6 Questions to Ask When Making Hard Decisions

Credit: Flocutus

Photo: Flocutus

Do you have a hard decision to make?

Life is filled with circumstances where we need or are forced to make hard decisions.  The reason these decisions are difficult is that there is not always a clear way forward and we are filled with anxiety about making the wrong choice.

In my life and in the lives of many people I’ve coached, I’ve seen people struggle with decisions around:

  • Starting or ending a relationship
  • Leaving a job or staying
  • Committing time to an activity or saying no
  • Starting a plan to get healthy or doing nothing
  • Making a significant purchase or holding on to your money
  • Moving a family for a work opportunity
  • Planning to retire or keep working
  • Starting a business or working for someone else

Whatever the hard decision you need to make, I find the following questions helpful in making the best decisions we can.

1. Is the option in alignment with my values?

One of the biggest stresses in life is when you act in ways that violate your deepest values. If we make choices that conflict with our values, then this is an indication that an option may not work for us.  Not all of our values have equal importance in life. I think it’s helpful to rank order your values so your decision falls within your highest priorities.

2. Is the decision about something where there is clearly a right or wrong?

Many decisions we struggle with have nothing to do with right or wrong, yet we have anxiety about making the wrong choice.  If you are buying a car and staying within your budget, does is ultimately matter if you buy a Toyota or a Ford?  If you are pursing a new job and have two offers, could both options be a good fit?  If there is no discernible right or wrong, what seems best to you? In these types of scenarios, you can’t make a bad decision so determine what may be the better option for now.

3. Do I have enough information to make the decision?

Sometimes we get paralyzed when making a decision because we don’t have all the details about the benefits or drawbacks of our options.  This requires that we take time to ask questions, do some research, or consult with experts.  Once you have the information you need, the path to making a better decision will be clearer.

4. Will I regret choosing or not choosing an option later in life?

Author Mark Twain has this great quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

When making a decision about how I am going to spend my time or resources this is a question I often ask. I find that if I believe I will regret a decision later in life, then I have the insight of what I need to do now. Sometimes playing it safe is the best option, but sometimes taking a calculated risk, trying something new, or starting a new venture will lead to less regrets.

5. Have I talked through my options with people I trust?

Don’t go it alone when making tough decisions.  We all need an outside perspective to gain clarity on next steps.  Engage with good friends, family members, and colleagues.  Read books written by authors you admire.  Talk with a leader in your business or industry.  Hire a coach. I believe it’s a good idea to have a good mix between people we consult with, some who have personal interest in our outcome and some who don’t.  This mix will give you different feedback.

6. Have I given this decision enough time or too much time?

There are decisions we can’t rush. The outcomes have significant meaning in our life and relationships. The decisions could affect others and so we need to take time gather information, ask ourselves the above questions, and consult with people we trust.

The are also times when we are delaying a decision we know we need to make.  This heightens anxiety and leads to frustration.  If we are taking too much time it may be a signal that we don’t feel capable to make a good decision or that either option we choose has difficult components.  In these situations I encourage setting a deadline for a choice to made, gathering any missing information, and talking with people you can trust and who will hold you accountable.

 

A  challenge in making hard decisions is that sometimes there is information or experiences you can never know unless you try. When people are going through divorces, leaving a job, or moving to new cities there is anxiety of the unknown.

Will I be OK?

Will I succeed?

Will I like it there?

Sometimes we will make a decision that we later regret and here is the good news.  I don’t think any experience in life is wasted as long as we learn and grow as individuals. We all make decisions given the information and context of our life at a given time, so let’s have so compassion on ourselves.

One of the best decisions you can make is to be your best self. Start there and use the above questions as a guide on your way.

 

 

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Flawed and a Little Crazy. It’s a Good Starting Point.

I have to admit it, but I’m deeply flawed and a little crazy. Aren’t we all?

Much of life is geared about trying to seem normal and healthy to all those around us. In the workplace and around our friends and acquaintances we work hard to show only the positive things in our lives. We are smart, witty, and engaging. Everything is going well and we are all happy.

Sometimes I’ll hear people say, “Wow Bob and Mary seem to have it all together. They have great jobs, a beautiful home, and their kids are amazing”.  While  that looks true I usually think, “That can’t be true. Nothing is ever that perfect”.

