The #1 Tip to Making Better Decisions When Stressed

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The Science of Making Better Decisions

When you first heard the news you were devastated and now, not only are you dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions, but also you have to make practical decisions in the midst of it all.

There is no two ways about it. Unexpected things in life happen, but by making good choices, we can steer our lives more in the direction of where we want to go (such as healing) after a setback, loss, or tragedy.

Decisions comprise the fabric of our lives. It is through our choices that we can tap into our inner sense of power, thoughtfully crafting our responses to events in our lives and thus fostering an uplifting future.

Of course, sometimes, healthy decision-making is difficult. For instance, you probably don't even need to read the research to know that when you feel stressed out or in the midst of another strong emotion like anger, sadness, fear, or insecurity, you don't usually make great decisions. You say things you don't mean. You don't follow through on things that are important to you...and you are not alone. This happens to all of us. The science backs the fact, when we are stressed out, our I.Q. drops. We make poorer decisions. (1)

A powerful example of this is a musician friend of mine. He worked tirelessly for years to become a professional musician. It was his dream to be signed to a major label. Well, he quit his band on the way to a gig that major record label talent scouts were going to be at! He made this decision out of a strong fear of success. He was "three feet from gold" as they say. Time and time again this self-sabotaging behavior manifests itself in our lives. It can also manifest in smaller ways too, like in our primary relationships.

These studies also show that we make poor decisions when we are too close to the problem. In other words, we can increase our ability to make better decisions by waiting to make decisions until we are in a calmer state of mind. Until we have a bigger perspective on the matter at hand.

Reflection vs. Rumination

Just noticing the difference between when you are reflecting on a problem and ruminating on it can help immensely, as a state of reflection generally promotes better problem solving.

Rumination is the cycle of being caught in the trap of repetitive thinking that compulsively focuses one's attention to the thoughts that cause feelings of sadness, stress, anxiety, etc. For instance, if you are having problems in your marriage, this is the habitual thinking you have about your partner and marriage. It is the times when you can't stop replaying over and over again, all the hurtful things that your partner has said and done over the years.

In contrast to a more neutral, reflective state, rumination involves a very personal perspective. When we are in a mode of reflection, our feeling state is generally open, inquisitive, and introspective. We are open to receiving new ideas and considering new possibilities. We are open to guidance and our intuition. There is a different quality to this kind of thinking. It has a less personal connotation with it. It often, though not always, occurs when we are in a peaceful mode of solitude or in an activity that distracts us.

Both forms of thinking are completely normal and temporary.

Yet, if having a wider perspective feels harder to achieve these days, you can give yourself a boost with this one tip.

#1 Tip: Implement Third-Person Problem Solving.

Approach the problem and analyze possible solutions from the third-person. Seriously, this may seem weird at first, but this has been proven to promote wiser reasoning and decision making. (2)

Pretend you are a neutral party (like how you would discuss the problems an acquaintance was having). Analyze the problem and brainstorm solutions from this third-person perspective. You can do this exercise either by conducting a written analysis or speaking into a voice recorder. Remember the key here is to use third-person language. You would refer to yourself with your first name. Do not use words like "me, I, my, or our."

Of course, the more you implement this exercise when problem solving, the easier it will be to do and the more you will reap the benefits. You are literally retraining your brain to solve personal problems in a more neutral and wiser way.