Decision Fatigue

You sense it’s happening to you more and more; a worn-out, bad-decision, I’m exhausted and don’t care attitude that increasingly invades your day and often leaves you collapsed and feeling unproductive at night. This in turn leaves you feeling guilty the next day that didn’t get enough done even though you got a lot done.

1021-relax-and-succeed-good-people-sometimes-make-bad-decisionsI remember experiencing decision-exhaustion from being both a writer and as a film and television executive. All day long you make decisions and they are fundamentally what you’re paid for, so to get too many of them wrong means to wrong yourself right out of your mortgage payment. That helped make each choice feel bigger and therefore more taxing, and because there were a lot of them all day, by the time I got home I was worn out in a way that left me more tired than any physical job I’d ever had.

If my wife or girlfriend wanted me to pick a restaurant for dinner on a decision-filled day we would argue because she really couldn’t relate to how intense my avoidance of another decision was. I told her I was burned out, which to say that deciding is an action and it takes energy and I had put too much energy through the decisions circuits already and they were now worn down to the point of no longer being precise channels but more like general directions.

A common example of this is that in many tests a poorer person will actually be better at financial decision-making than a wealthier person because their decisions are often around a budget with no room for error. That means you have to make real calculations and decisions even just to buy a quick lunch if you’re late, whereas a wealthier person is just hungry and they only make the decision of where to stop and what to have. By the end of an average day the poorer person has made so many more critical choices that they get worn out and they start giving big, broad answers that are more likely to be easy rather than helpful.

1021-relax-and-succeed-if-you-want-to-have-more-creative-flowYou likely know this feeling too: you’ve spent all day trying to stay on your diet and eat all the right foods, you got all of your work done and you figured out how to manage the kids, but by the time the day’s done you’re exhausted and end up blowing everything you saved all day by stopping on the way home at some fast food place, or by wasting money buying junk at the grocery store which ruins your diet and it’s all just so defeating. But take heart; it’s not just you being defeated, it’s all of us. (That entire link is definitely worth the read.)

What’s important to note is that the decisions that were wearing me out were primarily taken in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, prior to the smartphone. By then I had accepted that the brain was just like any part of your body and that it would become increasingly less efficient the more it was used. When smartphones came out I saw two unhealthy things: the diversion of my attention away from the present moment and the constant connectivity, which I did not feel would be healthy long term because it would also mean that there would soon be many more ways to reach me.

This is why I still just use a flip phone; I avoid thinking about all of the decisions that the phone has added to your day. Not just which platforms should you join, but all the notifications and privacy set-ups, the decision to answer a call or text or not, then the decision of what to answer, then a chime telling you to do this or a warning telling you not to do that. Calendars, emails, voicemails, instant messengers, check-ins and measurements of every kind. And that leaves out all of the stuff your computer at work has added.

1021-relax-and-succeed-respect-yourself-enough-to-walk-awayAll day long you’re bombarded with choice. Stores even sell it like it’ll make you feel good when science shows it’s the route to feeling bad. Decisions are taxes to your mind. It’s why tons of top-level business executives and entrepreneurs wish they could go be a barista in a coffee shop–what they’re pining for is fewer decisions. The customer just tells you what they want and you make it. No choices. Simple. Ahhh.

Many decisions in the modern world cannot be avoided but many can. Look at your life and ask which parts of your life require the most decision-making and then value your loss of mental peace almost like money. Do you really want to spend all of your energies where they’ve been going? For most people the answer is no, they just never take the time to reassess. Do that today.

Simplification is not you failing, nor are you becoming irrelevant or even less capable. In fact you’ll be increasing the strength of the quality of your choices if you make fewer every day. The science is very clear: busy-ness and choice are the enemies of peace. The only thing left for you to do is to become more conscious of all of your daily choices and then only make the ones that actually improve your life and stop making the ones that don’t.

Here’s a peaceful, stressless day for all of us.

peace. s

PS This piece is a companion to the post, Real Peace Is Not What You Think.

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

The Right Time

957 Relax and Succeed - Some pursue happinessWhen considering financial decisions, jobs, education, relationships, hobbies, friends, etc. etc., if you have a lot invested, when do you bail on something? When do you surrender, give up, change direction or grab something new? Your mind can whirl for aeons on a question like that and get nowhere because you don’t solve a thinking problem with more thinking.

