How to Make Enlightened Decisions?

Shall I stay in my current job or accept the one in New York with a double salary?

Shall I marry my C.E.O. or my high school love?

Shall I give in to the bribe and pay my bills or keep a clear conscience?

Shall I choose the sparrow in my hand or the pigeon on the roof?

In relation to the issue of making decisions, don Juan expressed the hard opinion of the sorcerers of his lineage. Their observations, over the centuries, had led them to conclude that human beings are incapable of making decisions. For this reason, they have created the social order: gigantic institutions that assume responsibility for decision making. They let those gigantic institutions decide for them, and they merely fulfill the decisions already made on their behalf. – Carlos Castaneda, Magical Passes, page 90

It is not as bad as don Juan put it, but we definitely don’t enjoy making decisions. Why?

  1. We don’t like to take risks
  2. We don’t like to be accountable
  3. We worry to make mistakes
  4. We’re haunted by wrong decisions of the past

Decisions are important because they are gateways to the solutions of problems. Or the dwellers on the thresholds of solutions if you so will.

What are Decisions, Actually?

The other day, I read that the brain makes 40,000 decisions every day, like what to wear or what to eat for lunch. These are not decisions. These are choices. Choices have no consequences, decisions do. In other words, no crises and no stakes, no decisions.

The other month, I watched a documentary about prisoners. One said, “I’m here because I made bad decisions in the past. I will make better ones once I get out.” Next day, she got into a fight with an inmate over a stupid issue. Let me guess, it wasn’t a bad decision that got her into prison, but a compulsive choice.

We are all prone to making emotional choices and then rationalize them. And believe we made a decision.

We are habit animals and eighty percent of the day on auto-pilot. Our brain makes 40,000 choices for us every day. Choices are subconscious and they can be, like habits, good or bad. There is nothing wrong with subconscious choices per se because they free our self-consciousness/avatar so he can focus on challenges, crises, and decisions.

If you are unhappy with your choices, why don’t you re-train your subconsciousness? Sometimes, the brain struggles to make choices because of competing habits. Why don’t you flip a coin?

Gateways to Solutions

This is the way we react to challenges:

  1. A challenge arises and we feel the heat of its symptoms
  2. We ignore the (worsening) symptoms until we can no more
  3. We apply a fix or workaround to suppress the symptoms – which continue to worsen – until we are forced to do something about the cause.
  4. We research the cause of the symptoms and come up with possible solutions
  5. We formulate the crisis
  6. We decide which solution to try

This is important: As long as we don’t bring a challenge/problem to a crisis and decision, we won’t solve it.

Example: Erica’s has a job that makes her work at the computer 8/5. She gets a migraine. She pops pills. The migraine gets chronic. The crisis: Shall she continue to pop pill and risk that the migraine develops into something worse or shall she do talk to her boss and may get fired?

Sylvia, Gerald’s secretary, gives her boss signs that she wants to mate. Gerald ignores her. She shows skin. Gerald puts a second photo of his wife on his desk. Sylvia ignores that and asks him to take her out for a drink.

The Challenge Jungle

Do you have a hundred challenges lined up to be fixed? Let’s see how to deal with that mess before looking into how to make decisions to solve individual challenges.

First, distinguish challenges and facts (not always obvious). A rainy day is a fact because you can’t do anything about it. An incurable heart weakness is a fact as well.

Second: Distinguish problems and temptations. Problems push you (the migraine), temptations (Sylvia) pull you into a challenging situation.

Distribute your challenges to three lists:

  • List A: All facts – the challenges you can’t do anything about
  • List B: Problems
  • List C: Temptations, wishes, hopes, dreams, and needs, in particular, your heart’s desire on top (put it on top).

Burn List A and stop thinking about it. If that doesn’t work, try taking facts with humor. Fix challenges and temptations one by one. Proceed from easy and quick too difficult and long term. Do you know the autofocus system? It is a great to-do list strategy that I use myself.

How to Prepare Enlightened Decisions?

“Players think they have a choice, but at the end of the day, there is only one move.” – Bobby Fisher

What move is that? The best move, of course. Mind Bobby’s choice of words: choice. If you find the best move, you don’t need to decide, you just choose it.

Life is not like that because life’s chessboard is complex and ambiguous. We don’t have all info (we don’t see all the pieces), and the rules keep changing. In real life, it is more difficult to come up with well-defined choices.

In order to identify your crises and make enlightened decisions, you need:

  • Information/data
  • A grasp of the context (understanding)
  • Intuition

First, gather all the relevant information. Identify also what you don’t know. You need the latter for risk assessment. A clear grasp of what you know and what you don’t know allows you to make informed decisions.

Informed is not good enough since knowledge is relative to context. The next step is understanding the context of your challenge. Let me give you an example:

Ann and Peter, married ten years, argue more than usual.

Ann says, “You don’t make enough time for me.”

Peter responds, “I work overtime to buy a better car.”

