Sunday, January 24, 2010

Make wise decisions and choices


A real decision is making up one's mind based on a free, well thought out and personal commitment to a choice, option, proposal or alternative. To make a wise decision, we need realistic information, a collection of facts, figures and feelings. A healthy self-esteem, assertiveness, self-reliance, good judgement and confidence are qualities and characteristics that facilitate decision-making. It is mostly through our ability or inability to make decisions and choices that our life is as it is today. We take charge of our own lives every time we make real decisions based on our priorities and values. We always have a choice in what we do and how we think. Making choices and decisions offers the possibility to change and improve. On the other hand, if we have great difficulty making decisions and choices, we can have all sorts of problems and complications. Decisions can be terrifying since every time you have to make tough choices, there are inevitably risks and implications. Every major decision has an element of risk, but it also offers the possibility of a benefit. No matter what you do, sometimes you will make the wrong decision. In fact every time you take a tough decision, you must be willing to admit that you might make a mistake. No wonder a lot of people abdicate their responsibility to take decisions and make choices. They depend on others, procrastinate and don't participate fully in their own life.
To start with, you need to have an objective perception of yourself and of reality. You have to understand who you are and know what you want. No one else knows enough about you to make the best decision for you. Every time you make a decision, you are expressing your personality, your values and your feelings. Every decision and choice you make and every action you take is based on your level of self-awareness. Your self-awareness can be defined as the clarity and vision with which you perceive and understand everything that affects your life. It determines your concept of reality. Your level of self-awareness dictates your experiences, attitudes, emotional reactions, anxieties and aspirations. Most importantly, it indicates your sense of self-image and personal worth, and how you feel about yourself.
Basic principles can guide you in making decisions in all aspects of your life. Start by asking yourself if it really matters what decisions you take. Ask yourself if you are truely meeting your needs and priorities. There are lots of choices and decisions you make each day that really don't matter a great deal: things like what clothes or ties to wear, what toothpaste to use, what to eat for lunch, which birthday present to buy, what movies to see. While you want to make a good choice, don't waste too much time on them. There are other times you may think you don't have any choice. You have no choice because you are told to do something. You have no choice because you don't like any of the alternatives suggested to you. You have no choice because you have a bad habit that you can't change. These are just excuses. You always have choices even when you don't like them. Accept that some choices will involve tradeoffs and compromises, some of which might be unpleasant.
As part of an organized society, it helps if whatever decision you take is legal. Gather as much information as you can so that you become more aware of the multitude of alternatives you have in any given situation. Inform yourself thoroughly of all options. Remember that you usually have more options than you think you have. Separate facts from opinions, assumptions, rumours and hearsay. Ask yourself what are the consequences of your decision. Get in touch with your deepest values and feelings. You may have to seek professional advice before making some decisions. Consult your lawyer for legal advice, your plumber for plumbing solutions and your doctor for a medical decision. When faced with a tough decision, concentrate on it and list the pros and cons on paper. Select your best option based on your factual information, priorities, and values. The decision taken should support your objectives and goals. To get better directions, you need a good map. Plan ahead and think it through. You usually go through this more rationale decision-making process when you have plenty of time to plan and choose, for example, when you want to buy a new or second hand car. There is an old Chinese saying that goes like this: "It takes less time to think things through to make a wiser decision than it does to correct a poor decision".
There are situations when you don't have time to ponder and you need to make a decision fast. Some examples are: while driving your car you come to a crossroad and you have no idea which way to turn; somebody points a gun at you and asks for your money; you are the only one at a scene of a fire and somebody trapped inside is calling for help. In these kinds of situations, you go with your instinct, impulse and gut feeling. There is no time to use the intellect and go through the rational decision-making process. Whenever time permits and especially for the more difficult decisions you need to use your rational thinking process together with your experience and intuition. When you find it difficult to make decisions, it means you have some doubt. Use your doubt to maintain perspective and to question your assumptions, judgments and motivations. Let yourself be guided by your main purpose in life, your core values and your priorities. Your decision should be consistent with your values, especially the value of respect. Remember: don't do anything you would not want done to you!
