Tag Archives: decision making

Want to Be Happier? Limit Your Choices …

2 minutes to read

“How can you be bored when you have a room full of toys and games?”

I asked my daughter when she stayed home sick from school. Put all exaggeration about my childhood aside. She has a lot more things to play with than I did. Yet despite numerous choices, she’s dissatisfied. My daughter is not unique. Most of my friends’ children are the same. For generations we’ve been taught greater choice will make us happy. Turns out the prevailing wisdom is wrong.

Want to Be Happier- Limit Your Choices …

The Paradox of Choice

Convinced I was on to something, I researched the connection between happiness and number of choices. In a TED talk about 10 years ago, psychologist Barry Schwartz explained why the huge number of options we have makes us unhappy. He acknowledged there are benefits to having alternatives. But having an enormous number of choices often paralyzes decision-making. So people don’t take any action to improve their lives because they cannot decide which one is best.

Further, Schwartz identified four bad effects of a large number of choices:

  1. Regret or anticipation of regret. Your satisfaction in a good decision is reduced because with so many other options one of them must have been closer to perfect.
  2. Opportunity costs. No matter how good a choice is others must have had better features. So, you’re dissatisfied even when you know you made the right decision.
  3. Escalation of expectations. Because we’re so used to a huge number of options, the one we choose cannot live up to our expectations.
  4. Self-Blame. When we had limited choices we could accept discontent as the way things are. But when we have so many alternatives, if we choose a bad one we have only ourselves to blame.

Happiness requires striking a balance between too many and too few choices.

How to Effectively Limit Choices

Schwartz and I part company over how to solve this dilemma. He proposes having an outside entity constrain the choices of people in wealthy nations. The extra resources can then be used to increase the options for those living in poorer countries. The problem arises in assuming the optimal number of choices is the same for all people and for all aspects of life.

For myself, having a huge array of electronic gadgets to choose from does not make me happy. But I have a friend who LOVES comparing and deciding which one is best. (So I call him and he makes the choice for me.)

The best solution is for each of us to determine the amount of a choice that is optimal for our life and set constraints accordingly. Here’s how:

  1. Refuse to believe that more choices are necessarily good.
  2. Are you content with your choices in a particular area of your life? Don’t think you have to change them to find greater contentment. You may end up with less.
  3. Identify an aspect of life you think you’ll enjoy exploring. Test it out. Are you happier? I love trying new varieties of chocolate and ice cream. I go to great lengths to find them.

By choosing to limit your choices you will find greater happiness.

Where in your life are you overwhelmed by choices? Please comment below.

Do You Have a Plan for Your Life?

3 minutes to read

You can either live the life you want or the life that others choose for you. Most people don’t actively pick one of the other. When we’re children we do what our parents tell us to do or rebel against them. Both mean someone else is deciding on our life path. Once out of high school we tend to follow the customs of being in college, the military, or entering the workforce. Some conventions are fine, even laudatory. But often, only as we approach mid to later life, do we realize how much of our lives aren’t what we wanted them to be.

The good news is it’s never too late to start living the life you want.

You Can’t Arrive at an Unknown Destination

The biggest hurdle to living an intentional life is knowing what you really want. Unlike two or three generations ago, most of us have a bewildering number of choices. Deciding among such a vast array can be challenging. As well, you may unwittingly limit yourself by being very clear about one area of your life, say professional success, to the neglect of the other domains of your life.

Frequently I see veterans struggling with this issue. Life in the service is clear-cut. Career paths are set. Deployments occur fairly regularly and everything else takes a back seat to the needs of the military. But when they re-enter civilian life all the constraints are gone. They drift. Unhappiness sets in. They don’t know why.

The solution: Create a life plan that identifies where you want to go in life and how to get there.

Plan Your Life

As a long time follower of Michael Hyatt’s work, I am honored to be on the launch team for his new book. Written with Daniel Harkavy, Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want lays out a compelling case for writing a life plan. Short and to the point, it can be read in one sitting.

Like Michael's first book, Platform, the prose is well crafted to get you to take action. It guides you step-by-step through a simple process designed to get you in touch with the deepest desires in your life and then commit them to paper. Then it lays out a simple plan for integrating your blueprint into your life and making it a reality.

If you’re brand new to life planning Living Forward gives a solid strategy for taking control of your life’s direction. While I didn’t check them out, the online resources undoubtedly make the process even easier. If you are a veteran life planner like me, it has several ideas well worth adopting.

The book has two shortcomings:

  1. Both Michael and Daniel are established professionals who have significant financial resources at their command. The balance they advocate is much more easily attained at their stage in life than it is for someone struggling financially. The book would have been enhanced by some advice as to how to deal with competing interests beyond being intentional about the decisions you make. How did they attain the kind of professional success they have while maintaining solid marriages and relationships with their children? What life planning issues should their readers be aware of to avoid potential problems?
  2. Once your plan is written, Michael and Daniel advise reading it every day for the first 90 days and then at least weekly thereafter. Undoubtedly this effectively integrates it into your life. Better would be going through an extraction process whereby your life plan is distilled to a personal mission statement. Clarity comes not just from writing a plan, but from understanding it well enough that you can express it in a short, simple statement.

Notwithstanding these omissions, Living Forward stands as the book on life planning. If you are ready to stop drifting, join the revolution Michael and Daniel advocate and use this valuable resource to help chart the course of your life.

Do you have a life plan? Please comment below.

How to Free Yourself on Independence Day

Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. Memories of picnics on the bluffs of Santa Barbara followed by fireworks and evocations of history resonate deeply. Nowadays, I gather friends at my home where we read the Declaration of Independence and have a barbecue. But aside from celebrating the rebirth of representative government on the world stage, this 4th of July can have deep personal significance for you.