Do you see how your rational ego searches for a rational solution? You want a pro and con column to add up to a negative number so you can tell yourself a story later about how careful you were before you made the decision. You want to be sure. You want to be confident. You’re a good person and you don’t want to do the wrong thing. Your problem is that confidence does not come from knowing you’re right and the idea of being wrong lives only within your thinking.

Confidence is a natural state. A little kid will swing a bat or kick a ball or any other thing quite poorly and yet still feel confident because that just means that they’re doing what they’re doing without self-talk interference. Insecurity is a thought-induced state. Confident people aren’t saying anything to themselves. They’re just being in the moment. I can assure you, we’re not internally going, “Oh yeah, I know what I’m doing, I’ve got this. I am totally good enough to pull this off easily,” Those are the words of someone insecure trying to bolster themselves with words. Confident people aren’t certain about success, they’re just ready to proceed.

957 Relax and Succeed - Only the truth that is your ownRight and wrong are also value judgments. If a little kid does something and a parent notices the difference between how the kid did it and how a pro would do it, then they’ll teach them the language of wrongness and that’s how they’ll talk to themselves in their heads even after their parents are long gone. They’ll always notice what’s missing.

A parent that notices what the kid did well, or if they just show enthusiasm without specifics, then that child can develop securely, certain that the parent’s support isn’t connected to external achievements but rather to the actual child. You shouldn’t love what your kid does, you should love your kid.

So how’s this help with decisions? Do we really think humans never made a decision prior to language? We needed language to turn right or left on a path? No, you could just have a sense of knowing and then go. We do it all the time but we never give it value because we can’t turn it into words and share it with others. It is an entirely personal, internal experience. So it absolutely is possible to know things without being able to explain how. Explain how you love seafood. Explain your love for your pet. Explain red.

957 Relax and Succeed - Don't cling to a mistakeJust live. Trust yourself. When it’s time for you to stay or go, trust me you’ll know. Because all the words do is define a range of time. You’re thinking about leaving your job for a year and then suddenly you leave. It’s not like you finished thinking. It’s not like you came to a conclusion to some calculation and then told them immediately. You still had to feel the time was right. So why do all the thinking if you’re just going to get that feeling and act on that anyway?

Even if we later feel we left early or late, that’s just another person’s judgment in another time. That’s literally the person that benefited from the wisdom of the decision looking back and wondering why the person who didn’t have that wisdom didn’t make that decision. It’s crazy. You weren’t that person yet. The decision is what created that person. So that decision wasn’t right or wrong, it was just appropriate for who you were at the time.

If you want to hold on to something too long or let it go too soon, just overthink it. That’s the only way to screw that up. Because right and wrong, good and bad and should or shouldn’t all live in thought but not in reality. Reality has actions and consequences and that’s it. You’re always fine. The rest is just a story you tell about yourself, to yourself.

957 Relax and Succeed - Your journey has molded youGo quieter. Look less for answers and instead wait for spontaneous insights. You get them all the time, but the thinking of science has convinced you that spontaneous insights have no current scientific explanation, so they–you–must not be trusted. Better to trust an abstract scale outside of yourself that is not built for you, but for your entire society. You are you. You will know what’s right for you personally if you just stay quiet inside and wait.

The issue is, we’re not good at being internally quiet and waiting. And so people think. And they get impatient for answers. And so the suffering goes. In the end you’re still not lost. At any time you can reconnect to your wisdom and access that higher knowing, and those connections will come from simply being quiet enough for long enough that you’ll actually be able to hear the voice coming from the confident soul you always were as a very little kid.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Big Decisions: The Sequel

922 Relax and Succeed - Life is only a reflectionApparently a lot of you are facing some big decisions and you want the weight of them gone. Enough people have called or written to challenge the ideas presented by Alan Watts in the video from last week’s Friday Dose that I’ll use this week’s Dose day to offer a response. This will attempt to clarify why our decisions about how we live life aren’t as important as the decisions we make about how to look at the choices we’ve made or are making.