If you are unsure about all the specifics of the issue in question but you still need to take a decision, you can ask yourself whether your decision enhances your fulfillment and happiness as well as that of those who will be affected by your decision. Ask yourself whether the guidelines mentioned above have been generally met and if they have, just do it. Sometimes it takes courage to make bold decisions and to achieve results. It helps to ask yourself what it will cost if you don't take decisive action. It can be very tempting to wait for permission and confirmation before taking any decision. Often opportunities are lost that way. On the other hand, if you rush in to make quick decisions without taking into consideration the basic principles of the decision-making process, you can make mistakes and blunders. The most practical ways of making tough decisions are to use your information, insight, references, experience and intuition in conjunction with your values, beliefs and priorities. Basically, know yourself and your decisions will be wiser and more realistic.
We tend to idealize ourselves, expecting and demanding too much from ourselves. Some decisions need time for development and clarity. We want to make the right decisions all the time if possible. We have doubt and we are scared of making the wrong choices. We must overcome our fears of making wrong decisions. Without any doubt, we are going to screw up along the way! No matter what we do, we will sometimes make the wrong decisions and choices. Let's face it, no decision is perfect. There are no absolutely right or wrong decisions, just different ones. While there is never a perfect choice, there are wise and sensible choices. Sometimes no matter how long we consider the different options, there are still several possible choices and solutions which are acceptable. It does not mean that we should be paralyzed by severe ambivalence, changing our mind back and forth. We should not procrastinate by exercising excessive caution, making sure we have ideal conditions for making a choice. Choosing not to make a decision can lead to anxiety, apathy, discouragement and low self-esteem. There is always the danger that other people will make the decision for you. It is much better to assess your situation clearly, think things through rationally and make the best choice you can rather than procrastinate. Remember that even the most serious decisions you make are usually not as important as you might think. Have the self-confidence to believe that whatever happens as a result of your decision, you'll be able to handle it. Most of the time, the supposedly important decisions are forgotten as you move on. Once a decision is made, it's the commitment and dedication you have to see it through that will determine whether it will turn out to be right or wrong. You then have to discard the other options and alternatives. The commitment to the designation and implementation of your choice is crucial to making it a good decision.
Of course, you have the right and flexibility to change your mind and have second thoughts if conditions have altered to warrant it. Sometimes when you realize you have made a mistake, you may still have enough time to correct it. With each decision, if you have done the best you can under the circumstances and it still doesn't work out, you have to accept the fact and live with the consequences. Whenever you make a choice that turns out to be wrong, be honest with yourself, learn from it, use the lesson to make better decisions in the future and move on. Don't dwell on it. Determine where you went wrong and avoid the same mistake in the future. Some of the greatest lessons you can learn are from your own mistakes. When your decisions are based on your opinions, you have the flexibility to change them to fit your preferences. When you are depressed or have severe anxiety, it is wise to delay important and major decisions. Avoid making decisions when you are angry, frustrated or emotionally charged since you may have to suffer the consequences. A low self-esteem, dependency on others and the need to be accepted and liked can block you from making effective decisions.
Remember that you are only capable of choosing as wisely and rationally as you can under any circumstances depending on the knowledge and information you have, your state of mind, your preconditioning, and your thinking skills. Learn to trust your ability to make choices. The more you are prepared and willing to make decisions, the easier and more natural the process becomes. A larger percentage of your choices will align themselves with your values and will to be right for you. Successful decision-making experience builds self-confidence which in turn facilitates the process. Realism and knowing oneself is the key to wise decision-making. It is through your decisions and choices that you shape and determine your destiny. Make a decision right now that can steer you in a new and positive direction of growth and happiness.

