a daily habit, your decision-making skills will improve.


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