About a year ago, I learned a straightforward strategy that transformed my decision-making process.
Since then, I’ve used it to break through resistance, and take action on important things in life.
It all started with an observation that it was easier to give suggestions to other people than it was to solve my own problems.
With friends, I could stay impartial. This helped me understand both the objective facts of their situation and the emotional biases clouding their judgement.
This realization got me thinking…
How might I use this knowledge to re-engineer my own decision making process?
If I could give clear-headed advice to others, I could certainly learn to cut through the noise of my own challenges.
It’s Hard to Stay Objective
When you’re the main character in your life’s story, it’s hard to stay objective. You live life in a 1st-person view. Your experiences are saturated with emotions, and instincts drive much of your decision-making.
This isn’t inherently bad. Your instincts and emotions make you who you are!
But those emotions aren’t always helpful for making sound decisions. You need a healthy level of detachment from your point-of-view in order to fully process any scenario.
A mindfulness practice can help get you there. Meditation, journaling, and other activities work well to cultivate awareness. But they only go so far.
What’s needed is a reliable strategy you can use to cultivate objectivity.
Whether you’re faced with a tough decision or just want to do more reflection, the process of “zooming out” gives you the perspective to be objective.
Give Yourself the Advice You’d Give to A Friend
The gist of this strategy is to give yourself the advice you’d give a friend if they were in your shoes.
Instead of “I need to make this decision”, it becomes “They need to make a decision”. There’s less pressure. You think more clearly.
It can feel unnatural to treat yourself like a different person, but it makes a world of difference.
Follow the steps below to make the exercise as effective as you can.
This strategy simplifies into four main steps.
- Awareness: Realizing you’re in a situation where your judgement could be clouded by emotions, fears, and other personal biases.
- Perspective: “Zoom out” to get an objective understanding of your situation.
- Analysis: Consider the pros and cons of potential paths forward.
- Advice: Give advice to yourself.
Here’s what that looks like in practice.
Step 1: Cultivate Awareness to Know When to Start
As with most mindful practices, the first step is awareness. 😃
Be on the lookout for decision points in your life. Notice when you’re struggling with a tricky situation, or feel wrapped up in your own head. That’s when it’s time to pause, and zoom out.
For practice: Meditation and journaling exercises are valuable to increase your awareness on a regular basis.
Step 2: Zoom Out to Promote Objectivity
Shift from 1st-person (“I have this decision to make”) to 3rd person (“[your name] has a decision to make.”)
Envision stepping outside of yourself to see the situation with a fresh set of eyes.
Then, write out all the facts of your situation:
- What are the biggest moving pieces? Why do they matter?
- What are the emotions you’re feeling? Why?
- Are you experiencing fear? Where is it coming from?
This is the most important part of the exercise, so I’ll repeat it again. Write out all the facts of your situation!
It’s easy to be short-sighted when making decisions. This is dangerous, because it often leads to the path of least resistance. But avoiding short term discomfort in this way prevents great things from happening later on.
Step 3: Analyze the Situation With a Fresh Set of Eyes
This is where you start move towards a decision.
Given the facts of the situation (that you listed out in step 2),
- What are the different choices one could make in this scenario?
- What are the likely outcomes of those paths, both positive and negative?
Stay aware of the fact that it’s common to inflate the impact of consequences relative to gains.
Don’t let your fears prevent you from taking action. Stay true to the exercise of objectivity. If a friend gave you that list of fears, how would you respond? Treat them as if they aren’t your own.
Step 4: Give Yourself Clear-Headed Advice
After analyzing the situation, give yourself the advice you’d give to a friend in your shoes.
Don’t just think about doing this. Take physical steps to share the advice as you would with a friend:
- Write an email to yourself
- Write a letter to yourself
- Record a video to yourself
Whatever method you choose, do not skip this step! Physically going through the process of sharing advice promotes objectivity. And it primes you to commit and follow through.
Better Decisions Build A Better Life
Giving myself advice is my go-to strategy to make better decisions. It helps me follow through on important things (like having vulnerable conversations with others) when resistance and fear get in the way.
This strategy is particularly useful for challenging situations. But it’s also useful for more regular journaling. For example, taking ten minutes to write about your life from a 3rd-person perspective once per week.
It helps me live by the principles I believe to be important, but are difficult to follow through on. I hope it will do the same for you!
The more you break through life’s natural resistance, the easier it becomes.
Patrick Buggy is a coach and writer at MindfulAmbition.net, where he shares mindful strategies to help you live your best life. To start every week on the right foot, join the free newsletter: Mindful Monday Mornings.