However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Your life and your situation are unique. You need to take various perspectives so you can choose the one that fits best. That’s why I’ve put together the best advice that helped me make better choices from people much smarter than I am.
Climb the Mountain of Inner Clarity and Overcome the Obstacles of the Mind
What do the world’s leading high-performance coach and a Shaolin monk with 30 years of experience have in common?
Both Brendon Burchard and Master Shi Heng Yi say that to make great decisions, you first need inner clarity. Without, you look at the road ahead through a foggy windshield and take wrong turns. But while you can quickly clean the outside with wipers, the inside often stays foggy, making it impossible to see clearly.
Information about your options is usually easy to obtain. You can ask about the requirements and pay of a new job, find out which girl would like to go out with you, or look up how many calories a burger has. Inner clarity, however, is much harder — the “what do I really want?” often isn’t easy to answer, at least not if you want the truth.
By mastering yourself first before you take on the outside world, you’ll free yourself from distractions, bad decisions, and layers of overwhelming uncertainty.
Ancient Shaolin wisdom says obtaining inner clarity is like climbing a mountain. Once you’re at the summit, you can see clearly. But you’ll have to face five obstacles on the way up, representing the states of mind that prevent you from making a clear decision.
I’ve climbed a ton of mountains in my life and they all had one thing in common. Walking upwards is hard and you quickly get hungry and thirsty.
Now imagine you come past a restaurant with delicious food, cool drinks, and a bunch of people. How tempting is it to leave your path and join them? This desire keeps you from reaching the summit and obtaining inner clarity. Your short-term cravings stand in the way of your long-term decisions, whether you break your diet or decide to move across the country for a girl because you’re lonely and crave love and affection.
Before you make a decision, ask yourself: “Am I distracted by a desire or even addicted to a temptation?”
In 2018, the Swiss mountain rescue had to pull 3211 people out of the Alps, many of them due to bad weather conditions. Climbing mountains is no fun when it rains since it’s easy to get lost and off track. When your mind is clouded with negative emotions and rain, you can’t reach the summit of clarity.
Before you make a decision, ask yourself: “Am I feeling a negative emotion?”
Dullness of the mind & heaviness of the body
Any decision you make takes mental energy and willpower. Car salesmen know this and let you decide about the most profitable options in the end when you’re too exhausted to resist. To reach the summit of clarity, you have to be fit.
Before you make a decision, ask yourself: “Am I unmotivated or exhausted?”
Restlessness & worry
When you’re worried, you often zig-zag between thoughts and ideas. “What if A doesn’t work? Maybe B is better. Or how about C?” You’re too worried about the future or stuck in the past to make a clear decision. Focus on the present moment instead.
Before you make a decision, ask yourself: “Am I caught up in the future or the past? Is my mind jumping from thought to thought?”
Doubts of other people
Doubts are normal. They’re healthy. They cause you to challenge your ideas and weed out the bad ones, separating the wheat from the chaff. But too many doubts, especially from other people, will lead you off track.
When you listen to others saying this won’t work, you will fail, and you should do something else instead, you get lost. Their doubts cause you to turn around, choose paths that aren’t your own, and miss the summit altogether.
Before you make a decision, ask yourself: “Am I lost in doubt?”
Inner clarity is key. Only with a clear mind can you make a good decision.
Use the 10–10–10 Rule to Think Long-Term
You base most of your choices on your emotions. The food you crave. The words you say in a fight. The tap on your alarm clock so you can snooze for another ten minutes. Your emotions determine a good deal of your behavior, but there’s an inherent problem to this.
Emotions are short-lived. They demand instant gratification and don’t care about long-term effects. Your decisions are often too focused on what you want right now when the consequences will still be there for years to come.
You need to make the long-term results more apparent so you can give them more weight in your decision-making process. This is where the 10–10–10 rule comes into play.
It’s as simple as effective. Ask yourself how you will feel about something in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years from now. These three timeframes put the long-term consequences into perspective.
Buying an iPad will feel good ten minutes after the purchase — you’ve got a new and shiny device, and you’ll probably spend the first few days glued to it. But what about in ten months? Will it be worth the investment? Will you still use it as much as in the beginning, or will you want something else already?