Extract from my book: Become your best

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Understand your emotions


An emotion is a strong feeling often accompanied by physical and psychological response. Some people blush and feel ashamed when they are caught in an embarrassing situation, others do not. It is important to understand your emotions and to be aware that they can be different from others. Do not make the assumptions that everybody has the same emotions and desires. Your emotions are reflections of your mental attitude. Some of our primary emotional needs are caring, acceptance, trust, respect, self-esteem, appreciation and reassurance which are essentially the need for love. Other positive emotions are hope, faith, sympathy, optimism, and loyalty. We also have negative emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, hatred, greed, jealousy, revenge, frustration, sadness and depression. Some of the so-called negative emotions are sometimes necessary for our survival. In an extreme situation that someone is threatening to harm you or your family, emotions like anger and fear can help you get out of your predicament. Common sense tells us that if someone has never experienced these types of emotions, he or she will be ill-equipped to understand or predict the kind of situation or behaviour likely to cause these emotional states. Fortunately most of us have experienced these emotions and have a fairly good appreciation of their effects.
Understanding the needs, behaviours and emotions of people is a powerful and practical tool for improving our relationships and deepening our capacity to experience life to its fullest. To fulfill others, you need to learn to satisfy their emotional needs. Likewise by discovering your needs, you can seek and satisfy them through your communication and behaviour. Your emotional needs have to be met in order that you can feel fulfilled. You have to be in tune with how you feel at all times by being honest with yourself about your emotions. Your feelings are an important source of knowledge and wisdom about yourself that is readily accessible to you and nobody else. By tuning in to them, you can access valuable information that cannot be found anywhere else that can be useful in the pursuit of your goal. Understanding your feelings is invaluable in the process of making successful personal change that will enhance your life.
Serious emotional difficulties occur when you cannot adjust to your surroundings and when you have the wrong attitude, poor training or social pressures. Past experiences and habits in the handling of your emotions often determine whether or not you will be able to weather a serious failure, a great disappointment or any emergency crisis. Any personal change can trigger strong feelings which should be acknowledged and understood. How would you handle a major setback in your health, family life, personal finance or employment? It is normal to experience some degree of sadness, anger, depression, fear and even grief in the change process. Accept the facts as they are and do not exaggerate them. Seek professional advice if necessary and develop a strategy to face the situation. A positive mental attitude to life always helps and is even more essential in these crisis situations.
Anger is an emotion we have all experienced at one time or another. It is a feeling of rage and of passionate displeasure caused by acute differences of opinions and major misunderstandings. Anger alerts us to things that are offensive to our values and beliefs. We can avoid anger by keeping our emotional reactions within reasonable bounds, by detecting the many potential trigger signals. Choose not to respond to them with anger. Try not to snap-react to insensitive words, specific actions or irritations. Learn to detect them and deal with them for what they are. Despite our effort, we sometimes get frustrated and angry with ourselves or with other people. For many of us, anger is an emotion which reveals the ugly side of us. We tend to repress the feeling hoping it will dissipate and we can get on with our lives. Repressing anger unfortunately results in blocking other emotions such as caring, empathy, and warmth; and can destroy relationships. Anger does not simply dissolve, it remains and accumulates, creating anxiety, confusion and feelings of rage. If repressed and unexpressed, explosive anger may erupt in the form of acute anxiety, temper tantrums, physical and verbal abuse, depression and self-hate. Before the misunderstandings, problems, and irritations that triggered your anger in the first place can be resolved, it must be expressed directly as anger, preferably at the time of its inception. A lot of times, anger is directed at people we care about the most, like our children, spouses and friends. Let them know how you feel and why. Try to express your anger as warmly, directly and appropriately as possible. You can almost feel the intensity of the anger dissipating once you have expressed it. As the emotion subsides, ask for clarification and give an explanation for your anger. Usually, confusion, turmoil and complication disappear, and good feelings emerge. Do not hesitate to apologize if your anger was inappropriate for the occasion.
Guilt and worry are perhaps the most futile emotions that we waste lots of time and energy on, thereby preventing us from concentrating on what is really important in our lives. Ask yourself why you carry around such a heavy load of guilt and worry. Feeling guilty may mean that you feel upset, dejected or depressed about something you did or said, focusing on past behaviour and happenings. Guilt also tells you that you have violated one of your core values, beliefs and principles. You can certainly learn from your past mistakes to ensure that you are not going to violate that particular standard in the future. Use your mistakes as a self-correcting kind of mechanism but realize that no amount of guilt can ever undo a historical event. Almost everybody spends a lot of time and energy worrying these days. It seems to be a human tendency to have the feeling that, no matter how well things may be going, everything could change for the worse. If you let negative thoughts occupy your mind without questioning them, they tend to leave behind a trail of worry and anxiety.
