7 Super Effective Techniques for Making Better Life Decisions
Life is about choices. Right now, you’re making yet another one. Should you keep reading this or not?
Keep reading. In the next few paragraphs, you’re going to discover 7 super effective techniques for arriving at better life decisions and making better life choices. And here’s the thing. Once you know them, the benefit doesn’t just apply to the choices you’re currently considering. You get the benefit for the rest of your life.
Plus, the text associated with them is pretty fun to read. So, it’s information and entertainment. Hard to beat. That combination is generally called infotainment. I didn’t invent that term, but apparently someone else figured out it rolls off the tongue a bit better than entermation. Which sort of sounds like something from a really bad science fiction movie.
Anyway, I did invent the techniques you’re poised to benefit from. In large part it was an invention of necessity to help me deal with making my own life-changing decisions. Once they worked for me, I started sharing them in my books and with audiences. I’ve received such good feedback from others who have used them, it seemed like a good idea to put them out in an article.
So here we go. Seven techniques for arriving at better life decisions and making better life choices.
#1 Think About Your Museum
One day I was walking through a little two room museum in a town called Winter Garden, Florida. In addition to citrus industry posters, and some other local paraphernalia, there were all these pictures of people from the 1920’s and 30’s. High school yearbook photos, local shots from events going on back then. What struck me in looking at all those smiling young faces, was that in all likelihood, most if not all of those people were dead now.
In the moment their picture was taken they were young, enthusiastic, excited about life…. And I couldn’t help but wonder what happened after that. Did they ask out that person they always thought was so cute, funny, and charming? Did they go off on that south seas adventure they were dreaming about? Did they move forward with that cool idea for a business that had them so excited?
That random day in that random museum led me to one of my most profound thoughts about life. I wrote about it in detail in the book The Big Five for Life. I’m going to share a snapshot of it here as it relates to decision making.
You can also see more about it in a TEDx talk I did. Do that later though. For now, let’s focus on you and your decision.
Imagine if every moment of your life was recorded. Everything you did, everything you said, all the ways in which you spent your time. And towards the end of your life, a museum was built to honor you. Only the museum would show your life exactly how you lived it.
If 80% of your time was spent at a job you didn’t like, or on activities that didn’t bring you joy, then 80% of your museum would be dedicated towards showing you doing those things. There would be videos, kiosks and displays, all showing you unhappily spending your time.
If you loved hanging out with your family, or friends, or pursuing your hobbies, but for whatever reason you only spent 2% of your time on those loves, then no matter how much you wished it to be different, only 2% of your museum would be dedicated towards that. Maybe just a few pictures near the exit door.
Imagine what it would be like to walk your museum. What would you see? How would you feel?
Now imagine if heaven, or the afterlife, or however you believe this whole experience works, actually consists of you being the tour guide for your own museum— for all of eternity.
Having this perspective where the moments of our life are the content for a museum we’ll be hanging out in for all of eternity, and also showing to others, is a great tool for decision making. Because when we’re evaluating choice 1 or choice 2, we simply think to ourselves, “Which one would I be more excited about if it were in my museum?”
Somehow that context makes it so much easier to see the choices in a way which makes deciding easier.
From a practical standpoint, when you’re done with this article, feel free to check out the first few minutes of the TEDx talk I mentioned earlier. I explain a process of sitting in a quiet environment with your feet flat on the floor, your hands flat on your knees, and from that calm space, putting yourself into your museum and looking at your life choices. It’s an incredibly powerful and effective way to evaluate options and arrive at the ones which are most in line with the life you want to live.
It’s also a great technique to reduce stress, by the way. Because stress is often a result of the uncertainty we feel about life changes we’re dealing with, or life decisions we’re contemplating.
#2 Play the Fast Forward Game
This one is incredibly effective and pretty much effortless to do. When you’re facing a decision, take a look at the choices you’re considering and then fast forward them, one at a time. See which one results in an ending you’re more excited about.
For example. Let’s suppose you’re in a job you don’t really like and you’re thinking about making a career change. One of those two choices is to do nothing. When you play the fast forward game with that option, where will you be in 12 months, 5 years, a decade from now? What will your activities be like each day? How about your mood? On your typical weekday morning will you be excited, happy, bored, depressed? What will your salary and lifestyle be like?
It takes just a few minutes to envision all that, although I highly encourage you to write it down and I’ll explain why in a minute.
So that was choice number one, do nothing. Now let’s play the fast forward game with choice two. Think about someone you admire who is in the career you’re considering moving into. In all likelihood there is someone, or you probably wouldn’t be considering that career. If you made the career change, where will you be in 12 months, 5 years, a decade from now? What will your activities be like each day? How about your mood? On your typical weekday morning will you be excited, happy, bored, depressed? What will your salary and lifestyle be like?
