Effective Decision Making

Sometimes we have to make important decisions where the ‘right’ answer is unclear. I would like to suggest this process for making for those tricker decisions:

1. Which of your values are relevant in this situation?

2. What are the key facts? In this step aim to see the world the way it really is rather than as your mind tells you it is.

3. What is the relationship between the facts – how do they interact?

4. Focus in depth on different parts of the problem (whilst keeping the whole in mind). Take different perspectives – how would others view this problem? How will you view this problem in 5 years time?

5. Consider that there may be a better alternative that you haven’t thought of. Ask for advice. Do some research. Brainstorm. Consider trialling different options and observing how they turn out.

6. Be prepared to sit either with the discomfort of not deciding or with the discomfort of deciding and possibly making the wrong decision. See if it possible to have those difficult thoughts and feelings without them pushing you around. 

7. Make a decision and then check it against your values – is this a move towards what you want your life to be about?

6. Observe the outcome and be prepared to make incremental adjustments. Again, work to see the world as it really is – rather than how your mind tells you it is.

This process draws on Roger Martin’s work on Integrative Thinking

I think he has developed a great model and adding in connection to values, defusion, perspective taking and acceptance make it that bit better!

Rob wrote a great post on the costs of making decisions without any connection to values.

Jumping Off A Piece Of Paper

Do you have something important that you need to do but even the thought of it makes you feel so uncomfortable that you just avoid it?

It might be risking rejection; doing something boring; risking looking stupid…..

In this great podcast, DJ Moran talks about slicing these challenges up really thinly. Finding the point where you have made it small enough that you will take action. He uses the metaphor of jumping off a piece of paper. Even though the jump is really, really tiny; you are still jumping and that is very different to not jumping at all.

And once you have gotten moving, you might tackle jumping off the phone book next!

The Problem With Work-Life Balance

I think the concept of ‘work-life balance’ is deeply flawed.

The phrase suggests that:

  1. Work and life are somehow different. Now, that is patently stupid. If you aren’t feeling alive when you are working, then your problem isn’t lack of work-life balance. You probably need a good career coach – I hear that this fellow is quite good.
  2. There is a state where everything is in balance and there are people who have achieved that state. I have honestly never been in that state. have you? Do you know anyone who has been in that state?

I think a much better strategy involves a fundamentally different approach.

(Enjoying the Beach with Albert – Two valued domains (Relationship and Health) at the same time!)

1. Instead of just balancing work and life I think the task is much more complex. We need to work on balancing different life domains (or what Kelly Wilson would call ‘Domains of valued living’). Most of us have a few of these. Mine are: family, work/achievement, learning, friends, relationship, health and wellbeing, contribution/community.

2. It would also help to view ‘balance’ as a verb  – ‘balancing’. An ongoing process that involves:

  • Deciding on the areas of life that matter to you and what values and actions you want to take in each area.
  • Noticing how you are doing over time. Getting better and better at noticing when you are focussed too much on one area of life and neglecting other important areas…and then making a correction.

You can take the Valued Living Questionnaire here to see how you are going in balancing your life.

I Worry That I Sound Like An ACT Evangelist

You may have noticed that Rob and I are pretty passionate about ACT. If you have met either of us in person you will know that if you show even a glimmer of interest in the topic we will happily go on and on about valued directions and experiential avoidance for hours. We might even start ranting on about Relational Frame Theory if you are very lucky!

Sometimes I have the thought that just possibly we might sound a bit crazy. That our passion might come across a tad evangelistic.

The reason I am so enthusiastic about this approach is because ACT and the science behind it (contextual behavioural science) combine scientific rigour with an attempt to answer the ‘big questions about understanding and improving the human condition’ (This is based on a passage in The Neighborhood Project by David Sloan Wilson).

How cool is that?!


Why Is Taking A Break So Difficult?

I took a ‘sicky’ the other day (is that just an Australian word? In case it is – it means an ‘unplanned absence’). I wasn’t sick. I was just tired. Normally I am full of energy and enthusiasm for my life. I feel that each moment drips with meaning and purpose. From writing the speech I am giving next week on goal setting to attending my daughter’s commencement ceremony at school, it all matters so much. And this is wonderful, but now and again I get very, very tired.

A pot of green tea on my deck

So I made myself a pot of green tea, downloaded a Georgian Historical Romance onto my ipad and spent a few hours on the day bed on my deck, snoozing and reading.

Now I feel better.

You would think that taking a few hours off would be an easy thing to do… but not for me. My mind alternates between reminding me of all I have to do and busily problem solving (‘I need an activity to illustrate that point about goal setting, what would work? I must remember to ring the plumber. That balustrade needs painting…’). Of course, if I had decided to carry on working, my mind would have gone on and on about how tired I was (‘I am sooo tired. I need to rest. I can’t concentrate. I wonder if I am getting sick?’).

A few years ago, Russ Harris taught me, ‘Your mind is not your friend’. I find it is helpful to know this. Whatever I do, part of my mind will chatter away in an unhelpful fashion. This is part of being human. The trick is to do what is right in that moment – whether it is to rest or work or play – and take my chattery mind along with me.

We Can’t Get Rid Of Our Mental Junk – So What Do We Do Instead?

The Big Clear Out

People in my neighborhood are throwing out their junk. They are sorting out their stuff and leaving it on the side of the road. In a few days some lovely people from the council will come and take it all away. Wonderful!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that with the junk in our minds? If we could choose which of the rules about ourselves and the world that we carry around in our minds, no longer work for us and just get rid of them?

Sadly, behaviorism tells us that this isn’t possible. We can’t unlearn something (unless we are willing to suffer brain damage – which seems a little extreme!). We can only add to our learning.

Let me give you an example. When I was a medical student I learnt that it was a very bad thing to make a mistake. When I practiced medicine, this was usually a very good rule to follow. I think my patients were glad I took that approach!

However, I don’t practice medicine anymore. Although doing an excellent job is still very important to me and my clients, generally it isn’t a disaster if I make a mistake. In fact, trying too hard to avoid mistakes can impair my capacity to do a good job. I can end up being too much of a perfectionist.

I can’t unlearn the rule I learnt as a medical student. It will always be with me. But what I can do is learn some new ways of behaving so I have more options. And I can get better at recognising when an old rule like ‘I mustn’t make any mistakes’ isn’t appropriate and 80% is good enough.

What internal rules do you have that are no longer useful for you?