What’s with the negativity?  If I’m honest I am flawed and some of my thinking is a little crazy and I’m not the only one. My wife and kids are flawed and their thinking can be a little crazy too.  Flawed and crazy is a human experience.

The sad truth is that we all work too hard holding up a facade we hope people believe because we are afraid of social and psychological rejection.   But trying to be perfect and maintaining that facade takes a tremendous amount of physical and psychic energy. Day after day and year after year of trying to appear perfect only adds stress to an already complicated life. It’s not worth it.

Why is admitting that I’m flawed and a little crazy a good starting point for life? 

First, because it’s true.

Second, because we don’t have to work so hard trying to look and behave like perfect people.

In the On Being podcast, host Krista Tippett interviewed relationship expert and  philosopher Alain de Botton.  In this interview Alain states that healthy relationships are those where individuals understand they are deeply flawed and that their partner is deeply flawed too. In this relationship the couple is not looking for their partner to meet their every need, but see the relationship as a way to help each other become their best selves.

If we start our relationships with the ideal that other people are and should be perfect, then we are headed for disappointment and disillusionment. If our friends or partners expects us to be perfect, they are headed for the same disappointment.

Here’s a link to the blog and podcast: On Being With Krista Tippett

By embracing my flaws I can have compassion on myself  and that compassion can extend to those around me. I believe that we all do the best we can given the context we are in and the knowledge we have. No one is trying to consciously try to screw up their lives. We are all doing our best and if we could give each other a little compassion for being human, we will all grow in the right direction.

Embracing the fact that we are all flawed isn’t a justification for our behavior, but it does explain it. The goal is to continually evolve and grow in life and embracing your flaws is a part of it.

Here’s are handful of my flaws and crazy thoughts that I know my friends and family have to experience:

  • When I feel I’m right, you’ll know about it
  • If I  believe it, I want you to believe it too.
  • I’ll convince you of what is right.
  • If you are not convinced, then it’s your fault.
  • I need to be right to be OK.

As you can see these are not very generous ways of living with others, but these are flaws that I’m working on and my goal is to have awareness of my crazy thinking and behaviors. I don’t have to act out on them and let them interfere with my goals and relationships.

Having awareness of our flaws and crazy thinking is a great starting point for living a intentional and meaningful life . Living without awareness will hamper our ability to authentically connect with others.

Embrace your flaws and crazy thinking as a great starting point for having meaningful and intentional lives.

 

Everyone Needs A Coach

Elite athletes know it. Executives know it. But what about the rest of us?

If you want to accomplish more out of life, get a coach.

I used to wonder why elite athletes hired coaches. In fact athletes at the top of their sport often have multiple coaches: one for technique, one for strength and conditioning, and one for mental performance.  Why so many coaches if they are elite?

Because elite athletes know that the difference between winning and losing is often fractions of a second.  Think about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. His gold medals were often won by a 100th of second. That’s tight competition and any extra performance an athlete can get out of their process is worth the coaches they employ.

Leaders in organizations get coaching. If they are so talented, why do they need coaching?  It’s because of what we all know but sometimes forget, it’s hard to live inside yourself and outside yourself at the same time. Executive coaches can give feedback for greater clarity on goals and performance and they can challenge people to become better leaders with improved communication and vision.

Coaches work with us to become our best selves and champion our process by holding us accountable and giving us necessary feedback.  Sometimes coaches are experts and can help in the things we don’t know but need to know. Sometimes coaches help us create better plans of action so we can accomplish out of life what we haven’t been accomplishing.

I’ve been coaching people for what seems like my entire life. I was working with elementary students when I was in junior high, when I was in high school I mentored 7th and 8th graders, and when I was in college I worked with high schoolers. I worked in student development at a university after college. I’ve coached thousands of people to build their careers, transition from one job to another, and most importantly, to become their best selves.

This year I hired a coach.  If I’m such a good coach (and I am) why in the world would I need a one? For exactly what I said before, it’s hard to live inside yourself and outside yourself at the same time.

For the last couple of months I’ve been working with Sid Garza-Hillman (www.sidgarzahillman.com). Sid is a nutritionist, author, speaker, and podcaster.  I found Sid though another podcast and he sounded like the exact person I wanted for a coach.

So what did I need help with?

In the last 10+ years I’ve made some significant lifestyle changes resulting in a 70+ pound weight loss and improved health. What I’ve learned over the last year is that while I’ve lost a lot of weight I haven’t changed my relationship to food. Food at times still seems like my enemy and I wanted to sort that out.

