Monthly Archives: December 2012

Making Choices: 7 Tips

As the New Year approaches, you might find yourself reflecting on the past and clarifying your direction for the future.

Traditionally, this is the time to wipe the slate clean, break bad habits, and set goals for the year ahead.

Creating and sustaining your ideal life involve good decision-making. Here are 7 tips to help you choose wisely without regret:

1. Clearly define the decision you wish to make. Before you make a choice or form a plan of action, you need to clarify your objectives. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What are your top priorities? Is it more appropriate to experiment with various options or to make a hard and fast choice? Will the decision change your life or barely affect it? Ask the right questions, define the challenge, and determine when and why you need to make the decision.

2. Decide on what’s most important to you. Set ground rules for yourself. Know your core values and act in alignment with them to make meaningful, satisfying choices. Your values could include adventure, love, freedom, safety, connection, independence and respect.

What is your core purpose in life? Why do you wake up in the morning? What drives your actions? What are the leading principles that guide your decisions?  What are your must haves? What can you do without?

3.  Reduce information overload.  It is natural and prudent to want correct information (and lots of it) before you make your choice. Gathering more information can certainly expand your choices and help you decide on the right path.  You get to list out your options, weigh the pros and cons, and assess what carries the least risks and  the most rewards.

But information overload can also leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. And information can easily become outdated and irrelevant in this rapidly-changing world. Realize that more information doesn’t necessarily lead to better decisions. Set a limit on gathering information so you can ultimately make a conscious choice.

4.  Narrow down your options. Having no choice restricts your power, freedom, autonomy and the quality of your life. But as Barry Schwartz points out in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, choice overload can be debilitating instead of liberating.

Research studies and everyday experiences tell us that having too many options can keep us stuck, lead to poor decisions, and increase regret and dissatisfaction with the choices we make.

This is why shopping can be a stressful, time-consuming activity for many in the free world. Having multiple retail outlets, products, brands, colors, styles and price options from which to choose doesn’t make shopping any easier. Added options usually make it harder to make decisions and take action.

In a research study titled “When Choice is Demotivating,” psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper challenged the assumption that having a high number of choices is more intrinsically motivating than having few.

In one experiment, they set up a free tasting booth in a grocery store where 24 varieties of gourmet jams were available for purchase.  In one week, they offered free tasting of six different jams. 40% of the customers stopped to taste and 30% of them bought a jar. A week later, they set up the same booth in the same store, but this time with all 24 different jams. 60% of the customers stopped to taste, but only 3% bought a jar.

The researchers found that people are more likely to make a purchase when they have a limited array of choices instead of a more extensive array of choices. Participants also reported greater satisfaction with their choices when their options were limited.

When you’re crippled by indecision or tired of evaluating the alternatives, don’t be afraid to restrict your options to a few, clear contenders. Establish a selection criteria based on critical attributes and key qualities.

5. Satisfice more and maximize less. Making choices is more taxing for maximizers (those who care about finding the best thing) than for satisficers (those who care about finding the adequate thing).

Maximizers strive to investigate all options and compare them before and after they make their choices. They will sample six different wines or try on eight varieties of jeans before they decide on which to purchase.

Satisficers, on the other hand, will select the option that meets their criteria, which can be high. Unlike maximizers, they prioritize a satisfactory solution over an optimal solution and don’t overthink their decision.

Making the best choice isn’t always possible or practical. It also carries consequences: Aiming for the perfect fit can suck up your time, waste your energy, distract you from your real priorities, and leave you in a foul mood.

Even when they might make better objective choices than satisficers, maximizers tend to experience greater disappointment, dissatisfaction, regret, loss aversion, and lack of enthusiasm for their decisions.

Trust that some choices, like the toothpaste you use, are best left to habitual tendencies and set preferences. While working toward the best choice is not in itself unwise, it could be more effective and efficient to just make a satisfying choice and move on.

6. Let go of unpredictable outcomes. When you choose consciously, most of your decisions will work out in the end. But some won’t. Misfortune, unforeseen circumstances, or changing situations might require you to change course.

Despite the uncertainty of the results, commit fully to your decision. Instead of worrying about what might happen, invest your time, effort and energy into implementing your action plan and maximizing its chance of success. It’s easier to make deliberate choices when you accept that outcomes are not guaranteed.

7. Use your entire mind-body system. When it comes to making choices, some advise you to think logically while others suggest you follow your feelings. But your mind and body are interconnected and both rational and intuitive processes are important in decision-making.

Your mind helps you record, process and evaluate information and develop ideas and solutions. Your body helps you tap into the inner knowing and intuitive wisdom that live in your cells.

When making choices, engage in rational thought, consider your psychological and behavioral biases, and evaluate your options. And pay attention to how you feel physically about specific options. Does your body feel solid and centered or weak and queasy? Is there a spring in your step or tension in your gut?  Healthy decisions are backed by both reason and intuition.

Human judgment is not a fixed trait. It depends largely on the condition of your mind-body system. Delay making major decisions when you’re mentally exhausted, physically tired, or emotionally drained. Take a break, eat a snack, or go for a walk. Reboot, renew and re-energize before you make life-altering choices.

