The Irrational Mind

Filtering The Noise: 5 Steps To Making A Decision

decisionYou probably receive advice multiple times each day on how to live your life.

Buy a house. Don’t buy a house. Quit your job. Don’t quit your job. Go on vacation. Don’t go on vacation. Work more. Work less.

Everyone just wants to help, of course. Not only are your friends and families contributing to the echo chamber of words of wisdom, but you more than likely follow blogs like mine that offer their own suggestions of how to live your life.

Tiring, isn’t it?

It’s even more tiring when your mind is working on overdrive, due to mental illness or just stress-induced overwork. It’s difficult to sort through your own thoughts and talk to yourself when others are contributing to the din of suggestions. The amount of input can be paralyzing, leading you to make no decision whatsoever and eternally procrastinate on important choices.

Here’s how to filter out the noise to make big decisions.

1. Make A List Of Thoughts

It’s cliche because it’s useful. Writing things down is one of the best ways to sort through the myriad of thoughts clouding your head. This step is for brainstorming only. Do not filter your thoughts. Consider it a form of free-writing. Let’s use the example of quitting your job. What are you thinking about when you agonize over quitting your job?

  • Disappointing my coworkers
  • Making my boss mad
  • Making enough money
  • Upsetting my spouse
  • Putting myself behind in my career path
  • Setting a bad example for my children
  • Looking like a quitter
  • Feeling like a loser
  • I hate my job

You get the idea. It’s more than likely that most of these thoughts are going to be negative–the things that are holding you back from quitting your job. But then as you sort through the negatives, you may find that some positives begin to surface….

2. Make Counterpoints To Your List

Now that you have a list of your irrational, emotionally-driven thoughts, write down counterpoints to all of your bullets on the first list.

  • Disappointing my coworkers/Inspiring my coworkers to follow their own passions
  • Making my boss mad/I don’t really care if I make my boss mad
  • Making enough money/I have another job lined up/in mind 
  • Upsetting my spouse/My spouse is supportive and we have discussed this
  • Putting myself behind in my career path/I don’t think this is the career path I want anyway
  • Setting a bad example for my children/I’ll be showing my children how to realistically follow their passions
  • Looking like a quitter/I’m quitting for all the right reasons
  • Feeling like a loser/How would I feel like a loser doing something I love?
  • I hate my job/Perhaps for good reason

3. Turn Your List Into A Pros and Cons List

I’m not an advocate of choosing whichever list is longer to make your decision. The purpose of a pros and cons list, in my mind, is to help you make a rational, informed decision. Your pros and cons list should be composed of elements of your brainstorming list as well as anything else that comes to mind, which will likely be more “pros” than your brainstorming list came up with.

4. Talk With Your Significant Other

The purpose of this post is to filter out the noise, but you should probably discuss your decision with your significant other or another loved one that has your best interests in mind. Try to limit this to one person in your life, otherwise the purpose is defeated. Perhaps you are polygamous, in which case you should let all your wives know about your choice. Or maybe you are still financially dependent on your parents, in which case they should both be part of (although not the entirety of) your decision-making process.

5. Make Your Decision

Don’t delay any longer or your head will get in the way again. This entire process should take about two days. After making your pros and cons list, go to sleep before talking with your loved one to allow your brain to process everything you have on paper. It’s true: sleeping helps your brain compartmentalize your thoughts and improves the decision-making process.

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