Being in control of your own life is the best thing you can do for yourself. This is a learnable skill, yet few are aware of it and of how to develop it. If you feel that life is pushing you here and there and you have no control over it, read on.
Let me ask you a question.
Do you know the number #1 thing successful people do each and every day?
And on the other hand, what do unsuccessful people do?
But first, let’s have this assessment. Be true to yourself when answering.
Do you spend most of your time worrying about things you cannot change or control, such as other people’s actions?
Are you afraid of the future?
Do you prefer to let others decide for you?
Do you often change your mind?
When you look back, do you have regrets still haunting you about some of your decisions?
If you answered mostly yes, read on carefully. Otherwise, congratulations!
What is really shaping your life
Since I love the yin and yang principle, I will make a parallel here. Each one of us has what’s called a comfort zone. From the Chinese point of view, this can be seen as feminine energy, somewhat calm and airy. On the other hand, there is yang. This is the masculine energy, concentrated, active and hot. And the yang energy is actually the decision-making process. These two forces cannot be separated, they co-exist and work together.
In conclusion, there are two main forces which shape a person’s life: the comfort zone and the decision-making process. They are complementary and both are necessary. Achieving the optimal balance is an art – but it can be learned and experimented until it becomes a way of life.
The comfort zone allows us to feel good, to be relaxed, to feel protected and – yes – comfortable. This is very good as the human psychic needs all this. Now here comes the problem. The comfort zone is passive, addictive and apparently it doesn’t require spending too much energy to stay there. It’s like reaching a level in a computer game and playing it over and over again. Yes, it’s cosy, you know how to kill all those monsters, but once you learn and play it several times it becomes a habit. It also becomes boring. Habits keeps us at the same level over and over again, each and every day. Do you still wonder why so many people are unhappy or even feel miserably on a daily basis? They are captive in their comfort zone, which drains their energy. Decisions require vast amounts of energy, hence the vicious circle.
Decision-making is the most important skill a person can have. Decisions are the only way to break the circle and reach the next level of the game called life. But this happens only if one is in control of his/her own decisions. Hardly, any people are. At this point it is best to step back and take a good look at your life. Remember your decisions and how they have shaped your life so far. I’ve done this exercise and the results are amazing – a real incentive to keep making my own decisions.
Let me explain. Making a decision requires energy and it is an active process (yang). It also requires taking responsibility, which is something scary for many. It is easier to hand this over to others and just be a pawn in your own life.
Fear of taking decisions is best represented by the “what if” question.
“What if this is not the right thing to do?
What if plan B is better than plan A?
What if I step out of this relationship even if I’m not happy? Nobody else will be like her / him. I invested so much time and energy so I can’t quit now.”
All these questions cause a decision paralysis effect which keeps the person in his/her comfort zone (which in time becomes quite UNcomfortable, as a result of the lack of decisions).
What happens next, decisions are postponed until the last minute, the stress level rises, clouding one’s judgment and the risk of taking a bad decision increases exponentially. When this happens, it creates a new vicious circle, because the fear of taking other wrong decisions also increases. The usual outcome is a bad decision or no decision at all. Examples are everywhere. Unfulfilled, “inertial” relationships are some of the best examples.
To sum up so far: the comfort zone is our cosy place, where we feel life is predictable and safe, while decisions are the vehicle to change our lives.
By the way, I am using the words “bad” and “good” regarding decisions but this is just to prove my point. In reality, there is no such thing – it is a matter of personal perspective. Something “bad” for me can be “good” for you and viceversa. Even the very same “bad” things can turn out to be “good” (for example, breaking up, then finding a better person seems “bad” at first but ultimately turns out to be a good thing)
Life is a stream of decisions
For a moment, imagine your life like a graph. On the X axis we represent time. The Y axis is your overall life quality level. Let’s assume that the life quality factors are comfort and happiness. A simple definition of happiness is when you live according to your values, principles and desires, when your inner self is congruent with your outer self. It is not about “having”, it is about “being”.
Each point on the graph represents a significant decision such as attending a new school or training, getting a job or starting a business, finding a new hobby, moving to a healthier diet, buying a house or a car, getting married, you name it.
All these decisions, whether small or great, influence your level of comfort and happiness. What happens is that, if you take your decisions by yourself, according to your own values, principles and lifestyle, the quality of your life increases (see the graph below).
What can be done if someone else is more knowledgeable of a particular aspect that you need to take into consideration when deciding about something? I get this question a lot. It’s simple. Let others express their opinions, be open-minded and learn from them. I strongly believe you can learn something valuable from virtually anyone. Then, armed with this know-how, take that decision, assume responsibility and take action. Coming back to my previous example: listen to your parents’ reasons and consider if they match your own thoughts. If you’re OK with everything, get married. If not, break the engagement and assume responsibility for the upcoming storm. (Hell, you should’ve thought about this long before the wedding itself – and that’s another decision that can shape your life).