It would seem that from the issue I wanted to work on, that Sid and I would focus mostly on food and my diet. Actually, it was the opposite. Sid worked with me on establishing small steps of action to create new habits in other areas of my life. The idea is that if I can establish new patterns of behavior in small ways (like playing my guitar 5 minuets every Friday) I can translate that strategy to improving my relationship with food.

It seems counter intuitive, but it’s actually brilliant.  When I work with people, often the presenting problem, is not the real problem. For example, sometimes people want to improve their careers, but by improving their health first, their careers improve as well. Improving one area of life will have a ripple effect to others.

What was helpful about working with Sid is that he helped me create new patterns of action but without adding stress to my life. Sid’s philosophy is that if a new goal stresses you out, then you are likely not to work on that goal.

After working with Sid, has my relationship with food improved? Yes and no.  I am more relaxed about food than before, but old patterns of thinking are hard to break. The work that I will do now is to continue working on the goals in the other areas my life and make small steps each week to improve my relationship with food. I have more confidence now than before that this change will happen.

Having a coach is a powerful experience because you are working with someone who is working for you. Coaches give you feedback that others won’t. Coaches give you accountability and encouragement. Coaches provide insight. With that type of help, it’s hard not to move forward in life.

Does everyone need a coach? Absolutely. Do you always have to hire one? No.

You can access help through books, podcasts, and videos. You can gain insights from friends and family.  You can follow the path of successful people and learn from their examples.

At times, though, nothing can replace the work you’ll do with a coach. Many people will balk at the cost, but the reality is we spend money on things that will have no lasting value. The money I spent with Sid has incredible value, because I’ve learned new strategies and have had new insights that are leading me to the change I’ve been wanting for a long time. I’ve shifted my thinking and I’m moving my health to the next level.

If you are wanting to make changes in your life and are frustrated by your lack of progress (like I was) it may be time to hire a coach.

Make sure you vet a coach before working with them.  Before working with Sid, I read his book, Approaching the Natural: a Health Manifesto, listened to him being interviewed, and listened to his podcast.  His ideas were appealing and I liked his style. A brief conversation about his coaching approach solidified my sense he would be good to work with.

Here’s something you need to know about working with a coach: sometimes they will ask you engage in a process that doesn’t always make sense to you at first. This is why you need to trust the person you are working with.  Remember that you are always in charge of your process, meaning that if you don’t like what’s going on, you end the relationship.

I highly recommend that you check out my coach Sid on his website, www.sidgarzahillman.com. He has a lot of great resources for free. Sid has a wry humor and is engaging to watch and listen to. His coaching style is encouraging, straightforward, and friendly. I highly recommend working with Sid.

Like I’ve said before, I’ve been coaching people for the majority of my life and if I didn’t believe in coaching, I wouldn’t be one and I wouldn’t have hired Sid.

Invest in yourself and become the excellent person you are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving and Thriving in the Holidays

 

Ah, the holidays are here. We are now in the throes of a marketing blitz to capture every dollar that retailers can get from us. Black Friday is getting darker as more retailers are opening earlier every year. This year many stores opened their doors at 5pm on Thanksgiving Day.

The advertisers and the marketing hype are portraying the holidays as a wonderful, blissful, and stress free event that will bring all of mankind together in harmony.

I know that creates an expectation in our minds that the holidays should be wonderful, blissful, and stress free but that only ramps up the stress as many of us feel like we can’t live up to these expectations. And this is what the marketers want us to feel so we are more compelled to buy their stuff which promises to make our lives better.

I have heard many people complain about how bad it’s getting and how much stress they are feeling around the holidays. If you don’t like the hype and early store hours, I have a simple piece of advice for you: Don’t show up and don’t buy anything. Folks, we are doing this to ourselves. All it would take is enough people not to show up at 5pm, 6pm, or God forbid, not at all on Thanksgiving. If retailers can’t make money on us, they’ll open at 6am on Friday (which is still crazy).

The food retailers aren’t helping much either. You can’t walk into a grocery store without seeing displays of perfect tables with a perfect roast, and all the perfect trimmings. The people are beautiful, the food is amazing, and all the children are happy. There have been a lot of reports about how magazines are photo-shopping the images of models to make them more “perfect”. I can pretty much guarantee those food ads are photo-shopped too.