Again, it takes just a few minutes to envision all that, but please write it down. And here’s why. Those answers probably aren’t going to change much over time. So if you’re the type of person whose brain wants to evaluate, re-evaluate, then re-evaluate five more times, you can speed up the entire process by having the answers all completed where you can glance at them, and remind yourself of which choice is the better one. Keep it in on your phone and the next time your brain wants to re-evaluate, just review the answers instead. After doing this a few times, your brain realizes it can’t get you to keep playing the re-evaluate game and it accepts and embraces the obvious choice.
#3 Move Toward, Not Just Away From
When something isn’t what we want in our life, it’s pretty easy to recognize it. That can apply to our living conditions, job, weight, relationships, health, and lots of other areas. The typical response we’ve learned to these situations is to put our focus on getting rid of, or moving away from whatever it is we don’t want.
While this is a good starting point for our thinking, if that’s as far as we take it, we’re missing out on the chance to make much better life decisions. And we’re also likely to end up right back where we started.
Here’s something which works a lot better. After identifying what you want to move away from in your life, get a very clear picture of where you want to go toward.
Why does this work so much better?
There are lots of reasons. For starters, our brains get in decision loops. If all our focus is on leaving a relationship that’s not working, our thought patterns tend to repeat and repeat all the things the other person is doing that bother us. This focused and amplified thought pattern sends a very powerful message to our unconscious mind along the lines of, “THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT TO ME. FOCUS ON THIS!” Our unconscious mind, sensing our seemingly insatiable interest in this topic, connects us with a non-stop array of historical moments related to it. It also does a really good job of making us aware of other stories, examples, and people in our periphery related to it.
“If we aren’t careful about where we’re putting our focus, we end up practically drowning in exactly what we’re trying to get farther from.”
Additionally, there seems to be an aspect of the cosmic algorithm of the universe which notices our behaviors, focuses, thoughts, and ways we’re focusing our resources. Then it gives us more of whatever we seem so interested in. This is similar to what happens if we type “purple gorillas” into Google fifty times a day. In pretty short order, the Google algorithm senses our keen interest in purple gorillas and starts tailoring our information so we get more of that.
All of which means, if we aren’t careful about where we’re putting our focus, we end up practically drowning in exactly what we’re trying to get farther from.
But here’s the good news. Knowing these propensities of our unconscious mind and the cosmic algorithm of the universe, we can turn the tables in our favor. When we shift our attention, thoughts, and energies away from what we don’t want, and toward what we do, the game changes. Because now all those resources are bathing us in information, contacts, opportunities, and resources which enable us to have what we do want. This lets us look at our life decisions with a clarity which enables us to make better life choices.
Happily enough, if you’re one of those people whose brain struggles with identifying what you do want, it’s usually the opposite of what you don’t want. That’s at least a great starting point.
#4 Focus on the One
Very often our life decisions are impacted by our interactions with others. These interactions can cause us to see ourselves in a particular way, or to draw our focus in a specific direction.
Done correctly, this can help us make better choices in life. Done incorrectly, it sabotages our life.
The key, is to focus on the one. Just make sure it’s the right one.
Here’s what I mean. Imagine you have a weekly tradition with a friend where you get together at the end of the work week. A chance to catch up a bit. Leading up to this week’s get together, you interacted with a hundred clients. Eighty of them gave you feedback along the lines of, “You know what, you are amazing at what you do. We’re so glad we get a chance to interact with you. You make it really easy and pleasant for us to do our job.”
Nineteen of them said something like,“You are the best we have ever met at this. I mean, we can’t thank you enough for all you do. You are absolutely incredible and we are so grateful we get to interact with you each week. Our success has happened in large part thanks to your amazing contributions.”
And one of them said, “I don’t know how you got your job, but you should be fired immediately. As a matter of fact, you should have been fired the day you started. Working with you is absolutely horrible.”
When you meet your friend on Friday and they ask, “How was your week?” Who do you talk about?
No matter what you do, no matter how good you do it, no matter how pure your intentions, you will never please 100% of the people you interact with.
Listen, if eighty percent of the feedback you’re getting about some part of your life, work, skills, talents, or abilities is that you’re great. And another nineteen percent is that you’re absolutely amazing. Then…FOCUS ON ONE OF THEM!
Because here’s the thing. No matter what you do, no matter how good you do it, no matter how pure your intentions, you will never please 100% of the people you interact with. And it will have nothing to do with you!
If you’re going to allow your life decisions to be impacted by some one person, then make sure you’re focusing on the right one.
#5 Use Your PFE and Big Five for Life Like a Giant Velcro Wall
In my books, The Cafe on the Edge of the World, and The Big Five for Life, I introduced the concepts of PFE (Purpose for Existing) and Big Five for Life.
Your PFE is the answer to, “Why are you here?” It’s your purpose, the reason you exist.