Every example I was given presented a very high-stakes dramatic version of a choice that would seem to define something as definitely good or bad. The differences in their chosen narratives pointed to the central fears each person would have. These hinged on either an “unjust” death or the removal of someone from people’s lives, or someone “betraying” someone else’s love in a central relationship like those between siblings, spouses, lovers, best friends or parents and children.

Simply because it’s easier to write about, I’ll use an example of someone dying because of a drunk driver. As many people posited: surely we could say that the killer made a bad decision to drive.

922 Relax and Succeed - We thought it wasIndeed it will feel appropriate to go through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of death immediately thereafter. There’s nothing “wrong” with that; that is merely the experience of a life. Like a roller coaster, its highs depend on its lows until eventually things start to level more as our momentum runs out. So that pain is enlightened pain. That’s why it’s so profound. You’re being with it in that moment fully. Those experiences are always bigger.

So on the day of the accident or shortly thereafter, if you felt compelled to label the decision to drink and drive you would say it was a bad one. But that compulsion is not a necessity. You didn’t have to label it and push against it. You could also accept it and be at peace because you understand the Buddhist concept of causality.

Zillions of things had to conspire for that accident to happen, so to blame it on the recent ones is an incomplete look at reality. If the Dad never beat the kid he would never have started drinking and the accident wouldn’t have happened. Otherwise it’s like saying the last goal in a one goal game is the “winning goal.” You needed all of them.

922 Relax and Succeed - Rather than spend eonsOnce everyone is dead there will be no one to remember the accident or maintain the “wrongness” about it. Will it still be wrong? This is what they mean when they say, “when a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Without being able to impact an individual’s expectations no conflict in life can exist. Like a wave is both trough and crest equally, “issues” exist for people wherever their expectations are impacted by reality.

So let us imagine that the brother of the victim was having a difficult life himself with alcohol. Racked with anger he used the death as motivation to change and he dedicates his life to curing alcoholics. But in that time he learned that drinkers aren’t drinkers, they’re someone with something in their past that they think too much about and they use the alcohol as a kind of sedative. It works temporarily until the depressive qualities kick in. He drank for the same reasons his brother did, and he ends up feeling sympathy for people like his brother’s killer.

And say the person who was killed had a family too. If we ask his wife, yes it hurt terribly at the time and she hated the driver of the car but, the truth is, after time passed she did meet another man and both she and her children had a better companion in their life. It was a horrible way to find one and thoughts about that make her feel guilty, but there’s no denying it improved her life overall. Maybe because of his accident they had to leave where they lived and emigrate for work and the kids have much safer, brighter futures now. Is the father’s death a bad thing then if his children miss him on special occasions or when they’re otherwise prompted to recall him in their memory?

922 Relax and Succeed - Do not let the behavior of othersDue to his drinking the victim’s parents feel the children are better off with his wife and new husband and since they are old and the children are their only legacy, they die happy that their lineage will go on. Plus, maybe even with enough life experience they come to realize how many times they personally were in a position to kill someone but didn’t more by fluke than plan–we all do this a lot as kids and almost everyone I know except me has driven drunk before. In that fact you can see the role of causality.

So the question becomes, if the person is missing but the total of happiness for all the people connected to him rose as a direct result, then is it a good or bad event? And when would you decide this judgment of good or bad and how long would it last? Because their life conditions could change again and the very same incident could lead to back to great bitterness. It’s up to the person doing the judgment of the event, which is Watt’s general point in the video below.

Our view of the past is constantly being rewritten based on what we believe on the day we recall it. If the person is in a good mood and grateful for their life, then they will be blackly grateful for the death. If they’re getting their car fixed because a drunk hit it, then they’ll be thinking that all drunks should just be shot. This is akin to the “sound of one hand clapping.” Without opposition to something there is no noise, no “emotional content.” Flow flows, conflict with flow claps.

922 Relax and Succeed - Let it beIt’s not that a decision can’t be called good or bad the moment it’s made, but that’s like taking a photo of a river and saying it’s a photo of the river rather than of one small section that this particular bit of water happened to be passing at this particular time. The water is you, the world around you is the shore. In short, life is made of facts and their context. Change the context and the fact gets changed too.