The secrets of taking a good decision
Actually, this is not much of a secret. Sometimes you WILL take a bad decision. We all do. If this happens, don’t overwhelm yourself with regrets. If possible, take immediate action to repair its effects. If this is not possible, reframe it as a learning experience. Get over it as soon as you can and don’t let it keep you from taking the next decision.
Important decisions are especially scary because we usually assume that the outcomes are huge and life-changing. This is simply the conscious mind which wants us in the comfort zone. Therefore, it invents questions and thoughts such as: this is never going to work; what if I lose my job, I will never again be able to work in my life, I will live on the streets, poor, without a dime in my pocket; If I go and talk to this gorgeous girl, I’m sure she will laugh at me and everyone in the bar will turn round, look at me and think how pathetic I am or even worse, oh my God, they are going to laugh out loud or punch me.
Got my drift?
Do you know what is the best way to get rid of all these thoughts? Make the decision as quickly as possible and act on it.
Richard Branson once said that the most successful entrepreneurs he met were not the smartest nor the best educated ones. Instead, they were the ones who came up with a business idea and started implementing it right away. Isn’t that suspiciously related to decision-making?
From my personal experience, when I decided to go alkaline, I did it right the next day. When I decided to experiment the Ohsawa diet, I planned it for two days and started on the third. Alas, when I decided to quit my job and finally do what I really liked (I will not lie to you – it required some deep reflection and karate-fight with my own mind), I did it and never looked back. Was it a good decision? I honestly don’t know and I don’t care. I know that now I am closer to the way of life I enjoy. That’s what really matters.
“Oh my, what have I done?”
I took a wrong decision. What am I going to do? My life is over.
First, the good news is that (except some extreme cases) your life is NOT over. Of course, it can be changed by a decision but I don’t suggest it. Allow yourself to cool off.
What you can do instead is to learn from that experience. This is a lesson you needed even if you didn’t know it. Be grateful for it. You just placed another brick at the foundation of your own evolution.
Next, not all negative outcomes are bad, even if they seem so. Some time in the future you may see that unexpected positive outcomes came exactly from such a decision. Keep an open mind and look for the opportunities that arise. I’ve experienced this so many times that today I have (almost) no fear when I take decisions. I know now that even if it doesn’t turn out quite as expected, there’s something good lying in store for me down the road. I can’t emphasize again how relaxed and happy I feel now.
Short guide for decision-making
- Don’t let fear rule you. Fear has a tendency of overemphasizing bad things that MAY or MIGHT or PROBABLY WILL happen SOME TIME in the FUTURE. Quite a lot of uncertainties, right? Of course I am not saying you shouldn’t assess the potential risks. Just analyze them objectively, never let your emotions interfere. And when it’s too difficult, remember that your heart is the best decision compass – not your mind. Take a step back and look into your heart: what do you really feel? What is your innermost desire? Get to know yourself as best as you can and act on it.
- Always make your own decisions. It is your life so YOU are in control. Listen to others, but make your own judgment. Never let others decide for you.
- Don’t dwell too much on a decision and don’t postpone it. Act today and learn to do it each and every time. Trust me, you’ll feel much better this way. Especially when you take an important decision, you’ll feel free, as if a heavy weight were lifted from your chest. “Yes, I’ve finally done it, I’m so proud of myself.”
- Stick to the decision you’ve taken. Do your best to act on it and believe in it.
- Assume responsibility over the decisions you make. Never hold others responsible for the outcomes of your own decisions. This is like giving away your power to others. You let them shape your life. This is not good.
- Sometimes you’ll see that you didn’t take the best decision. Don’t worry. Don’t blame yourself. Be kind to yourself – you’re here to learn. Take a new decision to repair what can be repaired. If not, reflect on it, learn your lesson and get over it.
- Don’t overdo it. You shouldn’t turn everything into a big decision-making process. For example, when it comes to whether to buy a $5 item or not., just get it, for God’s sake! For many it is much easier to spend hundreds of dollars than choose between a $5 and a $10 item. That’s how human mind works.
- Constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone. This raises your self-esteem, allows you to discover yourself, grows your personal power and further expands your horizons. You’ll see you can do all the things you were afraid of. For example, I’ve conquered my fear of public speaking by placing myself in an UNcomfortable zone: I took acting classes. And it feels good!
Now that you know how to shape your life, it is time to start doing it. And never forget: life is not meant to be treated too seriously. It’s more like an adventure game so…