Your Big Five for Life are the five most important things you want to do, see, or experience in life while you’re fulfilling your purpose.
In conjunction, both of these are like a giant, all encompassing, yet still super comfortable, velcro suit which enables you to make better life decisions. Here’s how it works.
Imagine someone comes up to you. They are suggesting or proposing an idea for something you could spend your time, energy, finances, or other resources on. Maybe it’s a business idea, a sport you might play, a person you could hang out with, something to fill your free time…. Their idea is like a ping pong ball. Which they throw at you. Now, if the idea is a good fit with your PFE and Big Five for Life, it will turn out to be a ping pong ball covered in “Great Life Choice/Life Decision Velcro”, and therefore it will stick to you. At which point you’ll know it’s worth giving some attention to.
Maybe you’ll end up doing something with it. Maybe you won’t. But at least it’s in some way, worth taking a look at.
If however, the ping pong ball has nothing to do with your PFE and Big Five for Life, it will be missing the “Great Life Choice/Life Decision Velcro.” Therefore, after it enters your environment, you just let it bounce off you, and roll away. There’s no need to chase after it. Or to track it down as it’s rolling in the street. No need to spend hours questioning whether it is or isn’t something to spend your time, energy, or other resources on. It’s not. No doubt, no guilt, no second-guessing. It just isn’t, because it’s not linked to the life you most want to live.
This very simple process makes life so unbelievably simple, stress free, easy to navigate, meaningful, and enjoyable. All it takes is knowing your Purpose for Existing and Big Five for Life, then putting it into action. Because after a few times of trying it out, you’ll love how spectacularly well it works.
#6 Pick Your Imperfections
Very little if anything in life goes perfectly, in perpetuity. As a matter of fact, overall there’s a constant plus and minus, yin and yang. The wonderfully spirited commercials advertising how we can “Have it all!” do a great job of forgetting to mention what happens in Act Two of our personal play.
For example, let’s say we want to become a parent. Not just any parent, but a really caring, loving, be there for our kids type of parent. Awesome. That comes with consequences. Because in order to be “there” for our kids, it means we can’t be somewhere else at the same time. Doing nightly conference calls with buyers in Tokyo while genuinely reading “Goodnight Moon” to our three-year-old in a way that’s “really there,” can’t happen simultaneously. It just can’t. Neither can setting a world record for kayaking the Amazon, doing a Thursday night pub crawl with friends, or a countless array of other things.
And the same goes in reverse too. If those other things are where we want to focus our time and energy, we can’t truly be dedicated to those and be totally committed to parenting either.
So, what it comes down to is picking our imperfections. Finding the places where we’re comfortable with the trade-offs, knowing the final solution won’t be 100% perfect. And being OK with that, because life is rarely 100% perfect, and when it is, the duration isn’t indefinite.
At least with this way though, WE are the ones who picked the imperfections. WE got to decide. When that’s the case, life feels better. We don’t beat ourselves up about everything which isn’t happening, or what we’re not doing. We know where our focus is, and why it’s there, and it’s a lot easier to be at peace with the life decisions we’re making.
#7 Question Every Belief You Have
So many of our life decisions are based on our beliefs. Yet so many of our beliefs really aren’t of our own choosing.
This little game of questioning our beliefs really brings that to light. It also frees us to define for ourselves who we are and what we think about things. Once we’ve done that, we get to make life choices of “our” choosing, which are then much more in alignment with the life we truly want to live.
Here’s how simple this is to do. Over the next 24 hours, each time you think you believe something to be true, just take a minute and ask where that belief comes from. It’s amazing how things like random comments from adults when we were little kids, scenes from movies, stories in books, articles online, or reports on television, all plant in our heads a version of “truth.” Versions which with a little introspection, we often find aren’t true for us at all.
It could be things about our personality, the way we view the world, our perception of different types of people, how dangerous things are, what qualifies as “friendly”, “polite,” or “important.”
The more rounds of this game we play, the more we lock in on;
- What we actually believe to be true about life.
- Gaps between what we think might be true, yet don’t really know for sure.
- Things for which we really have no idea.
All of which is incredibly empowering. Because…
- It enables us to act with confidence on things we actually know to be true. No need for second guessing. We know exactly where our belief comes from on a topic or situation, and we genuinely feel it’s right.
- It inspires creativity and open-mindedness in filling areas where we have knowledge gaps and would like to know more.
- It enables us to let go of unsupportive and unsupported beliefs which may have been holding us back for years. That random comment from Aunt So and So when we were twelve about us being shy, can be replaced with a more accurate and empowering belief.
- It gives us permission to be comfortably curious on topics which intrigue us, and happily indifferent and unaware on ones which don’t.
OK, great job of choosing to read this entire piece. You’re now packed with ideas, tips, suggestions and techniques for arriving at better life decisions and making better life choices. Get out there and enjoy the adventure!