Do you want to build an awesome life? Get good at making powerful decisions. We’ll share some of our best tips with you in this post.
This blog post was partially based on Episode 191 of The Brain Software podcast, the world's GREATEST hypnosis podcast. Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes OR just search for "Brain Software" in your favourite podcast app.
Our unconscious mind is a fickle beast, often leading us down the mysterious path of life with never more than a thought. It can be daunting and labyrinthine, but it doesn't have to be. When faced with a decision, our unconscious mind does what it’s designed to do. It tries to protect us from pain and drive us towards pleasure.
But our unconscious minds are not perfect. We may decide to eat junk food because it brings us pleasure in the moment, while also leading to long-term health problems. It’s the classic fork in the road with a twist. The twist is this: Every decision will probably involve some degree of pain and pleasure. Knowing this, we might not want to let our unconscious mind have free reign over our lives!
Knowledge is power. By realizing our decisions are often shaped by our reflexes to avoid pain and seek pleasure, we can apply our knowledge to define our decisions based on goals instead of reflexes. Armed with that knowledge any wooded path, no matter how untraveled, loses its mystery, yielding its secrets to the life we want to create.
Moving From “Should” To “Must”
We often hear people say “Oh, I really should get more sleep” or “I should watch less TV”. Whenever you hear someone say “should”, you know it’s just a dream, or a desire. It’s not something that is actually changing. At least not yet.
Before something can be decided, it has to become a must. It must happen, not that it should happen. When a person says “should”, they are only expressing judgment. They may judge themselves by saying what they should do differently, or they may “should” all over someone else.
How can you transform a should into a must? Great question. Change only happens when someone reaches threshold, which really means:
- Something has to change
- It has to be me
- It has to be NOW.
When a person links enough pain to keeping things as they are, and enough pleasure to the possible alternative, this can tip the scale in favor of change.
You can turn a should into a must by using your own powerful imagination. Close your eyes and vividly imagine all of the pain associated with NOT changing. Make the scenes vivid, bright, and add sounds or music that makes it seem very unappealing!
Then imagine all the wonderful pleasure associated with the change. Modify the scene in your mind’s eye until it’s extremely appealing. Bonus tip: Imagine seeing yourself in that scene, which is called “dissociated”. This is better than seeing something through your own eyes (associated) , because we don’t want your brain thinking you already have the result of the change. It has to be seen, in your mind, as a target.
Once you transform a should into a must you’ll feel like you just started the engine to an expensive sports car. You’ll be ready to put it in gear and take action!
Action: The Key Difference Between Dreams and Decisions
When something becomes a must, it’s very easy to make a decision to change. But a decision is nothing without action.
A dream is a decision that has not been acted upon. What would have happened with the Civil Rights Movement if Martin Luther King kept his dream locked within the confines of his mind?
What would have happened if John Handcock had taken a look at the Declaration of Independence and said “You know what, gents? I kinda like being British”? America never would have sprung from the Empire, cursive would have been abandoned in schools much earlier, and all of us would have a much more intimate relationship with tea.
Let’s pretend we just inherited the land in the picture above before the path was created. We might be excited about creating a trail that would benefit the entire community. The pleasure of the dream may dim as we realize a manicured path cannot manifest through dreams alone, and the work will either be quite strenuous or very expensive. A dreamer might envision the path and never move a stick to begin the process. We can think of the “path of life” being forged by the fruits of our decisions and the actions that follow.
Does a decision always come with action? Of course, it does! We can spend all the time we want in our mind palaces, concocting schemes to rival those of Mount Olympus, but in the end, they remain in our heads until we make the decision to act, to take our dream out of the mind oven and onto the scarred cutting board of our lives. This is what we need to be aware of if we want to progress towards our target. If we want to move a dream to a decision that works, we need to take action that considers our natural reflex to move towards pleasure.
In some cases, we can move a decision from our mind to action by making a task more appealing. An example of this might be giving your employees free coffee if they take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Another way to accomplish the same result would be to make the more appealing option extremely inconvenient. In our elevator example, an architect could design the building so the stairs are more convenient than elevator.