So this is what it is to flow: you endeavour to live in each moment without stopping to judge it. You move fluidly from experiencing this feeling to that feeling without every doubling back to reassess or reevaluate events. And if you do you realize the entire exercise is taking place not in the world but in your consciousness and that makes it both real and strangely harmless.

This is a very weird and persistent part of the illusion of reality. I hope this helped clarify more what Watt’s point was. Have a great weekend everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Friday Dose #111

 

There are two levels of response that I talk about when I work with people. One is psychological and it’s actually quite easy to understand because everyone has a psyche and what I do is uncover and expose someone’s personal logic so that they are no longer so mysterious to themselves. This is where peace of mind and the success that follows begins.

The second level is where the spiritual meets the psychological. This level is no less sensible (it’s more so), but it requires a more radical shift in understanding. Not a big shift; a surprisingly small one with a much deeper understanding of our place in the universe. This is the one where enlightenment begins, and at that point you no longer feel like a competent surfer atop a perfect board and an amazing wave–at that point you, the board and the wave are all seen as one thing.

919 FD2 Relax and Succeed - We are sacred artistsIf that seems weird, just remember a lot of remote tribespeople in the jungles of this world do not see themselves as having 5 or 6 senses, but rather one big sense. Watts hints at this in the video below when he makes the quote placed above. It is that second you–the separate you on the separate board riding the separate wave–that makes the board and the wave and the quality of the riding within itself. You create an ego and that is the story it tells you.

Watts and I are suggesting to you that if you were never encouraged to create that other idealized you then you would be One with your life and there would be no time in which a separate you felt you were making a distinct decision. You are simply in the flow. There is no time-travelling to pre or post-evaluation of a “choice.” 

That is the point of ultimate peace. When your internal narrative disappears it takes the notion of choices and mistakes along with it. The tension of those judgments is instead replaced with a relaxation and openness that permits the natural reintegration of our greater selves back into the fold of that famous moment called Now. 

Have a fantastic weekend everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Big Decisions

918 Relax and Succeed - The awakened sagesI will need a lot more deep meditation before I can distill everything I am learning about time, but one thing I can state is that I’m slowly starting to have a deeper understanding why so many of you struggle with the idea of having to make big decisions.

If you live on a timeline where you can move toward or away from events then that is fatalism. If you’re locked in and nothing you can do will change anything then you’re predestined for a certain life. But you’re not a fatalist because you’ll also place possibility on that timeline, which means looking backwards you’ll see a single line of where you have been, but looking forward you see an infinite number of potential lines and in some cases where they go is wildly different.

By wildly different I mean having a kid or not, living in this country or that one, marrying this person or that. I don’t mean that one direction is adventure and joy and the other is pain and suffering–the path won’t have as much impact on your feelings as your state of mind, and that’s kind of my point. When I say wildly different I mean what’s different is the narrative that unfolds during your life.

918 Relax and Succeed - If you are depressedSo a big decision is when your most preferred routes through a situation represent massively different outcomes to you, with the outcomes being defined as the labels you’re left with. So in one case you’re married to this person and in another you’re married to that person and as time moves forward you feel pressure increase to make a choice before time causes the choice to vanish (people getting too old to have kids, marrying someone before someone else does, etc.).

These decisions matter a lot to you because you see those label distinctions as being indicators of the right decision. And by right I mean that later in life you assess that the decision lead to lots of labels that you value at the time of your judgment regarding the decision’s “success.” So if you left a bad relationship just in time to have a kid with someone, then that kid being a source of joy will be seen as being the result of the decision to leave the previous relationship. So the child and parenthood will be seen as a positive outcome resulting from the decision to leave the old relationship. I get your logic in that. It makes sense. But only in an ego-world.

Imagine the exact same decision but the new love ends up injured, then addicted to painkillers and that leads to challenges raising the child who later becomes a drug addict and a whole helluva lot of trouble. That could totally happen. And then you’d be sitting there in your rented apartment with an eviction notice because your stoned kid damaged the place again. You would determine that the choice to leave the previous relationship many years ago was the wrong decision and that it was what lead you to where you are–even though you know if your partner never got that injury none of the other issues would have unfolded.