Worrying is a non-productive activity that steals our precious time. By worrying about a possible future event or about the consequences of something that happened, you are neglecting the present moment and concentrating your attention on the future or the past. Why worry about something that might or might not happen in the future? A high percentage of what we worry about never happens anyway. In any case, not a moment of worry will improve the situation, rather it may lead to fear, confusion and exhaustion. You may feel that your worrying thoughts creep up from nowhere and defy your best efforts to eradicate them. In fact, you create your own worries and determine what you want to worry about. Do not victimize yourself by listening to messages that generate worries and anxieties. Instead focus on a pleasant substitute mental activity whenever you want to banish your worry from your mind. Think of some of your worries that did not come true. Ask yourself whether they were worth the stressful emotions. Give up worrying about things that are beyond your control.
It is much more useful to take some action that can relieve you from worrying. Each time you take action and stop worrying, you can begin to appreciate your own problem-solving abilities. Instead of worrying, switch into constructive planning to resolve the problem. Sit down quietly and write out what is worrying you. Write out the worst case scenario. Ask yourself, if that happened what would you do? When you figure out what you could do if the worst did happen, the intensity of the worry will diminish. You can then take some appropriate actions to ensure that you would survive it or even reduce its impact.
A lot of people worry about losing their jobs. If you can sense that the writing is on the wall, rather than just worry about losing your job, you can spend your time and energy looking at the different options. You can start searching for another job right away. You can plan to start your own business or take some time off to reevaluate your situation. Take some action and begin addressing what you are worried about. By working on self-enhancing thoughts and ideas, you can avoid or eliminate the need for guilt and worry. Everybody worries sometimes and has experienced some form of guilt. You can begin to change your attitude about the things you worry or feel guilty about. Realize that the guilt and worry do not help solve anything. It takes practice to give up worrying and feeling guilty; you need to be determined to eliminate or at least minimize these stressful and futile emotions from your life.
Suitable emotions are facilitated by knowing that every act produces definite consequences. Cause and effect operate in one's emotional life just as they do in the physical world. You should understand your conduct and your emotional reaction as well as those of others. Most people have experienced situations where they are so tensed up that it is difficult to function and perform effectively. These situations usually happen at times when they really want to do well or when they are anxious about lacking some skills. For instance, a common source of anxiety for millions of people is having to make a public speech. Anxiety is present because they believe they lack the necessary skill, and this in turn undermines their confidence and inevitably leads to a poor speech.
As human beings, we sometimes have feelings of ambivalence. We have conflicting feelings about something. All of us have mixed and often diametrically opposed feelings, opinions, thoughts and ideas about ourselves, other people, issues and the decisions that we make in our lives. We must expect a normal amount of ambivalence. We want to be free and independent, and we also rely on our loving family for many things. Some mothers love their careers, while they also want to be home with their children. We want to take risks and at the same time we hold feelings of prudence and security. Some of us are ambivalent about whether God exists. These ambivalent feelings can coexist. This human capacity to feel conflicting feelings simultaneously may be a source of confusion and discomfort. They can prevent us from taking action, asserting an opinion and making decisions. On the positive side, it forces us to make difficult choices, to explore our inner self, to consult our hierarchy of priorities and to trust our values and beliefs. It is a valuable human attribute which makes us more sensitive to our feelings and helps us understand ourselves and others.
The process of growing up emotionally at any age is not easy. Emotional maturity requires considerable effort and endeavour. To achieve it, you should understand what motivates your behaviour and needs. Self-understanding is the ability to analyze your emotions by knowing what sort of person you really are. The best time to handle an emotion is when you first begin to feel it. It's much more difficult to interrupt it once it is out of control. Acknowledge your emotion. Identify what you are really feeling and why. Careful reflection and introspection are needed about the way you talk to yourself and the resulting emotions that you attach to this self-talk. This evaluation enables you to monitor what progress you are making towards your goals and can lead to a better sense of self-worth. The capacity to be patient, to refrain from judgment and to be able to control your emergent feelings are signs of emotional maturity. An emotionally mature person will have some or all of the following characteristics:

1. Healthy self-esteem
2. Ability to face reality
3. Independence and self-reliance
4. Happy social relationships
5. Good values and beliefs
6. Positive mental attitude
7. Harmony and peace of mind
8. Balanced life

From the point of view of emotional stability, it is vital that you think well of yourself. Your self-talk should reflect that. You can make profound changes in your well-being by changing the nature of your self-talk. The ability to face reality demands a courageous confrontation with the facts of life. This self-reliance is based on your independence and inner strength. If you are living according to your values, beliefs and interests, you will have a feeling of self-worth, a sense of fulfillment and a balanced way of life.

Extract from my book: Become your best.