How to actually make great life choices

I once took a personality test that marked me as ‘extremely passive’. I huffed and puffed about it and then went about my day. Years later, I can confirm that this was true at the time.

Do you feel stuck, trapped, stagnant, bored, or a combination of the above? Here is some actual millennial wisdom about breaking free, starting over, shaking things up, derived from my own experiences of becoming a decision-making agent or in other words real person. Or alternatively, read the ironic version of this post here.

Options

In order to make judicious decisions, you need to at least have different options before you. If the status quo seems like your only option, then of course you’re going to stick with it and your boredom or stuckdom will not go away. Therefore, get cracking on some different options. You need to actually dedicate effort to this. If an alternative lands in your lap (e.g. through nepotism/recruiters), grab it and inspect it more closely. However, this probably won’t happen. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Don’t be so passive.

WHAT DO YOU WANT??

It’s not good enough just to have options, they actually have to be palatable. If more than one of them is palatable, then you’ve got yourself a dilemma (see below). If you struggle to want things at all, then you’re certainly not going to pursue change. Not to want things, in other words not to have the drive to better yourself, could result from a number of things:

  • Fear of failure: you’re worried that if you want things and don’t achieve them, you’ll be disappointed. You’re worried that you won’t achieve things because:
  • Self-esteem issues: you don’t think you’re worth striving for; you don’t think you’re worth a better future. This could all be subconscious btw.
  • Laziness: you will DEFINITELY regret your bone-idle ways when you’re older. So get the heck out of bed before noon once in a while.

If you don’t want things yet, still do things – anything. This is better than doing nothing. You might acquire want in the process.

Analyse and prioritise

Surprise surprise, this one requires effort too. If you’ve done your job well, you may find your head spinning with different options, or different components that can be combined in different (nay infinite) ways to form the different options, and too many criteria against which to judge the decision. Do not disengage.

Let’s say it’s entered your head that you might want to move to Timbuktu. Let’s say your company doesn’t have an office there. Let’s say that before you find out whether your visa application is successful you have to also decide whether or not to renew the lease on your flat. Let’s say that you didn’t apply for a work visa. Let’s say you just got offered a promotion. There are too many things to keep in mind here: you kind of want to go to Timbuktu, but it would also be cool to get the pay rise and advance your career; you don’t know whether to hedge your bets and not renew the flat, risking becoming homeless if your visa application doesn’t go through or having to sublet the flat (bearing in mind you don’t know whether the landlord will permit it) if it does go through. You’re aware you made a mistake not applying for a work visa, unless in fact you decide to live on your savings for a bit and chill by the pool. How to evaluate these various questions and their contingent answers all at once?

Firstly, you need to analyse. Write a decision-making tree of every possible scenario:

decision tree.PNG
Note: it doesn’t have to be 3D or made using Powerpoint

Come up with some useful criteria against which to score each outcome, such as money/stress/happiness/time. List the criteria in order of priority. Perform said scoring. If you’re feeling assiduous, you could even weight the scores according to your priorities: if you value money over lack of stress, apply a x2 to the money score. If you’re a visual learner, plot the results on a graph:

decision quadrant.PNG

You may end up with a list of prioritised scenarios that allows you to aim firmly for the top choice, only lowering your aims if circumstance demands. Or you may end up with a list of undifferentiated scenarios with your gut leaning strongly towards one or the other. Or you may end up with a clear choice between, for example, scenario A (high-stress, high-happiness) and scenario B (low-stress, high-money). If your criteria priority is 1. happiness over 2. money over 3. stress, then option A is the obvious bet. Your gut should confirm that. If not, you may have calculated something wrong. So – the old adage that procrastination gets you nowhere isn’t just an old wives’ tale.

Self-worth

This needs its own section because it may be the most important thing on this list. If you don’t believe that you can achieve something, or if you don’t believe that you are worth striving for, then you will probably act accordingly, and you won’t in fact achieve. You may well, without knowing it, try less hard as a result, put yourself out there less, speak up for yourself less, protest your supposed inabilities. Other people may well take you at your word. Once you believe you are able, your behaviour will naturally change accordingly, putting you in a better position to achieve. So if you think you can do something, you probably can. This sounds untrue/like magic. But I’ve found it to be true in various domains of my life, if that counts for anything. No, I’m not talking about mind-over-mattering my way to growing wings or becoming an opera singer within two weeks. Don’t be so facetious.

And that’s all from me. There are, of course, other resources out there to help you improve your life: other self-help articles; the wise counsel of friends; petitionary prayer – although I don’t know how well ‘let my will be done’ goes down these days. But you can at least make a start by getting off your bum, addressing the problem using mental effort, and plucking up some self-love to boot. See you in Timbuktu.

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