The average human makes 35,000 decisions a day. You get 35,000 chances a day to improve your life. How to make good decisions, when you have as many chances to blow your life to pieces?
It may seem like too much decision-making. But from the moment you hear the alarm go off until you get out of bed, you make at least a dozen new decisions.
This happens while you gauge whether to hit the alarm off or give yourself 10 more minutes of sleep.
The choices and the decisions you make create your life.
Whether you do them consciously or unconsciously, they will snowball into a giant lump of success or make your life story take a sad turn for the worse.
A change for the better, whatever that means in your intrinsic value system, requires steady, conscious daily decision-making.
Why Conscious Decision-making is Crucial for Breaking Bad Habits
Let’s say that you are trying to break a bad habit. You want to:
- Lose weight
- Learn a new language
- Become a better listener, or
- Ditch toxic behaviors in relationships.
All these ask from you to break an old habit and develop a new one.
How to Lose Weight
To lose weight in the long-term in a healthy way, you need to say ‘pass’ to the second beer in your friend’s house. You need to say “No, thanks!” to the comfort cookie bag after a bad day at work or to binge-watching series.
Instead, you need to say yes to long afternoon walks or to weekends spent cycling. And you need to do this day by day, over and over again.
How to Learn a New Language
To learn a new language, you need to read, listen, or watch your daily 30-minute class. Furthermore, you need to practice your oral language skills by getting yourself to talk to native speakers.
How to Become a Better Listener
To become a better listener, you need to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, know your shadow side, and notice when it comes screaming for attention in relationships,. You need to understand whether you are ready to fully show up for another person or you need to attend to your (legit) selfishness.
How to Eliminate Toxic Patterns
To become less toxic, you need to become aware of your toxic patterns and what keeps you stuck in them.
3 Most Common Obstacles to Better Decision Making
Here are the three typical obstacles to poor decision-making:
- Lack of awareness
- Dopamine saturation
In order to make beneficial decisions, you must first bring them to your awareness.
1. Lack of Awareness
The fact that you already know you make thousands of decisions a day is a good start. The next step is to catch your decisions before you get into acting upon them in unwanted ways.
This takes practice and daily dedication. The more you:
- Observe your awareness,
- Notice the tiny decisions, and
- Avoid acting upon them in the way you don’t want to,
The better your decision-making process will get.
Shedding the light on awareness can be a tricky process.
We often sabotage ourselves unconsciously.
Dr. Perry has an excellent post on the basics of how to stop sabotaging yourself, which I recommend.
3. Dopamine Receptors, those Nasty Tricksters
There is another deeper layer on the works of the underdog. Your underdog can make it hard for you to break a poor habit or adopt a good one.
This not-so-good decision-making is about dopamine receptors. Dopamine receptors write the chemical story behind our tendency to slack. Dopamine saturation makes us procrastinate and avoid deep work on ourselves. In short — it drives us into prefering instant gratification.
You can learn more about the role of dopamine in breaking bad habits in this dopamine detox video:
Essentially, due to overstimulation, dopamine receptors become satiated. Abundant and easily available stimulants make your brain numb. That is why you don’t make good decisions.
How to Make Wise Decisions that Benefit You
To increase your ability to engage in cognitively, mentally, and emotionally meaningful work on yourself, you need to retrain your dopamine receptors.
Dopamine retraining requires that you need to get bored enough to be able to extract more juice from rare and unrewarding (less bombastic) stimuli.
Understanding your dopamine receptors is useful when you want to take new action on those habits, patterns, and behaviors that you have brought into awareness.
Make Better Decisions by Practicing Your Dopamine Muscle
Extensive decision-making takes place in dopamine starvation mode.
Each time you decide to starve your dopamine receptors, you teach them to work for you and not against you. You make smart decisions and ingrain new good habits.
It’s crucial not to panic hen your dopamine receptors are in starvation mode.
To avoid the panic starvation mode, go back to the awareness that brought you there in the first place. The space of awareness is not easy but now that you know what happens in the brain chemistry sphere, you can use that knowledge to your advantage.
1. Deal with discomfort
To make this process a success, you have to be prepared to deal with discomfort. This process is similar to an addiction detox, which is impossible if you don’t know how to make the old discomfort a new comfort. In a way, this includes loving the challenge.
2. Love the difficulty
One way to do step number one with success is to “fall in love” with the new behavior or thinking. You need to master “difficult” emotions. This is a prerequisite for deep cellular change. Carrying complex emotional, mental, and physical states that go beyond the space of your current comfort develops your maturity and instigates your growth.
You can use a trick to make this process easier:
Rename the difficult states with positive labels. Let the label carry the final goal in mind.
Whenever you find yourself slipping back into the old mode, remember that it is the dopamine fooling you to resort to the old ways.
Each time you make a decision to win over dopamine, you are investing in your self-development.
You Are More Likely to Stick to Intrinsically Important Decisions
This is not a simple process. It can include a bit of a back and forth in the zig-zag spiral of the freshly enlightened decision-making.
Enlightenment is never easy. But as long as you work on yourself and shed light on your unconscious processes, it gets easier.
Finally, once you start making decisions that benefit you, about things that motivate and inspire you intrinsically, you will be more likely to stick to them.
Therefore, getting to know yourself and your deepest wishes and desires is another benefit of making your decisions work for you and your success.
Do you think this approach will help you make good decisions? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: Markus Winkler on Unsplash