What’s crazy about all the hype is that I know people who hate to cook and the thought of putting on a Holiday Dinner makes them break out in a cold sweat. I also think women who hate to cook are stressed, because there is an societal expectation that women should do the cooking.

Some of you may be thinking, ” I love shopping at 5pm on Thanksgiving and I love preparing a huge meal for my family and friends.” If that’s the case, then more power to you. Do what you love.

But I know a lot of people who are really stressed at this time of year for one or more of the following reasons.

1. The holidays are painful. Not everyone has happy memories of the holidays and these times remind us of the painful relationships, the deaths, and the relatives we would rather not be around.

2. The holidays are stressful. There is so much to do. Shopping for the meals, preparing the house for guests, and getting the events organized. People are crabby at the stores and the employees are crabby too.

3.The expectations of perfection are weighing us down. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have everything go perfectly. And top it off, many of us all have a family member who always pulls off the holidays with a beautiful house, the golden brown turkey cooked to perfection, and home made pumpkin and apple pies to die for. And if we use that measuring stick we always fall short, which puts more stress on.

4. We have our own expectations to live up to. We don’t want to disappoint the people we love. We want our celebrations to go well and people to enjoy them. We want to get gifts that they will enjoy and we don’t always know what they will like. We don’t want to buy a gift just to give a gift, but we also don’t want our loved ones to have nothing.

5. We’re trying to lose weight or stay healthy and the holidays throw us off track. How many of us have said, “I’m not going to gain weight this year”? The holidays are full of events that that test our willpower and it can be stressful to be tempted on a regular basis. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could limit our celebrations to just one day, but in addition to standard holidays we have office parties, dinner parties, and community pot lucks. May kids are out fundraising for their teams and clubs and it’s hard to say no to a cute kid in a cub scout or girl scout uniform selling popcorn or cookies. And if you have kids, this is on top of the 4 pounds of candy your kid just collected on Halloween. Let’s face it, when it comes to the holidays, we are surrounded by food.

To Survive and Thrive in the Holidays, Here are a Few Strategies to Implement

1. Determine who you want to be and how you want to act. The reality is that we have no control over other people that we will interact with. I know that for most of us, there are certain people who can really “push our buttons”. We can’t change what they do, but we can determine how we want to respond. We can mentally prepare for these events by recognizing that we get stressed by other people and preparing in advance how we want to respond. One of the hardest things in life is to distance our emotions from the emotions of others, but if you prepare a healthy response in advance you’ll have a lot less stress.

2. Don’t accept societal norms unless you want to. One of the greatest responses to messages of how things are supposed to work is, “Who made up that rule?”. If you don’t like cook, why kill yourself to put on a traditional holiday dinner? Who made up the rule that you can only have Turkey with stuffing and mash potatoes on Thanksgiving? I say, if you order Indian or Chinese takeout for the celebration, “more power to you!’ You could also farm out the meal to someone who really enjoys cooking. There is no rule that I know of that you have to cook.

3. Make a plan about how you’ll eat at all the events you go to. You don’t have to deprive yourself during the holidays, but I encourage you to pick a couple of the most important events to let loose a little, and them commit to eating well at the others. You will experience less stress by being intentional about how you approach each event.

4. Focus on what the holidays are really about. The majority of our holidays, both national and religious, are about being thankful. It’s a time to spend with people we love and connect on mutual values and interests. We can do this over coffee, simple meals, and walks together. We can make phone calls and touch base with our friends. We don’t have to buy anything to connect with the people we care about, and let’s be honest, isn’t it people who make the holidays great?

5. Remember that most people appreciate being remembered. Is there a perfect gift or meal? I don’t think so, but most people appreciate you took time to prepare a meal or buy a gift. People discount the saying ” It’s the thought that matters” but I think it’s true ( this may not apply to kids). I know that a simple gift, card, or meal says that I’m loved and appreciated.

6. Get outside and get active. Exercise and being outside is one of the best stress relievers known. Combine your activity with other people and you’ll benefit from improved relationships and health.

The holidays can be a special time of the year if we have the right mindset and strategy. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful, so my encouragement to you is to relax and enjoy the people you love and focus on the activities that bring you the most joy. Take the holidays to focus on what you are thankful for. It is in our thankfulness that we connect to all that is meaningful.

