I’ve worked with a range of people who state that their greatest simultaneous strength and weakness is a tenacious tendency to problem solve and see the “fixable” potential in myriad of troubling life situations. Many of us can relate. At least in some sphere of life, there’s likely been a time in which we’ve all “stuck out” a problem longer then needed in order to achieve a desired goal – or manifest a change in trajectory – that never quite manifested.
Yes, there are a lot (if not the majority) of life situations that require grit, commitment and sustained determination. However, tenacious problem-solving, fix-it tendencies are most adaptive when balanced with this: the ability to implement clear-headed and grounded discernment to know when “enough is enough.” Ambitious problem solving gumption, while good and necessary, can also leave you stuck. Stuck in a bad relationship, a dead-end job, or in maladaptive, unhealthy personal patterns. Stuck tricking yourself into reasons to “buy back in.” Thus for this New Years, rather then focusing on what to embrace – I’m laying out a framework for mindful decisiveness.
Decisiveness is critical to health and self-perception. According to an article published on the Harvard Business Review (2013), “when contemplating a decision we have not yet made, virtually everyone will temporarily exhibit the same personality traits — neuroticism, low sense of control, pessimism —linked to indecisiveness. As soon as we make the decision and begin charting the steps for executing it, our brains automatically switch gears. All of the sudden, we feel confident, capable, and in control.” Yet, making decisions – on a daily basis – about a range of details is an essential part of life.
Each day we face a series of choices, small and large, ranging from how we prioritize our time to what to eat (or not) – all the way to choices about our spouses, families and careers. Essentially, our lives (emotionally, professionally, financially, etc) are a series of data points signaling to us what is and is not working. If we mindfully observe these “data points” about how we feel on a given day or about a given circumstance – it can help inform how to appropriately respond (rather then react).
For example, in our professional lives, do we come home from work more days then not feeling tired but satisfied or do we come home more days then not feeling drained, weighed down. In our relational lives, what’s the tone of our relationship, what impact do our relationships have on our body and mood? What sort of personal choices are we making on a daily basis (regarding food, sleep, exercise, etc) and how is that impacting us? And then, what’s the frequency, severity and duration of these data points? Are there areas we loving accept “as is” and other areas we instinctively feel need work, or a possible overhaul?
Whether it’s a communication pattern in a relationship, unhealthy personal habits or a funky work dynamic – if there’s something that’s not working – reflect on it, ruminate a bit, and then make a decisive action plan. By taking present-moment data (over a series of weeks or months) on how we feel about a specific area of our lives – we’re better able to make an informed roadmap for moving forward. Give it a try by thinking through or journaling answers to the below steps (and before you begin, pick one area of your life that you’ve recently been feeling “stuck” in).
- Reflection. Starting with rumination, what’s “your gut” saying about the situation? What bubbles up when you imagine the tone of your emotions and energy related to this specific situation?
- Evaluate. Reflect on your role in maintaining the given issue or concern. For example, have you contributed to the “problem,” if so how? Have you taken action to remedy the issue? If yes, what steps have you taken and what have been the results? Is there anything else you want to do to address the issues? (And if you haven’t taken action to address the issue, what’s holding you back)?
- Identify your negotiables and non-negotiables. We all have to give up and compromise some of the time. However, sometimes there area areas of work/life/love that are our bottom lines (this is the “enough is enough” arena). How does your analysis – of your bottom line – fit into a vision of the person you want to grow towards in your relationships, community and career? Is the current situation in direct conflict with this vision? If yes, is it fixable? If no, what keeps you motivated to hang on (and is this motivation serving you or not)?
- Action steps. After you’ve had a moment to journal or think through the latter steps, ask yourself “is there anything else I can do to improve the situation?” What I am willing to accept, and how will I know when “enough is enough.” How will my life be different if I improve/change this situation or issue? Lastly, what short (1-3 week), medium term (1-2 months), and long term (you define) steps do I need to take to address my concerns?
On the whole, commitments to ourselves, our loved ones, and to our careers takes dedicated, intentional work. It is important work. Overall, I firmly stand on the side of maintaining commitments to others, and ourselves as well as fully exploring all problem-solving options. But when the problems seem unfixable, the duration/frequency of the problem has continued to increase over time, and your non-negotiables are in direct conflict with the life you want to live…. It may be time to consider the other side. Time to make a clear-headed, decisive change in your life (be it deliberately working on a problem or letting a ship sail).
PS- as we move into the New Year, if you’re feeling “stuck” in a specific area of your life (health, relationship, career, mood, etc) and believe you may benefit from additional support, feel free to make an appointment with one of the therapists at Northstar by booking an appointment or calling (502) 414-1301.
Tasler, Nick. (Oct 4th, 2013). Just Make a Decision Already. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/10/just-make-a-decision-already/