Ask people over fifty what they most regret, and few will talk about what they chose or their paths. Typically, they regret what they didn’t choose: an opportunity or door that stood before them that they were too scared to walk through. Determining the status quo and what is over the possibilities that might turn their life and existence upside down.
The biggest life mistakes are usually a failure to act rather than making bad decisions.
Today, I was reminded of this by an email received.
“If only (way back in 2011) I had made different choices.”
In fact, if I look back at the regrets of the past 20 years, there is only one choice made that I regret (because my gut instinct said “no way“, my heart said “please,” and my head proceeded to rationalise the choice, rather than listen to my gut). I cannot tell you how often I regret not going with my gut on that one!
But all my other life regrets are choosing the status quo instead of choosing change!
No decision is also a decision. There is no choice of “I won’t choose”. You choose to do nothing and continue on the same course.
Few people regret training for a half-marathon or marathon and running it, even if they fail to finish it. But consider how many people live with the regret of never attempting to train and run one.
Likewise, many people will talk about a trip overseas they never took, the holiday they failed to make time for, or a career opportunity they were too scared to apply for.
Conscious choice: being present
If I had any advice, it would be simply this: be present in your life, choose change, and expand your comfort zone. There are many ways to create conscious choices and practice wise decision-making.
Decide that you will make a choice:
Options exist. Most of us overlook that we have a choice before us.
Sometimes, it’s a self-evident choice: we get an offer for a transfer or promotion, and we know we need to consider it and make a decision. But, at other times, it doesn’t seem so obvious: life is creeping along in the status quo, and we aren’t looking for opportunities for change.
How do we notice that a choice is required?
- an opportunity presents itself: it’s in our faces and obvious;
- a conversation or situation brings unrest and discomfort with the status quo, and you ask, “is this all there is?”; or
- we do a quarterly or yearly review of our life and goals and ask, “what’s missing?”.
Living from a consciousness where alternatives always exist will allow you to look for opportunities.
In part, it’s mindset and perspective: do you see the world as full of options and choices, or do you feel you have limited possibilities?
Knowing this: choose to choose consciously!
How do I evaluate my choices?
You need MORE than two options. It can’t just be “a rock and a hard place”. Find the crack or some dynamite: create at least three options.
And if you have twenty options, that’s too many. Put some back.
Some psychologists say the ideal number of options is seven (plus or minus 2). So, anywhere between five to nine options. In some cases, behavioural scientists suggest anything up to fifteen options is good.
Beware of thinking there is only accept or refuse:
Whatever the situation, our brains create duality. Yes or no. This often limits our perspective and our realisation that more options are available.
For example, you get behind on your credit card payments, and you get a notice to pay the entire balance immediately. You might think that you have two options:
- pay the balance immediately; or
- don’t pay it and get a bad credit score.
But have you considered and studied other options:
- take out a personal loan so that you can make smaller payments;
- contact a credit planner and ask for advice on making a payment plan;
- double your minimum payment;
- get a second job or income stream and apply that income solely to paying off the debt;
- transfer the balance to a 0% credit card;
- contact the bank and ask for payment options; or
- make voluntary payments to the bank of smaller amounts.
I have no idea how many options and alternatives exist for the above scenario, but I know that you are never stuck with just two options.
Similarly, if you get a job offer, there is usually room for negotiation. You don’t have to accept what is offered or turn it down. You can counter-offer.
Some tools for expanding your options:
Mathematicians suggest the 37% rule for helping in creating choices. Use the first thirty-seven per cent of your time analysing and studying all the options available. If you have one day to decide, use no more than 37% of your time exploring possibilities. Once this time is up, list your priorities, values and decision criteria. We set a benchmark standard during this period. And once that time is completed, we choose the first option that meets our criteria and stop looking for more possibilities.
Another rule I like, along a similar vein, is “satisficing“, rather than maximising. Typically, we try to maximise everything and end up with nothing or completely ignoring something important. A satisficing (satisfying and sufficing) outcome meets the minimum standard (once again, like the benchmark of the 37% rule) in the quality of our life. So, if you say that family, professional growth and friends are all important to you: a job offer would be acceptable that allows you to spend quality time with your family, allows professional growth and enables you to build friendships (old or new). It might not be the offer that maximises your professional growth, but it also meets your other needs.
From mBraining, I’ve always learned to consider these nine perspectives:
- passions, purpose and what is important to me
- my feelings and emotions
- my connection to myself and others – how will it impact my relationships?
- analysis and rational thinking: what do I really think about this?
- perspectives and points of view – not just my own!
- the meaning I’ve given to the situation – what other meaning could it have that I’m ignoring?
- my identity: is this who I am? How does this decision impact how I think and feel about myself?
- safety, security and risk: both in the short and long term. It might be a short-term risk for a long-term gain: how am I weighing up the risk? What happens when I sleep on it?
- Motivation: am I motivated or dragging my feet? What moves me?
This allows you to brainstorm and come up with ideas and perspectives that you might not have considered otherwise.
Make a choice and stick to it.
Napoleon Hill says that the great leaders of his time were quick to make a decision and slow to change their minds. What made them stand apart from the rest was decisiveness.
If plan A doesn’t work, they amend it to plan B. And if that didn’t work to get them to their goal, they build a plan C.
Recognise that life is full of opportunities and choices and be conscious of making choices rather than simply living with the status quo.