 

What If The Golden Years Are Right Now? (And You’re Missing Them)

Credit: DeduloPhotos

Credit: DeduloPhotos

 

How many times have you had the thought,

“When I get to ______ life will really be great!”

That is what I call the Golden Years.  A time in life where we look forward to our future becoming better than what it is today.  Life will really be great:

When I retire.

When the kids go off to college.

When I get that promotion.

When I buy that house.

When I take that trip.

When I lose weight.

When I meet Mr./Mrs Right

Having goals for our future isn’t wrong. I have goals for my future, but what if we are missing out on what’s available to us in the present because we are so focused on the future? Worse yet, what if we actually get to the future and we don’t find it as great as we thought it was.

I’m bored in retirement.

I miss the kids.

I’m stressed in my new job.

The house is so big I can’t find anyone.

It rained the whole time during my trip.

I lost weight, but gained it back.

My relationship ended.

The future could be as great as we think it will be, but we can’t know that today because it has happened yet. If fact, there is no guarantee we will get to our future. Life can get cut short through illness and accidents,  jobs can end through layoffs, and houses burn down.

What I’ve been realizing though, it that the Golden Years are right now where ever I am and where ever I go.

The reason I’m not experiencing the Golden Years is that I’m not fully living in awareness of what I’m experiencing today. I’m too preoccupied with the future, too stressed about what hasn’t happened yet, and too anxious about my goals and if they will happen.

Here’s an example:  I’ve had this idea that my blog and podcast will really be making an impact in people’s lives when I hit 100,000 readers each month.  Right now I have about 22oo, and if I focus on how far I am from my goal I get discouraged and feel like I’m wasting my time.

But what if the Golden Years of my blog and podcast are right now?  If I practice the skill of living a life of awareness I realize that writing and speaking my ideas is helping me become the person I want to be. I appreciate the people who are showing up each month to read and listen.  I’m meeting people I never would have met if I had not started a podcast. I’m grateful for the experience.

Living a life of awareness means that we are paying attention to the present moment.

What am I feeling right now?

What am I thinking?

What is grabbing my attention?

What do I notice?

What do I see?

What do I hear?

What am I sensing?

Living in the present is challenging because our internal thinking, the demands we place on ourselves and demands from other people can rip us out of the now and into the anxiety of the future.  Living in the present brings a deeper and fuller experience.

When I am living a life of awareness and living in the present:

I appreciate and love my wife more.

I see how extraordinary my kids are.

I experience the beauty of my surroundings.

I am more open and flexible.

I’m less frustrated when things don’t work out.

I find more meaning in my work.

I’m more content with what I have and what I don’t

Don’t waste time, relationships, and experience waiting for the future. Practice living life with awareness and being present in the moment and see how the Golden Years are right now.

 

Here are some resources that I’ve found helpful as I’m learning how to practice living in awareness.

Slow Down to the Speed of Life, by Richard Carlson and Joe Bailey. This is a great read about how to get your mind out of the past and out of the future so you can live with more peace and contentment in a busy world.

Interview with Joe Bailey Co-Author of Slow Down to the Speed of Life on the 5Percenters Podcast. Click here. Joe and I talk about the concepts in his book and apply them to living an excellent life.

Zen Parenting Podcast with Cathy Cassini Adams and Todd Adams. If you have kids this is an excellent podcast about living the life you want your kids to learn. Their tag line is, “The best predictor of your child’s well being is a parent’s self-understanding”. Even if you don’t have kids, this is an excellent podcast about living a life of awareness.

 

Pay Attention To What Grabs Your Attention

 

153We encounter so much information in a day. Thousands of messages, news items, and advertisements flow through our day and if we had to pay attention to all of them our brains would overload.

The good news is that our minds filter out much of this and we naturally gravitate towards information that interests us, aligns with our values and beliefs, or is potential solutions to a problem we are working on.

When we are busy, stressed, or emotionally taxed we sometimes close ourselves to good ideas and information. When you have a problem in your health, your relationships, or your career my coaching is to pay attention to what grabs your attention.

Bring awareness to what information pulls at you, interests you, or challenges your life.  Embedded in this information could be ideas to improve your career or a relationship.

In this podcast, we’ll delve what it means to  paying attention to what grabs your attention and how to apply that information to creating effective solutions for life.

 

 

If there are topics for this blog or my podcast, click on the contact page and send me an email with your ideas.

Have a great day,

Dennis