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Archive for February, 2015

5 Ways To Reduce Overwhelm and Improve Your Decision Making

Have you ever been faced with what you thought would be an easy decision and then 20 minutes later you are still deliberating over a myriad of choices?

I certainly know I have. I am deliberate by nature and am guilty of spending 15 hours preparing for a Disney World vacation. My last car purchase involved using multiple spreadsheets to compare features and specs during a car buying search that spanned weeks and countless hours of analysis. I have even found myself staring at 40 different kinds of soap trying to decide which one to select in the grocery store.

In this post I want to share five ways you can reduce overwhelm and not only make faster decisions, but be more satisfied with the decisions you do make.

First let’s start with why this is important.

Barry Schwartz wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. The book’s theme is an interesting one.

 While we assume that having more choices and options will lead to greater satisfaction, too many options or too many choices can actually lead to LESS satisfaction with your selection!

Dan Gilbert has a great TED talk on The Surprising Science of Happiness that discusses the same topic.

  • The more options you consider the more regret or buyer’s remorse you will experience
  • The more options you encounter the less fulfilling your ultimate outcome will be

Ask yourself this question. When making a decision, would you rather have an acceptable outcome and be more satisfied, or have the optimal or best outcome, but be less satisfied?

You might be thinking, “but wait, if I have the best outcome, wouldn’t I be the most satisfied?” Not exactly.

For example, let’s take my car buying example. Would you rather spend months deliberating over 10 different car choices, the pros, cons, options and specs, select the best one, but second guess yourself during the next five years you owned the car? “Did I make the right decision, would I have liked that model better?” Or would you rather end up with a car that might be almost as good, but never second guess your selection?

Which result is better? It reminds me of a quote.

You can be RIGHT or you can be HAPPY”

So which is it for you? Is it more important for you to be right, to make the absolute best decision, or do put a higher value on satisfaction with your choice or happiness in general?

For me, I choose happiness and satisfaction, but there is another consideration as well, TIME.

Time is the most precious commodity there is. Once it passes, it is gone forever.

If I spend 60 hours analyzing my car choices, that is 60 hours that can’t be used for anything else. I could have used some of that time to play with my kids, spend time with my wife, socialize with friends or write a blog post!

So where do you go from here?

Try setting rules for yourself that will create a structure and framework to help you make better and faster decisions. This will not only free up more time, but give you greater satisfaction and happiness in the process!

Here are some ideas to get you started

1) Don’t go round and round with decisions until you can ACT on it. Don’t waste time ruminating and going round and round in your head with a potential scenario until you can take action on it. Consciously decide to set a time and place to consider any future decisions that you are unable to act on in the present. Setting a time and place for future deliberation can help release your brain from the open loop that will drain your energy and motivation.

 2) Don’t postpone decisions just to avoid uncomfortable situations. I can think of an example just last week that comes to mind. Our neighbors invited us over for dinner. My wife wasn’t up to it and knew she would decline, but delayed responding for three days. Over those three days, she brought it up to me at least 6 times and there is no telling how many times it popped into her head knowing that this situation was hanging out there. With that decision looming over her, it caused unnecessary stress for three days. A simple text immediately in the moment would have not only freed up time, but unnecessary worry and stress. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings by saying no. But she ended up saying no anyway in the end. A simple, “I think we have a commitment / conflict already, but let’s get together soon” is a soft approach that would have allowed both parties to move on immediately.

 3) Make non-fatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible. Not all decisions are created equally. The less risk, the quicker you should strive to make a decision and move on. Next! Move on to more important things.

 4) Limit your options. Another solution is to set a personal rule to limit your options for any decision. As quickly as possible, narrow your choices down to just three options. Immediately cutting it down to three choices will reduce overwhelm and speed up your decision time immensely. It will also help reduce buyer’s remorse and regret.

5) Set a time limit on decisions. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. Whether it be 60 seconds for minor decisions (think soap at a grocery store), or 1 week for a major decision, giving yourself a deadline will help provide focus and keep you from over analyzing and getting lost in endless back and forth deliberation.

If you can set parameters for your decision making, these can work as guidelines to not only help you make decisions more quickly, but will lead to greater satisfaction with the decisions you do make!

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Your partner in success,

Josh Paulsen

This post was inspired by a Podcast I listened to by Tim Ferriss last week. Thanks Tim!

Do You Meditate?

I was listening to an interview Tim Ferriss had with Arnold Schwarzenegger this week and was surprised to learn that Arnold meditated twice a day for 20 minutes each session for a year – in the 1970’S!

Can’t you just picture the Terminator meditating? Yeah, me neither.

blog terminator

In the 1970’s, Arnold’s career really started to come together. He was having great success in real estate (who knew), his body building and his movie career started to gain traction and take off.

With all that opportunity, Arnold struggled to keep everything separate in his mind and was increasingly anxious, worried and overwhelmed. He decided to give meditation a try and after a few weeks of meditating twice a day, he was able to disconnect and rejuvenate his mind.

Arnold also credits Meditation with increasing his focus and helping him to stay calm through all the challenges that were coming at him. Arnold says that even today he benefits from that year of meditation and is able to keep things from merging together and causing him stress and anxiety. He is able to take one challenge at a time, fully focus on his current activity and then reset his brain and move on to the next challenge.

Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but it has really become more mainstream in places like the United States within the last few years.

But is it worth the effort?

It turns out that study after study shows numerous benefits on health and well-being. Research across 19 universities and over a span of more than a decade show that experienced meditators see significant changes in their brain structure and function.

One study showed that a group of participants that averaged 27 minutes a day practicing mindfulness exercises experienced increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus part of the brain. This area is known to be important for learning, memory, self-awareness and introspection. They also reported reductions in stress and decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala which is known to play a role in anxiety and stress.

Who couldn’t use more focus and less stress these days?

There are different types of meditation, below are two examples:

Mindfulness – This approach focuses on the awareness of thoughts, sensations and particularly emotions that you are experiencing at any given moment. The key is a deliberate focus on being less emotionally reactive to the particular emotion or thought in the moment. Research has shown this type of approach to lead to decreased brain activity in areas related to anxiety. It has also shown to lead to an increased brain volume in the prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for executive function and plays a strong role in focus, attention and processing sensory information. Meditators also had a decrease activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for processing fear among other things.

Focused attention – The focus of this type of meditation is to quiet and center your mind and fully focus on the present moment. As distractions arise (they always do), you simply refocus your attention. By choosing to focus on one thing and one thing only, you are able to begin to quiet down the mind. There are multiple options for your area of focus. Some focus on their breath, others a word or “mantra”. Some will even use the image of an imaginary or real object. When your focus shifts, you get distracted, or random thoughts start popping up (which will happen), you gently come back to your object of focus. It is that simple.

If you are new to meditation and want to give it a shot, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple and just give it a try. You don’t need a special room, special pose, or fancy incense or rocks.

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Start with 10 minutes and give it a shot!

If you are having an especially hectic day and only have 2 minutes, take those two minutes. Close your eyes, take deep breathes and for those 2 precious minutes, just focus on your breath and only on your breath. You will notice that it can really help calm you down, reduce some of the overwhelm and get you back on track – in a very short period of time.

If you would like some extra help, there are many apps you can download for your phone that offer guided meditations, many of them free. Pandora even has a “Calm Meditation” station that I used just yesterday.

If Arnold can meditate, so can you!

Your partner in success,

Josh Paulsen