How to Free Yourself on Independence Day

All of us are oppressed by something. It may be:

  • Fear: Letting go of the past to embrace a better present and future is a scary prospect. Even if your past is less than wonderful, it’s familiar. Change leads to growth and new opportunities. Are you living the exact life you want?
  • Victimhood: You may be a victim, in which case you need help and time to heal. But too often victimhood is used as an excuse for inadequate self-discipline. Is it really Hagen Daz’s fault?
  • Overcommitting: There’s lots of reasons you say yes too often: Good intentions, maintaining a relationship, belief that you can do it all. Do you really want to keep living this way? Would the world end if you said no sometimes?
  • People Pleasing: Related to overcommitting, consistently placing other’s needs ahead of you own will eventually destroy your ability to help anyone. You’re a person too. Why aren’t you making self-care a priority?
  • Procrastinating: If you’re putting off doing tasks you should not be doing in the first place, GREAT! But, if essential tasks remain neglected day after day, you’re paying a terrible price. What prevents your being motivated?
  • Failure: Talk to anyone who has done anything and you’ll find they failed. And while they may not broadcast it, most highly successful people have failed a lot. Coming up short is a part of life. Why do you want to make it permanent by allowing it to halt further progress?

My list isn’t complete. Take some time this week to figure out what burdens you. Perhaps you have several. Choose the one most easily overcome. Then, on Independence Day, declare your freedom from it. Commit to negating its influence on your life. Paste a big note on you bathroom mirror saying:

I am free from [burden]. It no longer tyrannizes my life.

Every time you see your sign, read it out loud. Congratulations, 4th of July has just become your personal independence day too!

How will you celebrate Independence Day? Please comment below.

How to Deal with Injustice

Periodically I find myself experiencing Don Quixote moments. If you’re not familiar with the title character of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, he inspired Man of La Mancha, the great 1965 musical in which The Impossible Dream is sung. Don Quixote, who jousts with windmills, longs to “right the unrightable wrong . . . no matter how hopeless.” He’d find innumerable opportunities for such futility in the navy’s bureaucracy.

How to Deal with Injustice

Hindsight often exposes the folly of many of my fights. When someone does something unjust or malicious my default is to expose the perpetrator and have him punished. After all, if he gets away with such behavior it will encourage him to do it again. But such battles take a great deal of physical and mental energy. The resulting frustration inevitably spills over into other areas of my life, impacting my spiritual wellbeing.

Reality check: Even if the person is held accountable, I’ve made an enemy for life, one who will revel in having justification for further odious acts.

Balance is key here.

My running partner and I discussed proportionality last week. Response to a provocation must be in line with the larger strategic goal not the individual incursion. So too in your life. Before you level the 16” guns, is the campaign on which you’re planning to expend so much energy worth it in light of your personal mission and goals?

I’m not going to change the stagnant and insidious nature of navy bureaucracy any more than I am going to transform human nature. There will always be people who play petty power games corrosive to morale that detract from meeting the mission. My best course of action is to navigate around them. I’ll leave it for G-d to decide the appropriate punishment.

How do you bring this type of balance into your life?

  1. Be crystal clear about your personal mission
  2. Be equally clear about the goals that support your mission
  3. When faced with an obstacle, only confront it if it serves your mission and goals

This may sound selfish, but if your mission is sound then undoubtedly you are serving humanity in your own way.

I can understand Don Quixote’s attraction to hopeless causes. Unexpected victory in such a fight powerfully supports the belief that justice will prevail. Occasionally it’s necessary to sharpen my lance and take the field against an unconquerable enemy, if only to preserve my peace of mind. I suspect you feel the same way. If so, fight a battle that even though you lose it, will give you a lesson you can use in more winnable fights.

In the meantime, save your physical, mental, and spiritual energy for those you love and who love and respect you. Your white charger won’t mind resting in his stall a while longer, unburdened by heavy armor.

What hopeless cause must you fight for? Please comment below.

When Doing Nothing is the Most Productive

Have you ever kept an onion so long it grew green shoots? A few months ago I had one that sprouted stems a foot long. Rather than throwing it away I decided to plant it. Since potting it I’ve done nothing but water it periodically. About a week ago while leaving the house I noticed what looked like a seedpod had grown at the top of a three-foot high stalk. Coming home one evening the pod had blossomed into tiny, delicate white flowers. They are exquisite.

When Doing Nothing is the Most Productive

So often when something starts to go wrong or crisis strikes I feel compelled to immediately respond. Massive intervention before things get worse seems like the only prudent course of action. But of late, I’ve held myself back. Not the kind of procrastination where I'm avoiding dealing with an issue or am paralyzed by indecision. I intentionally take time to study and consider alternatives and at times consult with a friend or trusted advisor.

In doing so I’ve spared myself considerable emotional turmoil.

Some of the questions I ask myself before responding to a challenge are:

  1. Is there really a problem here?
  2. What is the challenge and what are its roots?
  3. Is it as big as I think it is? Put another way, will it make any difference a week, month, or year from now?
  4. If I get overly caught up in dealing with the issue, what other things will I be prevented from doing?
  5. Can I have a positive impact on the resolution?
  6. Will it distract me from the priorities in my life?

Living an intentional life might lead you to think you must intervene anytime something happens that isn't in line with your plans. But maybe this alternative path will get you where you want to go just as well as the original. Or maybe it will take you to a better place.

While neglecting a significant relationship challenge or the need to change a negative habit is rarely if ever productive, most of life’s challenges are not at that level. Benign neglect can often solve minor problems as well as intervention can and with a smaller investment of time and emotion.

Consider letting the onion slide. Maybe it will bloom into a beautiful white flower on its own.

What are your criteria for deciding to intervene in a problem? Please comment below.

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