Make better decisions


Megan was having a hard time. Her boyfriend, the one who she should have cut loose months ago, had just dumped her. A struggling actress, she was slogging through one audition after another without so much as a call-back. And she was paying a crazy amount to rent an apartment so tiny that she could touch both walls if she stretched her arms wide. This bad spell came to a head one morning when Megan woke up with a searing pain in her neck. The pain was so intense that she could not move her neck at all. She could only bear it if she carried her head tilted slightly to the left, not moving a centimeter.

Megan struggled through her morning routine and then walked, tilt-headed, to her waitressing job. She complained to a co-worker, who gave her the name of a massage therapist. “He is a Chinese medical doctor who works out of his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and he is amazing! You have to call him right now.” This particular co-worker was known for having both a cocaine problem and a violent, married boyfriend. Megan thought briefly that maybe she should call her friend Annie, who was studying to be a physical therapist, but she shrugged off her hesitation and called, making an appointment for that afternoon.

Megan arrived at the good doctor’s address at the appointed hour and was let in by a woman who yelled something over her shoulder and then headed out the door. Megan stood in a regular living room unusual only in that there were a series of straps hanging from the ceiling. No massage table or changing area - nothing to indicate that this was a place of business. Megan started to think she should leave.

The doctor, a short, heavy man, came into the living room dressed in shorts and a tank top. He pointed to Megan’s clothing, saying, “Off! Off!” Megan expected him to leave the room to give her some privacy, but he did not. Megan took off her clothes down to her underwear and bra. The man said, “Off!” indicating that she needed to take off her bra. She did, turning her back to him, then stood, freezing, hands folded modestly over her chest.

The “ doctor” motioned for Megan to lay on the floor on her stomach, so she laid down, her face mushed against the carpet. Suddenly he grabbed ahold of the straps on the ceiling and jumped directly on to Megan’s upper trapezius, and pain shot in every direction. One thought suddenly formed clearly in Megan’s mind,

“I am not making good decisions.”

We’ve all been there, right? Laying naked on the floor of a Hell’s Kitchen apartment while a 250lb man jumps on your neck.

Here are a few guideposts for making better decisions.

You only have to make the next best decision.

A lot of people get stuck making any decision because they fret about every possible scenario that might come up down the line. Let’s say you are avoiding ending a relationship with someone who belittles you and can’t be trusted because you worry that if you leave him you will never meet someone else and will die alone with your cats.

You are making your decision based on an imaginary set of future circumstances. Only make decisions based on real, present circumstances. Trust that once the future is the present, you’ll have the tools necessary to handle the next set of problems.

Consult your values.

It is imperative you have a clear idea of how you want to live your life and what sort of person you want to be. Take a look at this values list. Pick the 5 that are most important to you. Keep that list on a post-it note where you will run into it often. While a good outcome is never certain, if you are consistently making decisions based on your core values, things are going to work out more often than not.

Who are the experts here?

Only listen to people who know what the hell they are talking about. Don’t take investment advice from the guy you are waiting with at the bus stop unless he happens to be Warren Buffet. Don’t listen to your friend’s ideas about how to train for a marathon if she herself has never run more than a mile. Don’t take marriage advice from your thrice divorced great aunt. You get the picture.

I recently had a conversation with a fledgling business owner who went against her instincts to take some bad marketing advice from a friend. As we sussed out where she had gone wrong, it became clear that this friend knew nothing about the field in question and even less about running a business. So why did my client listen to this person? “Because he sounded so CERTAIN!” But you can’t resent the bad-advice giver. They aren’t trying to derail your life - they’re just making casual conversation. In ten minutes they will have forgotten what they said completely. It is up to you to discern who/what to listen to.

Avoid Avoidance

Pretty much anything can become a crisis if we wait long enough to deal with it. It is much, much harder to make good decisions when you are terrified, in excruciating pain, or overwhelmed with anxiety. These emotions actually shut down the executive planning area of your brain and leave you with only flight or fight as an option. Great when being stared down by a wildebeest, not so helpful when you are walking into a meeting where you might lose your job.

Sometimes crises are unavoidable, but often they are not. If you have nagging pain, go to the doctor before it becomes debilitating. If things at your job start to feel raggedy, ask your boss for a sit down to address your concerns, or make a plan for what you’ll do if you need to find something else. Get the information you need to make a decision and make it. These decisions do not get easier, they get way, way harder, so bite the bullet and do it now.

Trust your instincts. You have good instincts.

One final caveat: Even if it is Warren Buffet you are lucky enough to be chatting with about your investments, never take advice that goes directly against your instincts. There is a big difference between being open minded and giving away all your power. You are the number one expert on your life and your circumstances. Every single other person - your spouse, your father, your boss, your doctors - are merely consultants.

Sometimes you are going to follow this formula and things will go wrong anyway.

That’s life. Handle it, learn from it, move on.

Every experience, good and bad, will help you make even better decisions going forward.

You’ll be happy to hear that the massage was legitimate, albeit unorthodox, and nothing bad happened to Megan that day. It even helped her neck a little.

Even better, that experience served as a catalyst for Megan to take a hard look at how she was making decisions. She made several big adjustments. Now, a few years later, she is living in the country with her wonderful husband and their sweet baby. She is completely aligned with her values and trusting her instincts.

How about you? Anything you are trying to decide right now? Which one of the the guideposts do you need to apply?

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