We all make hard choices at some point during our life. The paradox of deciding with hard choices is that no matter what you choose, you will experience pain. In most cases the choices that we face are not real. They are constructed as being either-or in the tunnel vision that we develop as a result of all our enmeshed beliefs. The scope of possible options is too many to consider so we need to eliminate most of them in order to choose one. We can hold in our attention only a few thoughts at a time, so by necessity, most of the possible options are excluded.
Hell yes or no
What is your model of an attainable life? One where you are mostly unhappy with short bursts of happiness? One where you feel mediocre most of the time with some peaks of excitement? A roller-coaster ride with laughter and surprises and tears and excitement? If you believe that life is mostly hard you won’t even think of the easy solutions and all your options will seem hard. If you believe that getting what you want is only possible by great sacrifice then sacrifice will permeate your life.
I think that a hell-yes life is possible. One where you are excited about doing things and can say “Hell yeah!” on a daily basis. Some of the major aspects of people’s lives are their career, relationships, and residence. If you can genuinely say an enthusiastic “Yes!” to them you are well advanced in saying yes to life. Saying yes to life and being alive are the same.
If you choose a career, a relationship, or any major part of your life that is not a yes for you, you are saying no. No to living, no to being alive and no to yourself. If you say no to yourself, then everybody else will say no as well. They think: “That person says no to themself. They must have a good reason to become a merely-existing person. Let’s avoid them. ” You tell yourself that you are unworthy. People will agree with you, caught up in their win-lose mindset. They will make help you feel unworthy in a frightened attempt to feel worthy themselves.
We live self-fulfilling prophecies. Yet sometimes we are surprised by reality and our script breaks. It is a lot easier for your story you tell yourself to be disproved if you try to see what is actually happening. Mindfully you notice events as they happen instead of paying attention only in short bursts and then filling in the blanks with your pre-conceived model of reality after the event.
It is very hard for us to form an accurate picture of how we actually behave. An external view can really help. Try recording one of your conversations. Are you surprised by how angry you sound? How much you interrupt? Or by how you dominate the conversation by constantly talking?
You could also write down your different emotions during the day. You would see that even on the days we tell ourselves went badly, there is most likely a few moments when we felt happy. How much different would you feel if you wrote down all the positive things of your day? How do you think you would feel if you looked at pages and pages of happy moments?
When people experience pain they frequently turn down the volume on their emotions. By preventing themselves from feeling sad, they prevent themselves from feeling much of anything. You do not feel the pain, and if the source of the pain persists you do not take any action. All your energy is expended on resisting your own internal processes, leaving no energy for action.
This is how the suppressing thoughts work: If you try to suppress something it will go away for a small while, only to return in much greater force once you stop. By suppressing it your mind keeps it in your subconscious, to remember not to think about it. Once you stop pushing it down, it rises up into your conscious.
Instead of pushing it down again, you can accept it. Then it moves through you and evaporates like a cloud. If that doesn’t work or the thoughts are too painful then you can distract yourself by singing a song or something else that makes you feel good. Only do this in cases where the hurt is too painful to process or you know that it is merely a problem of focussing on the dark side. Know that you will have to process it at some time and that the longer you delay the longer it takes before you can move on with your life.
Tools to choose
By using these tools we can consider a greater scope of options and examine our mental processes. I will name three: journaling, logic trees and thinking hats.
We can turn our feelings into words and look at them. Not only can we write it from our perspective, but also from the other person’s view (in decisions about relationships). We can ask ourselves questions and then write out more answers than we could think of unaided. We can examine the potential consequences of our decisions and the impact that it will have on us in different timescales.
We can draw logic trees where we state with if-statements what we predict will happen and how other people will react. If we go through 3 layers of asking ‘why?’, we start encountering our values and fundamental beliefs about the world. We can also construct trees that map out how we will move from our current position to the state that we desire.
We can use thinking hats to stimulate creative thought by excluding all but one category at a time. Pioneered by Edward de Bono, an expert in creative thinking, uses 6 hats with different colors for each. My favorite is using Steve Pavlina’s seven principles of conscious development.
When the decision is between two great options and you cannot decide, then flip a coin to pick one and then go with it. Know that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose if it makes you happy.
With unpleasant decisions where the only options all appear to be lacking in fundamental ways, reject them both. You know that neither will leave you happy. You cannot say hell yeah to either of them, so say no. If you mostly do things that you say hell yeah to then you might have to search a little longer, but you get a good deal. Believe in the win-win and don’t settle for less.