What is the context within which the problem is nested? Relationship? Finances? Family? Lifestyle? You know the context when you identify the value at stake. Is it love, success, or happiness? Ann wants more quality time with Peter and Peter wants to improve their quality time with a new car. The value at stake is happiness, hence the context is lifestyle.

When you have sufficient intel, know what you don’t know, and identified the context, you can make an informed-contextual decision.

You may have to go through a few iterations: gather knowledge – identify the context – gather some more data – review the context – assess what you don’t know – re-think the context, etc.

Crisis Types

There are three kinds of crises:

  • Ambiguous
  • Best bad choice
  • Irreconcilable goods

If you have to choose between a bad and a good thing, there is neither a crisis nor a decision, just a no-brainer choice (Bobby Fisher’s best move).

Ann and Peter face a conflict of interest, hence they face a best bad choice (the lesser evil).  Ann’s crisis: Quality time with husband grumpy about his old car or one year lack of quality time and happier hubby thereafter. Peter’s crisis: Overtime and unhappy wife or happy wife and old car (his buddies tease him about).

Irreconcilable goods is a decision between two goodies: Shall I accept a raise in my current company or work for another company that offers double pay? Mind the latter comes with a risk. The irreconcilable good decision has a variant: good for you but bad for others. Or bad for you, but good for mankind. This variant may involve a sacrifice on your side for the greater good.

Ambiguous is the scariest. You face ambiguous choices when you lack data, or worse, are oblivious of the context. Example: You hit a road fork and you don’t know where the roads lead. Moving to another city and getting a new job is ambiguous too. Too many variables to make a risk-free decision.

Why don’t you try reducing ambiguity as much as possible to turn your crisis into a best bad or irreconcilable good choice?

How to Make Enlightened Decisions?

Let’s recap the previous steps:

  1. Gather as much intel as possible and formulate what you don’t know.
  2. Determine the context. Your wants and the value at stake determine the context. If nothing is at stake there is no challenge and no need for a decision. Just choose!
  3. Switch off your feelings. Feelings don’t make decisions, they fall for choices. And they are fickle. Today they chose this, tomorrow that. Neti neti.
  4. Think, reason, repeat. Take your time – days, weeks, months – until the crisis is clear as daylight. Listen to your subconsciousness that will come up with good suggestions every other morning.

After you exhausted all rational avenues, you are ready for enlightenment: Find a quiet place and time, connect to the higher self, and ask for guidance. The higher self won’t make the decision for you. It will convey the right principles that help you to make a decision. Principles are contextual. For example, if the context is morality, the higher self will remind you of the principle Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. If the context is relationship, the higher self will remind you that relationship problems are either misunderstandings or conflicts of interest and that ladies and gentlemen can always come to an agreement.

Now, the importance of formulating a binary crisis and a precise question is clear. Until you reach illumination, your connection to the higher self is feeble. If you ask an open question What shall I do?, you won’t be able to translate the higher self’s (complex) response. Your uplink is just good enough for yes or no, e. g. a strong feeling/hunch to do something or avoid something. For the same reason, the Oracle of Delphi accepted only yes/no questions.

Even if the decision seems obvious, you should still consult the higher self. It has always something to add, give you an edge, catches self-deception, and boosts your confidence.

A warning: When you open up to the higher self, you may become susceptible to voices. This is how you identify them: Voices flatter and tell you what to do, like “Do this and you will be rich!” Even if they lead you a short term success, they may lead you down a nasty-slippery slope.

The higher self’s voice, on the other hand, is calm and quiet. You need to still your mind (and the voices) before you can hear it. It never makes a decision for you, instead, it conveys the principles critical to your crisis.

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Get Your Hands Dirty

After you made your decision, come up with the action plan. Your decision defines WHAT you will do, your plan HOW to realize it. Do not make the HOW part of your decision. That puts the cart in front of the horse. Example: Guy asks girl, “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” Girl responds, “You work shifts and won’t have enough time for me.”

Don’t look back. As strange as it sounds, decisions are always right, especially if you involve the higher self. If you succeed, nice! If you fail, you learn! Even if you don’t learn something new (repeat a lesson) there is still honor in trying and failing. The only failure is the failure to try.

The most efficient way to live is as a warrior. A warrior may worry and think before making any decision, but once he makes it, he goes on his way, free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting him. – Carlos Castaneda, The Wheel of Time, page 38

Making enlightened decisions is a skill. Why don’t you exercise that skill?

Bosses call the shots, executive execute decisions. Bosses take full responsibility for their decisions. Do you want to be a boss? Why don’t you exercise enlightened decisions?

With the proper skills, decisions are fun. They come with nice adrenaline kicks. For example, I used to enjoy contract negotiations – the rising tension of agreeing and facing escalating crises that carry more and more tension as the negotiation draws to a peak.

Life opens a door and prompts you to go through it. Or not. How thrilling!

Picture attribution: qimono @

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