How to make better choices

 

Some of us made bad choices earlier in life, and we seem to be paying for it now.

Dropping out of school or marrying the wrong person. Choosing the wrong career or getting stuck in a dead-end job. Taking on debt or having a house that’s in negative equity.

Other bad choices are due to our temperament, and they’re the everyday ones that hold us back. Here are the main ones. These are the ways to make bad choices.

 

  1. Emotionally labile (mood swings). Are you a stormy person given to rants and outbursts? Maybe some of this is due to stress. But emotional behaviour leads to bad, spur of the moment decisions. The amygdala – our old reptile brain – rushes into action when challenged, while the neocortex, the youngest part, is good at making reasoned decisions.
    Solution: When emotion wells up inside you, find a way to push it back down and let your more sophisticated brain take over.
  • Superficial. Some of us are the life and soul of the party, good time girls and boys who love staying out late. We occasionally disparage the more serious parts of life, such as taking responsibility. But becoming responsible is what happens when we grow up. We get to take control of our lives. It’s what happens when we leave adolescence behind us.
    Solution: It’s time to get serious. What is the One Big Change you need to make? How will you implement it?
  • Defined by other people. They may expect you to behave in a certain way. They may classify you as the party person (mentioned above), the ditsy one, or the wimpy one. If you accept these labels, it’s hard to break out and do your own thing.
    Solution: You have to choose your own path. Create your own persona, not one chosen by other people.

  • Living in a fantasy world. You may find it hard to face up to reality. Symptoms are a refusal to face facts, such as keeping your spending within limits. Do you dream of being whisked away to a tropical island by a gorgeous new partner, or striking it rich with a lottery ticket? That’s a way of evading reality.
    Solution: You achieve things only by your own endeavours. Sit down and plan how to change your life.

  • Letting what happened in the past dictate your future. Just because you made a bad marriage, fell into debt, or had a failed business shouldn’t stop you from trying again. 
    Solution: Treat the past as a learning experience. Don’t let it control you. Make grounded decisions about your future.

  • Negativity. If you have a negative outlook on life, try to curb it. If you expect the worst, that’s what will happen, because you won’t commit to making it work. We can all get hurt by past choices, but that’s what they are – in the past. Negativity will hold you back.
    Solution: If you have a depressive tendency, use the advice in this book and elsewhere to manage it.

  • Putting others’ needs first. Do you do that? If so, it’s time to re-evaluate – if you want change. It may be hard and it may look to be selfish, but it will aid your mental health and help you attain change. Identify who you’re trying to benefit, and how much they deserve it, and whether it’s worth it. 
    Solution: Carve out time for yourself.

  • Making excuses. When I was young, I had a ready excuse for everything that went wrong. Nowadays I try to understand what happened, and learn from it. That’s what grow ups do. If you’re short of money and say ‘I’m no good with cash’, that’s an excuse. If you say, ‘I didn’t have enough time to do something important,’ find out why that happened, and do it differently next time. If you’re late for a meeting, accept that you should have started out earlier.
    Solution: Learn from problems. Decide how to prevent them happening again.

  • Being indecisive. It’s easy to keep putting major decisions off. There are always good reasons for delaying them. But the big decisions will be waiting for you, and that’s not good for you.
    Solution:
    Make a list of the big decisions, and take action.

  • Having low aims. You can’t achieve change if you believe you should ‘stay in your lane’. Low expectations will achieve just that – you’ll stay in a lowly, subordinate situation for the rest of your life. It applies to your partner, your work, your home, and your children. Demand high standards of yourself and your family. Hold yourself erect and make plans.

  • Ignoring warning signs. When things happen, people often say ‘It was obvious a long time ago’. Financial problems come through the letter box in brown envelopes. Marital problems come when your partner stays out late and comes home smelling of someone else. Children’s problems come when you see evidence of cuts on their forearms. And there are practical warnings such as road signs.
    Solution: Signs tell are there to tell you to take action. So, do it.

  • Preferring the security of the familiar. We may avoid change because we unconsciously worry about an unknown future. It’s more comforting to stay with what we know, rather than leave our comfort zone. This is pernicious because most of us don’t recognise that tendency. It’s buried deep, and we may  offer spurious but apparently cogent reasons for not moving forward.
    Solution: We have to face our fears, and accept that change is necessary. Plan how you can minimise the pain.

  • Being impetuous. Not thinking things through before we make a change usually ends up as a bad choice. There is merit in taking a step back before we commit to anything big. Doing something on impulse and lead to regrets afterwards. When we’ve flounced out of a meeting or a relationship it’s hard to get back in. Making expensive purchases on the spur of the moment can cost us dear. If anyone asks me to buy something immediately, whether online or in person, it’s usually because they know I might reconsider if given time to think. Alarm bells ring in my mind, and I usually tell the person I need to reflect on it.
    Solution: When faced with an important decision, gather the information first. If someone is pushing you to make a choice, have a phrase ready, such as ‘Let me have a think about that. I’ll give you an answer tomorrow.’

  • Listening to the wrong people. As teenagers we rarely want to heed the advice of our parents who warned us about alcohol or mixing with ‘the wrong crowd’. As adults we need to choose our friends carefully. Bad advice comes from all kinds of people. There are the unreliable, self-centred ones who want to bring you into their orbit. And there are well-intentioned people who care about you, but who are limited by their own fears.
    Solution: Take advice from people who you know to be sound and experienced. In particular, pay attention to people who weight up the pros and cons of any major decision.

  • Being self-opinionated. It’s dangerous to assume you ‘know it all’. Before making a big choice, consult others, listen closely to them, and then make up your own mind. Be open to the ideas of others. There is wisdom in the crowd. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, and people who believe they’re infallible are often about to have a nasty surprise. The world changes slowly but surely.
    Solution: Listen more carefully to what’s going on around you.

 

Now do the Good Choices/Bad Choices quiz.

You can download an editable version here: How to make better choices – Worksheet

 

Quiz: Good choices, bad choices

Are you prone to making bad choices, or none at all?

 

Do you have stormy moods?

 

Do you spend too much time on lightweight activities?

 

Do you let others define who you are and what you do?

 

Do you dream of unlikely fantasy situations, rather than taking steps to achieve concrete results?

 

Does the past dictate or limit what you do today?

 

Do you often say negative things about others’ suggestions, or spurn new ideas?

 

Are you constantly doing things for other people, leaving yourself lacking time for your own projects?

 

Do you make excuses when things go wrong, rather than accept responsibility?

 

Do you procrastinate, particularly when it comes to making change?

 

Are you limited by your own negative self-image?

 

Are you impetuous?

 

Do you listen to the wrong people?

 

Do you ‘know it all’?

 

Total

 

Results: If you scored less than 7 out of 14, you make good choices. More than that, and you need to implement the changes suggested in this section.

 

Want to know more?

These ideas are taken from my forthcoming book, Get Up and Go.

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