And when you look into the future ten years from now, you likely won’t be using it at all anymore. Will it have brought enough joy to justify the $600 you spent on it? Or could you’ve done something else with the money, e.g. spent it on a holiday or crazy trip you’ll still remember ten years down the line?
If you want to make a good decision, you have to consider the long-term consequences.
Image by author
Face Your Fears and Calculate the Cost of Inaction
What if I told you all your decisions and behaviors are rooted in fear? It would be a shameless exaggeration, but with a germ of truth hidden underneath.
You are prone to negative information, including anything that triggers your fears. This negativity bias is the reason why bad news sells like hotcakes while good news magazines struggle.
Your fears influence your decision-making process to a great extent. When the risks are unknown, unique, or infrequent, you often overestimate them, making mountains out of molehills.
After 9/11, many people avoided flying out of fear of terrorist attacks and traveled by car instead. However, the data shows planes are much safer than cars. This means an unnecessarily large number of people died on the road thinking it was the safer alternative.
How can you put your fears in perspective and make better decisions? With a simple exercise by Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Work Week, and popular TED speaker. Fear setting will help you rationalize your fears instead of giving in to them, helping you to make better, life-changing choices.
When I thought about quitting my Master’s program to build my own business, I went through the simple three-step process to put my worries and fears into perspective. This led not only to a better decision, but also peace of mind and confidence in my choice.
Step #1: Define, prevent, repair.
The unknown and uncertain are a great source of fear. This Xenophobia often causes stock prices to plummet and also compounds many anxiety disorders. Lots of people are afraid of the dark simply because they don’t know what might be lurking in the shadows.
Before I decided to quit my Master’s, I was worried about all sorts of potential outcomes. What if I go broke? What if I’ll have to flip burgers at McDonald’s and get yelled at by angry customers? What if I regret this decision for the rest of my life? What if…?
But the more I defined and examined my fears, the calmer I became. Once I explored all the possibilities, I felt a sense of peace — nothing could surprise me anymore. The fear of the unknown was gone.
After you defined your fears, ask yourself how you can prevent the worst-case — and if there’s anything that helps you sort out the mess if shit hits the fan.
Sure, my business might fail. But I could prepare amply, get a mentor, and put away a financial buffer so I wouldn’t starve to death. And even if everything went belly-up, I’d still have my Bachelor’s degree and could score an entry-level job, so there wasn’t that much to fear in the first place.
Define your fears. Think about how you can prevent your worst nightmare from happening and if there’s anything you can do to repair the worst-case damage.
Step #2: Ask yourself, “What can go right?”
When you face a decision, you often focus on what can go wrong. Again, it’s natural — negativity bias and all. But what if you asked yourself “what can go right?”
Assume for a second everything went splendid without any hiccups or dead bodies in your basement. Just a smooth homerun without mistakes — putting you on top of the high score list.
In my case, that meant I’d be my own boss, make more money than I ever would’ve in the corporate world, and actually enjoy what I do for a living. It would be a dream come true.
Step #3: Calculate the cost of inaction.
Newton’s first law of motion states that if no outside force acts on an object at rest, it will stay at rest. In simpler words: If you don’t do something, nothing will change.
However, inaction comes with a hidden cost. Keeping your job will make you slightly miserable every day. Your apartment’s high rent will keep you from saving every month. Your toxic relationship will take a toll on your emotional well-being.
Once I considered these costs, I realized doing my Master’s was a pretty bad idea. I’d be miserable in my job, stuck in corporate life, and have a lot less time and energy to follow my dreams.
Calculate the costs of inaction. Write down what it costs you to keep everything as it is — in half a year, a year, and three years from now.
For your final decision, compare the scenarios from steps one and two. What if the worst-case happened — considering your measures for preventing and repairing the damage caused? What if your dream came true — considering all the good things that could come of it?
Rank these scenarios on a scale from -10 to +10 according to the long-term impact they can have on your life. In my case, I found myself comparing a -3 to a +9 — and that doesn’t even take into account the cost of inaction. To me, that’s a clear decision.