Life Health & Wellbeing

Saturday 19 January 2019

Decision time - January is the month of big choices

Shift your perspective and reframe your thinking before you make a big life choice

Former President Barack Obama. Photo: Mark Makela/Reuters
Former President Barack Obama. Photo: Mark Makela/Reuters

New Year's resolutions are all too easily broken but there are some decisions made at the start of the year that aren't so effortlessly reversed.

The job market swells in January, spiking yesterday which, according to statistics, is the busiest job-hunting day of the year. There's also a documented increase in divorce filings, wedding venue bookings (dovetailing with Christmas engagements) and baby-making.

January is the month of the big decision, but are we in the right frame of mind for making choices that irrevocably change the course of our lives? Sure, a new diary full of empty white pages might give the impression of a fresh start, but, in truth, many of us are in a state of financial anxiety and profound lethargy for the better part of the month.

Sometimes it's better to leave big decisions until springtime. Otherwise, be sure to think long, hard and laterally if you're making life-changing decisions this month. Here are a few pointers...

Moderate your emotions

When making a decision, it's important to observe your emotional state before you weigh up your options. Or, as the saying goes: don't let your emotions make your decisions.

When we're angry, we make defensive knee-jerk decisions; when we're anxious, we make reactive rather than proactive decisions. People who food shop on an empty tummy are more inclined to buy junk food. Women who go clothes shopping when they're menstrual usually buy accessories that they'll never wear. Making decisions when we're feeling joyful, or worse, euphoric, isn't much better as happiness can give us a rose-tinted view of the future. Aim for your emotional baseline instead, and do whatever you need to do to feel grounded and centred before making your choice.

Simplify your life

Barack Obama once explained why he only wore grey or blue suits when he was in office. "I'm trying to pare down decisions," he said. "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." The former US president was clearly aware of what psychologists call 'decision fatigue', which is the tendency for the quality of decisions to deteriorate after a lengthy period of decision-making.

If you have to make a big decision, try to first simplify your day-to-day life by reducing choice overload. Think towards planning your budget at the start of the month, batch cooking on a Sunday and laying out your clothes for the next day before bedtime. These tweaks will give you more mental space to devote to your decision - and they'll make your day-to-day a little easier too.

Consider your resources

We can't predict the future but we can somewhat predict the lifestyles we will have during the various stages of our lives. In our twenties and thirties we tend to have energy and time but a shortage of money. In our thirties and forties, we have energy and money but we're strapped for time. In our fifties and sixties, we have time and money, but less energy. It's always worth considering the time-money-energy triangle when making big life decisions. And should you hit the sweet spot of all three at once, remember that the only choice is to let the good times roll!

Don't confuse money and status with value

Speaking in her TED talk, 'How to Make Hard Choices', Ruth Chang, professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, pointed out that benefits aren't always tangible or quantifiable. "As post-Enlightenment creatures," she explained, "we tend to assume that scientific thinking holds the key to everything of importance in our world, but the world of value is different from the world of science."

In other words, it's important to put a value on quality of life when we make decisions - and to remember that a bigger house and a higher salary won't necessarily enhance it.

Think long term

Sometimes it's better to think less about where your decision will lead you in the short run and more about where you want to get to in the long run. When we think in terms of over-riding ambitions and consuming passions, we're less inclined to think of decisions as make-or-break dilemmas and more inclined to see them as steps that lead us towards our final destination. So instead of weighing up the pros and cons, ask yourself: will this choice bring me closer to my ultimate purpose, or lead me away from it?

Notice how you feel after you make your decision

Some people find it easy to tap into their intuition but just as many people find it challenging - inaccessible even. If you're in the latter group, try to get in touch with the way you feel after you've made a decision. The right decision usually makes us feel lighter and brighter - like letting go of a weight you didn't even know you were carrying.

The late Howard Thurman described this feeling beautifully when he pondered the impact of "sharp, definitive decision". He said: "In the wake of the decision, yes, even as a part of the decision itself, energy is released. The act of decision sweeps all before it, and the life of the individual may be changed forever."

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