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Applying these 7 tips will help you choose wisely, get comfortable with uncertainty, and make your best effort irrespective of unpredictable outcomes. Choosing leads you to take action and gain more opportunities to succeed, learn, grow and thrive.

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Photo by: orangejack

Failures, Screw-ups and Unknowns (and why they can be good for you)*

It is said that failure is a necessary precursor to ultimate success.

Want to make it big in the real world? Fail early, fail fast, fail often, as the saying goes.

Countless success stories are replete with mistakes and obstacles.

Thomas Edison failed over 6,000 times before perfecting the first electrical lightbulb. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and missed over 9,000 shots in his career. Oprah Winphrey was fired from an early anchor spot and deemed “unfit for TV”. Lady Gaga was dropped by Island Def Jam Records after only three months.

A failure that results from well-designed and well-intentioned experimentation can be worthy of praise. And regardless of whether failure offers any real value, it’s a common occurrence in our uncertain environment and a natural part of human existence. Creating a purposeful life requires messing up and venturing into the unknown.

While we all want success, it’s not guaranteed. That’s why the ability to recover from setback and move forward is essential. And this starts with embracing, processing, and even benefiting from failure.

It’s easy to see why we fear failures, screw-ups and unknowns when you consider how they are traditionally defined

Failure: 1. lack of success; failing 2. unsuccessful person or thing. 3. non-performance.

Screw-up: 1. bungle, mess. 2. mismanage a task. 3. thing incorrectly done or thought.

Unknown: 1. not known. 2. unfamiliar.

You can shift your perception and recognize their value (or at least take out the sting) by redefining them as follows:

Failure: 1. the starting line 2. part of process. 3. on the path to success.

Screw-up: 1. sign of innovation. 2. output of dedicated work 3. result of perseverance.

Unknown: 1. creative challenge. 2. new opportunity.

Failures, screw-ups and unknowns help you build resilience and character; give you insights about your work, yourself, and others; enrich your experiences; test your emotional intelligence; and add to your knowledge and skills. To gain the most from them, you could practice the following dos and don’ts on how to respond:

DO:

Feel and reflect. Fully experience the emotions that come with failure before you jump to the next thing. You owe it to yourself to process the feelings (e.g. sadness, fear or anger) without getting overly attached to them.

Speeding up and keeping yourself busy can cause you to miss out on vital lessons. To reap the nuggets, reflect and take a close look at what went awry. Did the mistake arise from a well-intentioned error of judgment or just plain carelessness? Reflecting on what didn’t work helps you learn from your mistakes and get on the right path.

Claim appropriate responsibility. Blaming yourself for events that are outside your control or constantly rescuing others signals that you’re taking on too much responsibility.

But step up to the plate when your involvement truly matters.  Think about your role in the situation and decide what you can do differently and better, going forward. Acknowledge your limits. Do you need more training? Is your workload too much for you to cover?

Admit and reframe. When you acknowledge your misstep, you free up your energy to refocus on next steps.  Get real about what constitutes success – dedicated work and true grit, coupled with mistakes and uncertainty.

Take effective action.  Forget the word “try.” Set out specific action steps that you must take. If you fail to complete them, regroup and reset. Although trying is better than not trying at all, it gives you wiggle room to avoid committed action. When you focus on doing, you drop the drama associated with trying.

DON’T:

Blow off failure and move on too quickly. Failure can trigger painful emotions. It can derail you, raise your self-doubt, and heighten your anxiety. It often brings unnecessary stigma and shame. To take the edge off, you might dismiss your failures as trivial or reinterpret them as successes. But adopting an unrealistic, Pollyanna attitude has serious drawbacks.

Blame and make excuses. When you don’t take ownership of your actions and choices, you miss out on the chance to correct course.  Blaming others or external events can give you a sense of control, but makes it harder for you to effect change. While clueless colleagues or a poor economy might be contributing factors, dwelling on them doesn’t change much. Chastising yourself also adds barriers to bouncing back.

Deny and cover up. Ignoring and hiding your mistakes cause you to miss out on the valuable lessons they provide.  You are bound to repeat them if you don’t shed light on them. Denying your role in the failure or that a failure occurred thwarts improvement. Find a supportive group or create a learning organization where goof-ups are openly discussed.

Give up easily. Stretching and growing involves facing uncertainty and having setbacks. If you are not willing to move beyond your comfort zone, you might feel safe, but surely limit your opportunities. While quitting is not in itself a bad choice, you want to make sure you’re not simply succumbing to fear of failure. This kind of relinquishment leads to regret.

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Embracing failures doesn’t mean deliberately seeking it or creating a lax work environment. It’s not a call for reckless conduct and disregard of standards. Fear of failure can be healthy when it protects you and doesn’t paralyze you.

Failure and mistakes have real consequences. Do what you must to avoid or minimize them. Unknowns also create special challenges. Do what you can to fill in the blanks and create solutions.

But realize that you will continue to face uncertainty, mess up, and experience outright failures because you’re human. You’re fallible and you don’t have all the answers.

Knowing how to accept and process failures, screw-ups and unknowns will help you use them to your advantage. Recognizing them as normal and often necessary to success is key.

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*This post is featured on Lifehacker.com as Change Your Definition of Failure: It’s How You Get Better.