918 Relax and Succeed - Life is like a cameraSo was the decision really wrong because it lead to the troublesome kid? Or was it just a choice that lead to a zillion other choices which combined with the choices of a zillion other people and things that all lead you to where you are? Because otherwise you’re highlighting events in time rather arbitrarily, like someone randomly choosing stars from an infinite sky and then forming just those chosen ones into a constellation that they then call their life.

My point is, on a later date they could just as easily look up and choose different stars and get a different picture of their life. It would all depend on the mood of the astronomer at the moment they were asked to judge their life. So to me trying to sail toward some specific constellation is to try and choose castles in the sky to live in. It can’t really be done.

You cannot choose tomorrow’s happiness today. Life has no guarantees. No matter what you decide your life will depend far more on who you are in any given moment than it will on what choices you made in some past moment. Sure, you might have a kid or not have a kid and that can seem huge, but in the end even the wonder of a child is just like any other experience in life–it’ll still be variously enjoyable and challenging.

918 Relax and Succeed - You either get the benefit you were expectingWhether I’m finding life rewarding or challenging, those two states are determined by my agreement with or resistance to what is going on in the present moment. That being the case, I choose to focus more on my moment-to-moment reactions to what’s happening now than on any long term planning for success. Otherwise there’s just too many factors that I don’t control. This is what it is to surrender into existence.

Our desire to avoid suffering leads to a hopeless desire to plan our way around it. The acceptance that there is no clear and perfect path takes that pressure away. Time becomes less compressed and the labels lose their value. What you are left with is the beautiful simplicity of the present moment.

The question is, with the world looking as it is and with people’s lives feeling like they do, what convinced us that decisions made in the moment are somehow less likely to lead to rewards than when we plan? If people look closely at the people around them I think they might find the opposite is more likely to be true. The planner’s lives are filled with successes and failures and a great deal of dramatics. The in-the-moment people never have failures, they’re always either simply enjoying themselves or they’re growing. And if you’re okay with that, that can feel like winning either way.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Other Perspectives #93

826 OP Relax and Succeed - A big part of lifeThe horns of a dilemma is a tough place to be. Sometimes there just isn’t a good choice, just a best choice–and what’s best is up to who you ask. If an individual feels secure then no one will make a better decision for them than they will. And there is no reason to self-hate ever, let alone because you were forced into some incredibly complex emotional situation. Hating yourself in a mirror is something a lot of innocent egos do because somehow they were accidentally taught that it’s possible to make it through life without having to make some very ugly decisions. There is no life like that. That’s what life is–a series of decisions. Some of them easy some of them hard. But regardless of which they are, they happen in the moment they are in and they are made by the person you are then. So just like other people’s views on that decision don’t matter much, neither do the opinions of later versions of you–because that person will have the benefit of the wisdom you gained from making the decision that later-you is commenting on. But you didn’t have that wisdom then so the criticism doesn’t even make sense. Every face you see has made decisions that involved pain and suffering and complication. Sometimes we will choose something painful. But that’s no reason to talk to yourself negatively. There would be zero happy people if everyone did that. If you want to live your life successfully you do not study and discuss or self-discuss your worst and darkest days. If you want a successful life you have to focus on your successes and build off those. And that’s nice, because it not only works better than beating yourself up, it feels better too. Now go have a great week.

Big hug. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.00 Relax and Succeed - Other Perspectives Footer

Other Perspectives #89

This is true although it’s important to point out that this choice–this decision–gets made every moment of every single day. It’s not like one decision makes you a good or bad person for the rest of your life. People are all the same–they all hold the same potential. Their behaviour is not who they are, but at the same time their life will be made up of that behaviour. So you can develop a reputation for a certain behaviour but that’s not the same as being a bad person. Everyone still has other behaviours available to them. So never lose sight of yours or anyone else’s potential. It’s always only one moment–one decision, one choice–away. After that you just have to know with certainty that you will choose bad behaviour occasionally no matter who you are. But if you’re awake and paying attention, the consequences that result will be all the motivation you need to return to more rewarding choices. Make those choices starting right now. Give the next person you meet a compliment and start off their time with you by helping them to recognize their ability to make good choices about their life too. Have a great week everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

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