As humans, we run into decisions, challenges, and conundrums every day. Sometimes the situation is trivial and relatively easy to understand, while other times we find ourselves in difficult and complex places where solutions are tough to find. In my line of work in mental health, figuring out life decisions is a big part of what we do. While it is true that each person and life challenge is unique to each individual, I have found that applying a basic approach to decision-making will allow you to beat “analysis paralysis,” get out of limbo, and begin taking action toward your current situation.
Keeping it simple
When I work with clients one of the common things I hear is the word “if.” For example, an athlete might say “if the coach would just put me in the game I could help the team,” or a student might say “if the teacher would just not give so much homework I would get a better grade.” Of course, it would be wonderful if the coach and teacher did those things, but does it make sense to dream of those things happening while sitting back passively and hoping for change? Is there instead a better, more effective way to handle life challenges that lead to better outcomes? From my perspective, the answer is yes.
Taking control of thinking and behaviors is a very empowering life experience, but getting started can be intimidating, overwhelming, and sometimes downright scary. At the same time, the alternative of simply hoping things will improve generally doesn’t lead to favorable outcomes, so my best, most simplest advice is this: You can either change your thinking or change your situation. There’s an old saying that really drives home the need to make change when trying to improve situations — if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always gotten.
Try employing these new strategies when problem-solving:
- Thinking. Often we have to change our thinking from irrational to rational, negative to positive, pessimistic to optimistic, threatening to challenging. For example, rather than assuming the coach is “playing politics,” try to instead be challenged to impress him so that politics isn’t even a consideration. If the teacher is tough, try instead to realize that the teacher is doing her job preparing you for your future, and choose to become challenged by the prospect of earning an “A” in the class. We control our thinking, meaning that we all have the ability to alter our thinking into healthier, more prosperous ways.
- Situations. If you have tried to change the way you look at a situation and still find yourself in the same place, then it might be time to seriously examine whether staying where you are makes long-term sense. For example, if you feel that even though you have changed your thinking you still feel that the teacher/coach is too difficult and will never give you a fair chance, then it could be time to revisit your position and look at different options. Do you need to drop the class? Play for a different team? Does it make sense to stay where you currently are and hope the situation changes in your favor, or does it make more sense to take a step back, re-evaluate options, and start on a new path?
It’s easy to understand why some people sit and stew over situations longer than they need to (or should), as it’s very understandable to think/hope that over time the situation will improve on its own. On the other hand, chances are slim that the people/situations you are challenged by are just going to change to your liking on their own, meaning that in all likelihood you will need to employ a strategy for future self-improvement. My advice is to examine your thinking to see if it can be improved, or possibly examine alternative situations if your current situation looks bleak and unlikely to ever change in your favor.