Guest Post: 6 Tips for Making BEST Decisions

Making the Best Decisions
By Michelle P Maidenberg, PhD

Wouldn’t it be nice if making decisions were as easy as deciding what fruit we want to eat on a given day? Most decisions that we make aren’t black and white and leave us with strong, powerful and at times uncomfortable emotions.

We are all constantly making important decisions. Patients I work with make decisions about whether to file for divorce, what colleges to apply to, and whether or not to leave or stay at their current jobs. As a working mother, I am constantly making decisions that leave me with deeply negative and often disappointed and regretful feelings.

The hardest decision that I ever remember making was the decision to break off my engagement to a person I was deeply in love with and dated for six years. My heart was pulling me in many different directions and all my opposing thoughts could be rationalized. I was left with wondering why I wanted to break off a relationship with someone I loved, cared about and wanted to be with.

My core values of family, loyalty, love, compassion, security/reliability, perseverance were directly in opposition with my other core values surrounding self-preservation, personal growth, self-respect/integrity, consistency, responsibility, ambition and education. I expected that in order to make the ‘right’ decision I needed to feel fully confident in the position I was choosing to take and that all my feelings needed to be aligned with that position. I learned that making the decision was not contingent upon whether or not I was feeling ‘okay’ with it.

I had the responsibility to fully evaluate my alternative choices and thoughtfully decide that under my set of circumstances, I was making the best decision for me and which would inevitably allow me to be my best me. I had no choice but to confront the array of lingering feelings that was naturally associated with loss and transition. It was pain that I was fully expecting and chose to take on, for the betterment of my future and who I chose to evolve into.

Most individuals of varied age groups that I work with report that it is often difficult for them to make decisions because they have to give up a degree of control (an attribute of our humanness), are in fear of making a poor decision and being deemed or reinforced that they are a failure (there are failed decisions, not failed individuals), and are stressed because of the thinking that the decision will have negative rippling/residual effects that they will not be able to reconcile (most often it is not the case even though our mind catastrophizes and convinces us it is).

There is good reason for concern and discomfort. There are rarely decisions made that are without residual feelings of uncertainty, guilt and regret. Challenging decisions generally come up because there are two core values underlining the decisions that are in opposition with one another. The responsibility lies in our identifying values, effectively problem solving and balancing out the emotional and intellectual variables.

When challenging decision making comes up, consider:
  1. That rather than thinking about it dichotomously or as a right or wrong decision, consider what the ‘best’ decision is under the circumstances. Thinking about it in absolutes evokes fear and anxiety. Most people prolong making a decision or experience decision making as dreaded because they fear the ‘devastating’ consequences attached to a ‘wrong’, ‘failed’ and ‘bad’ decision. All decisions have a redeeming value and could be an impetus for learning, growing and reconsideration. Few if any decisions lead to dire consequences even though our mind tells us to believe it is so.
  2. Break down the decision by the core values that are operating for you so that you can see why that position is so meaningful to you. You can use this while helping someone else to work through a challenge or as a parent you can use this with your children to teach them to effectively problem solve and identify the values that will drive their behaviors. This is a valuable lesson to obtain early in life.
  3. There is pain and discomfort in values and values in pain and discomfort. Your values are your guiding principles and represent who you are and what is meaningful to you. They guide your actions. There are deep emotions attached to these values and when you feel that they are being compromised you are bound to be uncomfortable.

    Ask yourself, would you truly want to be ‘okay’ when these get challenged (e.g. if you see someone cutting a line that you have been waiting on, you become enraged because it rubs against your value of fairness and justice, of course you wouldn’t want to be okay with their unjust behavior, but you also have the choice whether to physically accost the person because of their behavior or assertively and respectfully ask them to move to the end of the line).

  4. Thoughtfully problem solve and balance out both the emotional and intellectual variables. Some of us are more emotionally driven and some of us more intellectually driven. Make an effort to counterbalance in the direction you tend to be less drawn to.
  5. Make attempts to expand the way you look at things and ask yourself, ‘What else can I consider?’ or ‘Is there anything else here that I’m not fully considering?’ We sometimes get stuck on our own values and principles without considering those of others. We often need to make an effort to be open and expansive.
  6. In order to fully process your decision and problem solve, consider trying this exercise. Draw a square with four quadrants. List what the advantages and disadvantages are for each of the quadrants. Go quadrant by quadrant starting from left to right first concentrating on the top and then make your way to the bottom. After all four are complete, stipulate on a scale from 1-5 how important each item on each quadrant is for you.

    Add up the numbers on the diagonal quadrants (e.g. advantages of changing jobs and disadvantages of changing jobs versus advantages of not changing jobs and disadvantages of not changing jobs). Compare the two sets of numbers and discuss which was greater. If the numbers are close think about why you are so split. For both positions, contemplate whether values would be able to be maintained if you remained in that situation. Also, go back to considering which values are more prominent in this circumstance and what decision will allow you to be your best you.

Traditional problem solving methods include defining the decision, analyzing it, developing alternatives, selecting the best solution, implementing the solution, analyzing the results and learning from them. With identifying your core values and processing and problem solving them, you can make the “best” decisions but it may not be free of emotional discomfort. Making decisions can be challenging without the residual struggle and dread attached to it.

It’s been 21 years since I made the decision of which I spoke about. There is still emotion attached to it. No regret, but contemplation and a bit of nostalgic sadness. I learned so much from that experience and appreciate that I had the opportunity to “fail.” I have gained a clearer understanding of what my values are with the awareness that they may evolve and change overtime. It has lead me in the direction of where I had wanted to go and who I became.

We will all continue to be put in situations where we have to make challenging and important decisions. We should choose to celebrate it as an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve into the person we aspire to become.

 


Guest Post: Tips for Making BEST Decisions

About the Author: Michelle P. Maidenberg, PhD

Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R, CGP is the President/Clinical Director of Westchester Group Works, a Center for Group Therapy in Harrison, NY. She also maintains a private practice. She is the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of “Thru My Eyes” a nonprofit 501c3 organization that offers free clinically-guided videotaping to chronically medically ill individuals who want to leave video legacies for their children and loved ones. 

Dr. Maidenberg is Adjunct Faculty at New York University (NYU). She created and coordinates the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Program at Camp Shane, a health & weight management camp for children and teens in NY, AZ, GA, CA & TX and Shane Resorts, a resort focusing on health & weight management for young adults and adults in NY & TX.  She is author of “Free Your Child From Overeating” 53 Strategies For Lifelong Change Using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy & Mindfulness which is forthcoming in Spring 2016.

You can find Michelle via her websites,www.MichelleMaidenberg.com or www.WestchesterGroupWorks.com, and follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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