In Brains Software Podcast 191, Mike uses a memorable phrase, “never leave the scene of the crime, without hiding the body” to describe the importance of taking immediate action as a tripwire for success.
For our decisions to translate into results, we must set the dominos into action or at the minimum, know exactly where, when, and how that first domino will cascade into the next.
From now on, begin to take some small, initial action immediately, before you leave the scene of a decision.
The Decision is The Crucial First Step
Decisions are more crucial to having a good life than people realize. Just like we learned in our blog post about the power of baby steps, we can set ourselves up for success utilizing incrementalism. Our very first step to a decision exists within our minds, our imagination.
Do we set aside time for ourselves to use our imagination to move towards our goals? We should (or we must!). For many of us, we only engage in this sort of activity when prompted by a teacher or New Year’s resolutions. This is likely because it is more pleasurable or less inconvenient to do other things. Do we really want inconvenience to be driving our decisions or would we rather be guided by our knowledge to make an informed decision based on our morals and values?
If you agree with the latter of the two, here are three simple steps that can be helpful in making an effective decision.
Step 1: Brainstorm
We can imagine both the positive improving and the negative receding. This is a very useful first step as it tunes our attention towards what we want as well as inserting a “mental movie” that the brain will interpret the same way it processes reality. Your brain cannot tell the difference between something real, and something that's vividly imagined and we can use that to our advantage!
Step 2: Action
Remember that imagination without taking action won't work! If we’re at the local bowling alley, there is nothing stopping us from imagining the perfect throw, strike or even pick up the spare on that seven-ten split. All that brian power comes to nothing if we fail to act. Throw the bowling ball down the lane, roll that thunder and wait for the crash.
Step 3: Reflection
Check to see what “pins” your bowling ball knocked down. If you still have any pins up (unlikely since we are all the best bowlers on this blog!), then we need to reimagine, rework our plan to account for any unforeseen failings in our actions. Keep your imagination and actions aligned with your target so your progress can be as direct as possible.
Apply the 80/20 rule to your results before moving forward.
Review Your Outdated and Unconscious Decisions
Lots of decisions are unconscious and made just based on the ease of moving with the current. It can be very difficult figuring out “what you don’t know you don’t know” about yourself. Not to mention, it can also be very uncomfortable to uncover some of the fears we may have carried since childhood. If you are interested in delving deeper, you might consider asking yourself new questions:
What have I decided I am not good at or can’t do? (ex: playing the piano, math, art)
Do I “have” to do that or is it actually a decision?
Did I make that decision based on information that is no longer relevant at this stage in my life? (ex: I have to sleep with the light on because a monster might get me)
Another possible approach could be finding someone who sees the potential in you that you want to see in yourself and ask them what decisions they think you could reevaluate. A decision you might be holding onto for comfort that isn’t actually serving you anymore.
Melissa Tiers told us that 90% of recovered cocaine users simply decide to stop. They don’t go to rehab, or get therapy. They just decide.
If this is true, the power is in our hands.
Here is your opportunity to look; what would you like to radically change about your life today?
I hope you give yourself some time right now to make a brief list around two topics:
The things you always thought had to be mundane, frustrating, and/or uncomfortable that you want to revisit with renewed optimism and power.
The things you want to see come to fruition in your life that you have been patiently put off for too long now.
Be brave. Draw the line in the sand now. Clearly define what each side represents to you and then find yourself stepping past the threshold and into your decision. At that very moment where you are standing in your decision, you can see the alternative vanish and realize you’ve decided based on your morals and values rather than how you felt in the moment.
It's decided now. I'm happy now. Today is the day I've been waiting for. This is the tomorrow I've been waiting for. It's here now. The waiting is over. Today's the first day of the rest of my life and that is great news because I am happy now. I can even feel myself smiling knowing this is true as my eyes sparkle at the ridiculousness of how close this solution has been all along, but that's just fine with me because I'm happy now.
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