Do you have a reliable framework for making big decisions?
Most people don’t; they end up following whichever emotions feel most dominant. But one of the most useful things you can do when contemplating any life transition is to intentionally reflect on your past decisions.
When I realised the life of a medical doctor wasn’t for me, I had to take a good hard look at why I’d decided to become one in the first place. And when I did leave, I felt hungry to crack the enigma that is ‘decision-making’ once and for all, to help me redesign not just my professional life, but my personal life too.
In his fantastic book Supercoach, life coach Michael Neill lays out the 3 motivations for anything and everything we do:
- “I have to” – in other words, desperation
- “I should” – in other words, rationalisation
- “I want to” – in other words, inspiration
This paradigm resonated with me greatly; it now plays a role in almost every significant decision I face.
While there is a time and a place for desperation and rationalisation, using them for self-motivation means relying on fear, worry, obligation and guilt (in particular, the word ‘should’ is the mother of all guilt). These are not healthy or sustainable states from which to create our future.
Let’s discuss the above 3 motivating forces in a little more detail. If you’d prefer, I’ve also created a video based on this post:
1) …Because “I have to”
You might think that most of the time, “I have to” stems from a person noticing some genuine emergency – a safety concern, health crisis, or perhaps impending bankruptcy. I’ll go out on a limb here and posit that you’d be wrong about that (in most modern societies, at least).
As adults, somewhere along the line many of us learn an unhealthy motivational hack. We start believing that generating fear and worry will help us get more done. The danger? This is simply not sustainable. And we gradually begin convincing ourselves that things we don’t truly want to do are among the most urgent decisions we face.
“I really have to pay off my power bill by the end of today.”
It might well be important to pay off that bill, but recognise the distorting power of the words “I have to”. Do you see it? Do you see how gravely it robs the speaker of power, paving the way for a sense of desperation to rule over their emotional landscape?
Looking back at the few decisions I’ve made from this state of being, the results aren’t usually desirable. But I’m lucky enough that I don’t need to base major life decisions on “I have to” or “I need to”.
If this is a habit you’ve fallen into when it comes to important decisions, however, ask yourself why – are you facing an objective emergency in your life? If not, can you afford to slow down and listen to your deeper wisdom?
2) …Because “I should”
Predominantly creating your life from “because I should” means you’re constantly choosing to impose moral or social imperatives on yourself. I’ve been there many times.
“I really should go and see my auntie this weekend.”
The implication here is that you may not want to go, but you believe you should. You’d feel guilty if you didn’t – guilt is the main vehicle of such rationalisations borne from the mind.
Nevertheless, there’s an important distinction to make here:
- Using “I should” when you do want to do something, but you’ve lost touch with the authentic desire living within you. This frequently happens when we’re chronically stressed. When exhaustion sets in, we disconnect from our deepest values. They’re in there somewhere, we just can’t detect them. And so we use ‘should’ to motivate ourselves.
- Using “I should” when you don’t want to do something deep down, but you’ve learned to motivate yourself through guilt and obligation. You’re no longer walking to the beat of your own drum.
Be weary of creating your future from variation 2; you might just end up living somebody else’s life.
3) …Because “I want to”
If worry, fear and guilt are the least effective states to move forward in, what’s left?
The answer is the little-used words: “I want to”.
Children are natural pros at creating decisions from this state of being. They run around getting inspired to do so many different things, all day long. They’re little wanting machines, and it’s glorious to observe.
“How do you have the energy to jump on that trampoline so late in the evening?” we ask wearily.
“I don’t know… I just want to!”
To that child, “I want to” is all the explanation they owe themselves (or anybody else, for that matter). When we mature socially, however, keeping in touch with that sense of glee and inspiration takes conscious effort.
Of course, creating a future from this place might bring up fear, doubt, guilt and insecurity, but you have to remember that these are all secondary reactions, with the primary emotional response being based on true inspiration and longing.
Why the secondary reaction? Societal conditioning is one reason. Another is our natural child-like trepidation that arises when we dream about venturing beyond our comfort zone, our safe little bubble.
“Could I really do that? Am I capable?“
“Wouldn’t it be terrifying?”
“Wouldn’t it be selfish?”
All these questions probably point to a winning idea… not winning in the sense that you’ll achieve x or earn y, but winning in the sense that you’ll be honouring your human spirit’s craving to run free. Is there a greater win?
As an example, I really want to try out paragliding at some point in the near future. The idea gives rise to a fair amount of anxiety, but the primary feeling is of excitement and wonder and possibility – it’s something I’m inspired to try, something I know I want to do.
That’s the best place to create your future from.
You might now be wondering how to put this framework to use. To that end, I’d encourage you to reflect on the below 3 prompts. As they’ve done for me, I hope these prompts assist you in making sense of your past decisions and weighing up the paths ahead of you.
1) Re-evaluate past decisions
Taking a gentle, curious approach, reflect on the decisions that carried you where you are today. What was the primary state from which they crystallised within you? Were they motivated by joyful inspiration? Fearful desperation? Cold rationalisation?
Without getting caught up in the heat of judgement or regret, how do you feel about those decisions now? How did they play out?
You might even be living through those decisions, in which case it could help to take a step back and get some context. Remind yourself why you started heading down this road you’re on.
2) Weigh up forks in the road
What opportunities lie ahead of you today?
Informed by new self-knowledge from question 1, reconsider any decisions you might’ve labelled ‘difficult’, or even written-off as ‘impossible’.
Hold each option in mind while dropping down into your body. Connect with your breath. Does your body become tense or heavy, making you want to hide under the covers? Does a sense of energetic lightness emerge?
The dominant sensation will offer you a major clue. It’s as if there is an internal magnet within you, and it knows far more about what you do/don’t want to do in comparison to your myopic rational mind.
3) Let answers bubble up intuitively
The natural follow-up questions are:
- Where do you feel it’s time to say ‘no’ for now?
- Conversely, which ideas kindle a sense of wonder, possibility or excitement?
If you’re not yet getting a read, intentionally carve out some time to connect with the wisdom of your body. Give it time, and you’ll start to intuitively feel your way towards an answer.
Try regularly doing nothing at all for extended periods of time. That means no input, no screens, no busywork of any kind. Just sit, meditate, walk, or lie down and take deep breaths.
The world is changing, fast.
With each passing year, it’s becoming clear to me that we don’t need more people to simply follow their heads. We need them to follow their hearts too, however sappy that may sound.
But asides from the big picture, you owe this to yourself. You really do. You owe yourself a future created from your deepest joy, your heart’s truest desire, and your highest state of being.
If you’re interested in creating a more fulfilling, meaningful, purpose-driven career – and you feel called to get support with that – get in touch and I’ll book you in for a complimentary coaching session.