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 shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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